This year's crop of Oscar nominated short films (animation, documentary and live-action) struck me as mostly worthy. I'd recommend seeing all three programs, although you're bound to find that some of the films resonate with you more than others.
Rather than provide a sketchy rundown of the 15 short films that make up these categories, I'm going to comment on four that struck me as special.
A word of caution: I'm not making predictions about what might win an Oscar. I'm reacting to the films I watched.
I'll begin with animation, a category that seems to have risen to special distinction this year. For me, the animated shorts provided a cache of creativity and artistic expression -- and also of feeling.
An example: Michael Govier and Will McCormack top the list of emotional entries, offering an animated look at a couple that has lost a child in a school shooting. No, this isn't Disney.
But for me, the best-in-show-award goes to Genius Loci, a 16-minute French film in which time and identity seem to vanish as director Adrien Merigeau offers a survey of modern French art styles. The movie states its theme -- chaos is everywhere -- as it follows a character named Reine into what might be a world of fluid identities. Metamorphosis prevails as images transform from one thing to another and flux is represented by a constant flow of motion. I'm not sure I totally got Genius Loci, but it has a substantial "wow" factor. Some animation can be described as "artful," some as "arty."
Genius Loci goes one better. It is art.
Same goes for Opera, a nine-minute animated short so dense that the eye doesn't know where to land. What normally would be a drawback turns Opera into a stunning visual cornucopia. The camera moves down a huge triangular structure through layers of different activity with multiple possible meanings available on every level -- political, religious, carnal and more.
Director Erick Oh bravely tries to find a means of expression that embraces an entire human system.
This year's documentary nominees contained one film that stopped me in my tracks, director Skye Fitzgerald's Hunger Ward. Set amid the chaos and destruction of contemporary Yemen, Hunger Ward deals with the rampant malnutrition that has seized the country.
We're talking about starving children who have been impacted by six years of civil war and war with Saudi Arabia. You may have to visit Google if you want to know more about conflict in Yemen. Fitzgerald’s focus on human suffering remains inescapably tight.
Full of harrowing images, Fitzgerald's documentary shows us children who are starving as a result of war and global indifference. Not for the faint of heart, Hunger Ward tempts one to look away from the screen but also makes clear our obligation to bear witness.
I found the experience so disturbing that I can't really evaluate the film. All I can say is that I won't soon forget it.
So, the live-action category:
Most of the films in this category stand on equal footing, but if I had to highlight a single entry it would be White Eye, a film that reflects the political and human complexities of life in Israel. Director Tomer Shusan tells the story of an Israeli man who believes he has found a bicycle that was stolen from him. An Eritrean worker whose visa has expired becomes the suspected thief in a drama about problems that admit to no easy solution.
Please don't misunderstand: By focusing on the films that most affected me, I'm not suggesting that the other films lack merit.
Here's a complete list of all the nominees:
If Anything Happens, I Love You
Best Documentary Short Subject:
A Concerto is a Conversation
Do Not Split
A Love Song for Latasha
Best Live-Action Short:
The Letter Room
Two Distant Strangers