There’s not much humor, or even sense of play, in the 15 films nominated for Oscars in three shorts categories.
The documentary program is at times almost intractably grim. The best of the lot is Yi Seung-Jun’s “In the Absence,” a terse, harrowing, infuriating account of the sinking of the South Korean ferry Sewol that took more than 300 lives in 2014. “Life Overtakes Me,” directed by John Haptas and Kristine Samuelson, examines resignation syndrome among children of refugee immigrants in Sweden. The story of children who fall into almost coma-like states in reaction to the prospect of deportation is fascinating and ghastly, but its telling is affected. The self-explanatory “Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)” is set in Afghanistan. The approach of the director, Carol Dysinger, aims for dollops of lightheartedness. The activist portrait “St. Louis Superman,” directed by Smriti Mundhra and Sami Khan, is inspiring and troubling.
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In the live-action category, “A Sister,” directed by Delphine Girard, is a suspense piece with social pertinence. “The Neighbors’ Window,” directed by Marshall Curry, is a stale voyeurism parable, but Yves Piat’s “Nefta Football Club” is a deft antidrug parable. And the most chipper picture of the lot.
The animated films are all inventive, and Matthew A. Cherry, Everett Downing Jr. and Bruce W. Smith’s “Hair Love” has a lot of compassion and charm. Bruno Collet’s “Memorable,” a story of dementia told in clay animation, is startling. The suffering hero is often rendered in a textured, late van Gogh style to impressive effect. The animated program features three additional “Highly Commended” but unnominated shorts. One of these, “Hors Piste,” an Aardman-inflected slapstick extravaganza directed by Léo Brunel, Camille Jalabert, Loris Cavalier and Oscar Malet, ought to have earned a nomination.
The 2020 Oscar Nominated Short Films
Not rated. In English, and several other languages with English subtitles
Live Action: 1 hour 44 minutes
Animated: 85 minutes
Documentary Program A: 1 hour 18 minutes
Documentary Program B: 1 hour 17 minutes