Combustible Celluloid

Live Action and Animated Oscar Shorts (2019)

Hair Love

Short Fuses

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

January 31, 2020—The lack of lightness continues. While Tom and Jerry, Looney Tunes, the Pink Panther, and Disney cartoons were once Oscar winners — and even the late Kobe Bryant won for his gorgeous Dear Basketball — this year's batch of nominees for Best Animated Short are far from cute 'n' funny or warm 'n' fuzzy.

The downright downer collections "Oscar Nominated Short Films 2020: Animation" & "Live Action" both open Friday in Bay Area theaters.

In the cartoon category, Daria Kashcheeva's Daughter (15 mins.), from the Czech Republic, may be the first animated film shot with nausea-inducing shaky-cam. In this wordless film, which uses rough-looking puppets and stop-motion along with incredibly soulful character eyes, a daughter visits her father on his deathbed and experiences sad memories.

Siqi Song's Sister (7 mins.), a heartfelt, strange stop-motion short from China using what looks to be felt cloth figures, could be a companion piece to the powerful (non-nominated) documentary One Child Nation. A man narrates, telling the story of a troublesome, pesky, but imaginative younger sister.

In Bruno Collet's Memorable (12 mins.), from France, a painter begins to experience something like Dementia, forgetting what objects are, and even who his loving wife is. The entire stop-motion film, with its exquisite design — deliberately imperfect, yet highly detailed — is told from his point of view, showing his strange visions, lapses of time, and flights of fancy.

Kitbull (9 mins.), which is also available to stream on Disney+, is a unique hand-drawn film from Pixar. It's a heart-wrenching, yet undeniably sweet tale of a homeless kitten that encounters an abused pit bull, a victim of a dogfighting ring, and their euphoric escape.

But the top pick here has to be Hair Love (7 mins.). Distributed by Sony, but sporting the look and feel of a bright, smooth Disney cartoon, Matthew A. Cherry's 2D animated short >Hair Love is a delight, and one of the few places wherein viewers can see some black faces at the Oscars this year. In it, a little girl and her clueless father attempt to style her enormous head of hair on a very special day.

Additional animated shorts, The Bird and the Whale, Hors Piste, Henrietta Bulkowski, and Maestro, will be screened to stretch the program's overall running time.


The Best Live Action Short category is equally depressing, but nevertheless offers some good entries.

Meryam Joobeur's Brotherhood (25 mins.) tells the story of a family of Tunisian sheep farmers, a father, mother, and two red-headed, freckle-faced sons. An older brother suddenly returns home from Syria. He has brought a new, pregnant bride — a young Syrian woman entirely covered in a traditional niqab — sending the father into fits of suspicion and indignation.

Despite its troubling subject, Joobeur keeps >Brotherhood simple, focusing on scenes of home life (having a meal, sleeping, frolicking at the beach). Her camera sometimes thoughtfully blurs over the image in the foreground, gazing out in the distance instead. Yet her storytelling remains tense, and her ending packs a wallop.

Based on a true story, Bryan Buckley's Saria (22 mins.) takes place in a Guatemalan orphanage, where teen girls are tormented by their abusive keepers. Buckley devises some powerful moments, such as a tracking shot of a cockroach scuttling down a hallway next to a keeper's clunking boots and clanking keys, or a secret peephole to the outside world. But he also resorts to overt seriousness and shaky-cam to really drive his points home.

In The Neighbors' Window (20 mins.), an exhausted husband and wife, with three kids, is dismayed to discover a young, sexy couple in the building across the way, partying and making love in plain view. A fiction debut by Oscar-nominated documentarian Marshall Curry, the 20-minute film seems long, and is likewise a tad heavy-handed, but it winds up with a genuinely moving turnaround.

Like so many short films, Yves Piat's Nefta Football Club (17 mins.) depends on an O. Henry-style twist ending, and it has a great one, but unfortunately, it bungles the setup, explaining the central joke — a donkey wearing headphones and transporting cocaine — before it even has a chance to be a joke.

Finally, Delphine Girard's A Sister (Une Soeur) (17 mins.) is a little thriller about a woman (Veerle Baetens) working at emergency call center, contacted by a woman who seems to have been kidnapped. It's similar to the excellent 2018 Danish feature film The Guilty, although, even with a shorter running time, it still feels less focused, less tense.

Additionally, the "Oscar Nominated Short Films 2020: Documentary" opens Friday; the 160-minute program includes In the Absence, Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone, Life Overtakes Me, St. Louis Superman, and Walk Run Cha-Cha.

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