Masterpieces ‘Two Distant Strangers’ And ‘Opera’ Highlight Oscar Nominated Shorts

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The Oscar Nominated Shorts are often the unsung heroes of any year-in-film. Short films showcase up-and-coming filmmakers as well as provide concrete evidence of future greatness. The Oscar Nominated Shorts for 2021 are no exception, offering emotional, dazzling, and sometimes searing visions of our world. The five nominees in each category (Live Action, Documentary, Animation) are all, at minimum, quite good, but a few of the offerings shine just a bit more brightly. 

Documentary

Colette (dir. Anthony Giacchino) follows Colette Marin-Catherine as she ventures to Germany for the first time since WWII to visit the concentration camp where her brother was killed. She is joined by a young historian, Lucie Fouble, as Colette recounts her days with the French Resistance. What might have been a familiar and sad journey, instead becomes an examination of the surprisingly frank and uncompromising Colette. Colette doesn’t suffer fools lightly and she doesn’t mince her words, so that when she finally allows her emotions to the surface, the results are all-the-more impactful. 

Hunger Ward (dir. Skye Fitzgerald) is undoubtedly the toughest watch of the entire program, but for those who steel themselves for the harrowing journey, important truths are revealed. Hunger Ward focuses on the efforts of healthcare workers in war-torn Yemen as they try to save the many starving children of that nation. In several agonizing sequences, we can only watch, along with the loved ones and doctors, as indescribably frail children die. This is obviously quite grim, but Hunger Ward also offers glimmers of hope, delicate beauty, and quiet kindness amid the horror. This film is screaming to a world that seems indifferent to pay attention and take action. 

Live Action

Two Distant Strangers (dir. Travon Free, Martin Desmond Roe) tells the story of Carter (Joey Bada$$). You see, Carter has just woken up from a nice evening with a young woman. Life is looking up for Carter. Carter wants to return to his apartment, when he is confronted by a police officer (Andrew Howard). Things escalate quickly, in a scene that is sadly all-too-familiar, leaving Carter gasping and dying on the sidewalk. Then, Carter wakes up, back in the woman’s apartment. 

In a year that has seemed to embrace the “Groundhog Day” narrative structure, Two Distant Strangers might be the most audacious and effective take on the subgenre. The never-ending, inescapable nature of the format, acts as both metaphor for the no-win situation in which Carter finds himself; and as a way to illustrate how often these sorts of scenarios seem to occur. The final act of this short film is both poignant and maddening. 

White Eye (dir. Tomer Shushan) centers on Omer (Daniel Gad), who stumbles upon his stolen bike, locked to a post outside a business. In this one-take short film, we follow Omer’s various efforts to stubbornly reclaim his stolen property. Shushan deftly reveals the unseen stories of the characters working and living near a single building. Omer and the audience can’t foresee the Butterfly Effect that is triggered by his actions. A surprisingly affecting film that displays masterful show-don’t-tell storytelling techniques, capped by a powerful final shot. 

Animation

Opera (dir. Erick Oh), stands as possibly my favorite short film in the entire program. Opera is an intricate clockwork mosaic of tiny figures. The viewer slowly descends through a structure, each room depicting some aspect of human interaction. Opera is a stunning achievement, drawing the viewer’s eye to different corners of activity. In one corner, we might watch characters being led to the guillotine, only to watch their tiny, multicolored heads roll down a chute and become balloons in another room. In another corner, we might watch a depiction of the funereal process, only to find the result being as surprising as the balloon heads. Opera is impossible to adequately describe and impossible to fully absorb in one viewing. Opera is a masterpiece. 

If Anything Happens, I Love You (Michael Govier and Will McCormack) tells a seemingly simple story of a couple grieving a loss. Their emotions play out through their shadows, while they continue the mundane tasks of everyday life. Slowly, the nature, and source of their loss is revealed. The story is deceptively simple, never veering into easy sentimentality. The final few moments are emotionally devastating. 

The 2021 Oscar Nominated Shorts are all quite good, as I have only highlighted a few of my favorites above. In a time where one can spend thirty dollars to stream a single movie on a service you already pay for, the relatively small rental price for such fantastic and varied visions presented by the Oscar Nominated Shorts is well-worth your time and money (to purchase tickets, go to ShortsTV). 

****On the latest Find Your Film episode, Bruce Purkey, Eric Holmes and Greg Srisavasdi discuss their favorite Oscar Nominated Shorts. Discussion begins at the 21:40 mark:

Check out the video version of our episode:

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