It’s about that time again — at least, I know so because I can hear the beating of the metallic plate approaching. The 95th Academy Awards is scheduled to run on March 12, which might not enough time to learn the “Naatu Naatu” choreography before it hits the big stage. But there is enough time to get cracking on this year’s nominations for the short film categories — animated, live action, and documentary. Starting Friday, February 17, the Coolidge Corner Theatre will be playing the short films in their designated categories (animated and live action on 2/17 and the documentary on 2/24). Watching movies is fun, but betting during awards season is another kind of fun where know-it-alls can get immersed and wrecked. Let’s get on it and argue!
Celebrating international cinema at the Oscars might appear limiting. Five spots for Best International Film doesn’t feel spacious enough for such a worldly category. But if you look closer, countries find themselves nominated in different categories among United States releases. It’s not to say that the Oscars deserves a diversity-applause, but it’s nice that opportunities can go further beyond the World Cinema label.
I’ve recently thought about how Super Bowl commercials are now consumed. Running up to $7 million for a 30-second slot, I almost feel like brands have to put A-list celebrities in to do a silly thing. So I have to say, it’s also great that first-time actors, more often than not, nudge elbows with the big stars in the Live Action Shorts category. They’re not behind a cartoon or a biographical figure, but right in front of us, demanding the same amount of attention as the Cate Blanchett monkey or Elvis’s gyrations. Still, it might be hard to make the argument that this particular category is only for the little guys (see past winners Riz Ahmed for last year’s The Long Goodbye and Sally Hawkins in The Phone Call). However, the level of recognition feels the same. Even if they don’t win, they’re still a part of history (and possibly a part of the future — Taika Waititi, who lost to Andrea Arnold at this category at the 77th ceremony, picked up his first Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay fifteen years later). With the exception of Anders Walter (who won in this category at the 86th Academy Awards for Helium), all the directors are first-timers. Let’s take a look at this year’s nominations for Best Live Action Short Films.
1. An Irish Goodbye (dir. Tom Berkeley and Ross White | UK, 23 mins | trailer) – Two brothers reconvene over the loss of their mother.
2. Ivalu (dir. Anders Walter and Rebecca Pruzan | Denmark, 17 mins | trailer) – Pipaluk, a young girl who lives in a Greenlandic village, searches for her sister, Ivalu.
3. Night Ride (dir. Eirik Tveiten and Gaute Lid Larssen | Norway, 16 min | full video) – On a snowy day, a woman waiting for a tram accidentally decides to take herself on a ride, finding that the conductor life isn’t as easy as it looks.
4. Le Pupille (dir. Alice Rohrwacher | Italy, 39 min | trailer) – An girls’ orphanage in Italy prepares for their annual Christmas event.
5. The Red Suitcase (dir. Cyrus Neshvad | Luxembourg, 18 min | trailer) – A 16-year-old Iranian girl tries to escape from her pre-arranged marriage at a Luxembourg airport.
As in years before, there is a fair share of social messages and interpersonal relationships that should be accessible to a wide audience capable of emotional literacy. The effectiveness of that communication might be the difference between Ivalu, Night Ride, and The Red Suitcase standing out for the crowds. Adapted from a 2020 Danish graphic novel with the same name, Ivalu speaks in landscape poetry and myths, which gives more ambience to a story about child abuse. Watching Pipaluk running and swimming in Greenland’s vastness makes life look fragile. The story isn’t even about climate change, but both land and women feel exposed and vulnerable to man-made danger. Lead actresses Sigrid Kandal Husjord (Night Ride) and Nawelle Ewad (The Red Suitcase) lift their films to performance-driven heights. Both characters share the experience of overcoming an obstacle for the sake of their freedom and others, but unfortunately, their short films run a little longer than they need to be to get their points across.
An Irish Goodbye: fine! The story of two brothers coming together over the death of their mother (revealed to be Michelle Fairley through a quick glance at a portrait) and attempting to complete her bucket list makes for brotherly shenanigans. The Banshees of Inisherin might have helped audiences understand that brotherhood is not all hugs, but the loyalty will come through in an understated, lasting fashion. Diametric to the few lonely men in Northern Ireland, Le Pupille basks in the sweetened glow of sisterhood over in an Italian orphanage for girls. While it is the longest piece, the mastery of its craft creates a wondrous Christmas special and an episode of little girls running amok.
The biggest injustice to Le Pupille is that I can’t properly describe it. The orphanage is setting up for their annual Nativity re-enactment, which feels like it’s meant to be the climax of the film, but I could probably watch the behind-the-scenes just as well. The cast emits Madeline vibes, but instead of a dignified, synchronized choir of well-behaved girls, Le Pupille is a classroom full of golden retriever puppies with inconsistent levels of obedience to the Lord and to the nuns. It’s shot in Super 16 but in 35mm format, which makes it look like we are watching oil paintings in motion (I’m fascinated by the cinematographer, Hélène Louvart, who has worked with Agnès Varda, Oscar-nominated 3D technology, and Larry Clark — let’s see her retrospective!). The moving characters — the male cleaners, the woman who begs for the girls to pray for her adulterous husband to return, the magnificent English pudding — also doesn’t help in describing how they fit in. But everyone and everything does, resulting in one of the loveliest films filled to the brim with delectable charm.
WHAT SHOULD WIN: Le Pupille
WHAT WILL WIN: Le Pupille
Admittedly, Le Pupille has the backing powers of Disney+ as distributor and Alfonso Cuarón as executive producer. I only mention this not because it should be disqualified, but if you end up seeing the Live Action shorts, there may appear to be a huge discrepancy of production value between this one and some of the others.
Click here for Anna’s roundup of the nominees for Best Animated Short, and stay tuned later this week for Best Documentary!