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Reviewing the Oscar-Nominated Live-Action Shorts

by Stephen Silver

Oscars 2020: Watch the Live-Action Shorts

Cinema from the Upper West Side to Tunisia

At last year’s Oscars, which honored the films from 2018, the nominated live-action shorts were uncommonly bleak. Three of the five films, in fact, involved the death of a child.

For this year’s live-action category, there’s indeed some bleakness, but also some very inspiring offerings, and all five films are at least decent.

The live-action shorts are being screened theatrically, starting this weekend, and some of them are also streaming online, and are included here when applicable. 

The Neighbor’s Window 

Last year, Marshall Curry was nominated for the Best Documentary Short Oscar for A Night at the Garden, an astonishing short documentary consisting of footage from a Nazi rally that took place in New York’s Madison Square Garden in the 1930s. Now, Curry is nominated again, in the live-action short category, for a film that’s as different as can be. 

The only film in the category that’s set in the United States or in English, The Neighbor’s Window is a modern riff on Rear Window, albeit dealing with interpersonal jealousy rather than murder. 

Maria Dizzia (Piper’s pre-prison friend from Orange is the New Black) and Greg Keller play a frazzled couple with three young children, who live in a beautiful city apartment. One day, they realize that the young, childless couple in the apartment across the street is having mind-blowing sex, frequent parties, and all the other things that they’ve been missing out on. 

Before the end of the 20-minute film, the tables have turned, and it ends on a poignant note about being grateful for what you have. 

NEFTA Football Club

The other standout in the category is about a pair of soccer-playing boys, and a headphone-wearing donkey. 

The film, from French director Yves Piat, is set on the border between Tunisia and Algeria, although it was made in France. 

The boys are playing soccer when they notice a donkey, who is wearing headphones and with what looks like cocaine strapped to it. We also meet the drug smugglers responsible, who have a hilarious argument over what music the donkey was listening to. 

In a heavy category, NEFTA Football Club, which has been all over the festival circuit the last couple of years, provides some welcome levity. 

Brotherhood 

Also set in Tunisia, but officially listed as coming from Canada, Tunisia, Qatar and Sweden, the film from director Meryam Joobeur tells the story of a family in the country. A young man, Malek, returns to his family from Tunisia, with a burqa-clad wife, and it’s strongly presumed that he had joined ISIS. 

The 25-minute film features a cast of first-time actors, and the director said in an interview that he met the actor playing Malek in a chance encounter while he was leading a flock of sheep, and he got the idea from hearing that many young men in the area had gone to fight with ISIS. 

It may be slow, but Brotherhood, which the director is developing into a feature film, leads up to heartbreak. 

A Sister 

Another film about a tough subject, this film, from Belgian filmmaker Delphine Gerard, tells the nearly real-time story of a woman in an intimate-partner violence situation in a car, and her phone call to an emergency call center. 

The twist is that the woman is pretending to call her sister- hence the title-  and using coded language to indicate what’s really going on. 

The 17-minute, very suspenseful film is not to be confused with Sister, which was nominated in the animated short category.

Saria 

This film, from director Bryan Buckley, is set in an abusive orphanage in Guatemala, which was the setting of a real-life tragedy in 2017. 

The sweet but sad 22-minute film focuses on a pair of sisters (Estefanía Tellez, Gabriela Ramirez) seeking to escape their circumstances. 

Buckley’s film was cast by children from the actual orphanage and is dedicated to those who died in the fire.  It also features a standout closing song, “Mystery” by Beth Orton. 

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Reviewing the Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts

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