Features, Film

Oscar Short Film Roundup: Best Live Action

A rundown of the nominated short films for the 96th Academy Awards


Invincible (2023) dir. Vincent René-Lortie and Samuel Caron. Canada, 29 mins

It’s about that time again. The 96th Academy Awards are scheduled for March 10, which might be enough time for the 1,400 minutes that you will need to catch up with all of the Best Picture nominees (that’s similar to watching Barbie twelve times and stopping when Barbie leaves Barbieland on the 13th watchcoincidentally the timestamp that Werner Herzog reached before deeming it “sheer hell”). But you will certainly have enough time to get cracking on this year’s nominations for the short film categories, which include animated, live action, and documentary. The Coolidge Corner Theatre is currently playing the nominated short films in all three designated categories. Watching movies is fun, but betting on winners during awards season is another kind of fun. Know-it-alls who might left Maestro knowing less about the conductor can re-experience the immersive experience of getting wrecked again. Let’s get on it and argue!


As I recognize my continuous inaccuracy in predicting winners for these categories, I also find solace in using these roundups as an accumulation of thought and feeling about past nominees and the future of the category. Still, Le pupille‘s loss has me left me unraveled. While it’s not the first time that a deserving film has lost (nor will it be the last), this short film was a strike of lightning in this awards-consideration space. Not that any consolations are needed from me, but it’s something that director Alice Rohrwacher should be immensely proud of, and a film that I hope will be revisited as she breaks into American audiences (patiently waiting for La chimera!).

However, Le pupille did represent a behemoth of budget and production compared to the other nominees. This year flashes a similarly big fish: Wes Anderson’s The Wonderful Life of Henry Sugar. Financial backing and name association shouldn’t determine the end-quality of a piece or even the winner, but I think it provides important context as you embark in these categories.

Additionally, I’ve seen this category provide a platform for dazzling debut performances from actors that would otherwise not have an opportunity to have Hollywood sing “Happy Birthday” after winning. Rather than using the opportunity to show rough diamonds in the coalmine, this year’s nominees rely on situational placement for an emotional imprint, which is sorta fine but also falters in the variety of voices I’ve seen otherwise. Let’s take a look at this year’s nominations for Best Live Action Short Film.

Knight of Fortune (2023) dir. Lasse Lyskjær Noer and Christian Norlyk. Denmark, 25 mins.


1) The After (dir. Misan Harriman and Nicky Bentham | UK, 18 mins | trailer) – A man faces a sudden and unspeakable loss in his family and is forced to confront the emotional logistics of life thereafter.

2) Invincible (dir. Vincent René-Lortie and Samuel Caron | Canada, 29 mins | trailer) – Based on the true story of MarcAntoine Bernier, a 14-year-old who yearns beyond the borders of his juvenile detention center

3) Knight of Fortune (dir. Lasse Lyskjær Noer and Christian Norlyk | Denmark, 25 mins | full video) – Two widowers meet at a morgue. Hilarity ensues.

4) Red, White, and Blue (dir. Nazrin Choudhury and Sara McFarlane | USA, 23 mins | trailer) – A positive pregnancy test sends a working mom of two spinning and grasping for finances, but the dark truth runs deeper.

5) The Wonderful World of Henry Sugar (dir. Wes Anderson and Steven Rales | US/UK, 40 mins | trailer) – Adapted from a Roald Dahl short story by the most Roald Dahl-equipped director out there


Out of the five nominations, Invincible stands out as a piece that I think I’d enjoy in both short and long format. A story about René-Lortie’s childhood friend, Invincible doesn’t rush to make a point, but it also doesn’t tether itself to a single concept. That’s a sorta silly near-oxymoron, but in a story about a teenager undergoing a mental health crisis, I found the ratio of vulnerability, sadness, and hope to be a satisfying concoction. I guess despite me previously saying that there aren’t front-forward performances, Léokim Beaumier-Lépine does a pretty good job of honing in the emotions when needed.

On the flip side, I was pretty baffled by the circumstances of The After, which is directed by British photographer Misan Harriman and stars David Oweyolo. The aforementioned tragedy, which happens in the beginning, is so sudden and a shock to the system that it became its own distraction. I’m not sure if it was the choreography of the event or the randomness but if it had stopped there, I would assumed this was going the sci-fi route. But it doesn’t, and once I got over it, I did find some enjoyment in Oweyolo slowly getting back to the swing of things by becoming a shared-ride driver and being part of life on the periphery.

The Wonderful World of Henry Sugar (2023) dir. Wes Anderson and Steven Rales. US/UK, 40 mins.

Denmark’s Knight of Fortune is not unlike the country’s previous nominee two years ago, On My Mind. Equipped with a dark-ish gag and unlikely kinship, it’s one of the feel-good-amongst-bad-things kind of pieces, which works as a perfectly-functioning short film with wider appeal. Red, White, and Blue, which is led by Brittany Snow (which feels important to share now because I spent most of the time thinking, “Wait…no, is that her?”), is one of the films with a very specific twist that will overshadow technicality or trope. I can’t deny that I gasped, though.

Try as I might, I’m not a Wes Anderson fan, but have learned to appreciate from afar once I saw and fell in love with Fantastic Mr. Fox, another Anderson/Dahl collaboration. Still, I hesitated in watching Henry Sugar, which does not shy away from Anderson’s bells and whistles. I might have soured my experiences by then watching his other Dahl pieces (personally, I think The Swan‘s tragic beauty is one for the books and makes for a more interesting contender), but in all, Henry Sugar sticks the landing. I had a vague flashback of reading this story before and remembering how important discipline was in order to succeed, but one of Dahl’s magics is that the story might stick to you in different ways. Anderson, in his way, helps with that imprint.


WHAT SHOULD WIN: The Wonderful World of Henry Sugar

WHAT WILL WIN: The Wonderful World of Henry Sugar

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