The 93rd Academy Awards are less than three weeks away, and despite fewer films being released in 2020 because of the pandemic, there are still dozens of truly fantastic films being recognized.
Every year, some of the most overlooked categories at the Oscars are the short film categories. And just as all the major categories are stacked with excellence this year, so are the shorts. The five films nominated for best live-action short film this year are “Feeling Through,” “The Letter Room,” “The Present,” “Two Distant Strangers” and ‘White Eye.” These films, in addition to the nominees for best animated short film and best documentary short, will be playing at the Mary Riepma Ross Media Arts Center starting this Friday.
These five live-action short films are each undoubtedly worthy of the Academy Award nominations they’ve received. Each film deals with difficult and emotional subject matters, and they all manage to have a different effect on their audience.
“Feeling Through” tells the story of a man in New York City named Tereek who is just looking for a place to sleep for the night. However, his search is interrupted when he meets a man named Artie on the street who is both blind and deaf. The film shows how Tereek is able to put Artie’s needs above his own, as he dedicates his night to making sure Artie gets home safely. It’s a heartwarming story about people coming together to do what’s right. The performances from the two lead actors are both stellar, and the story packs a lot of genuine emotion. “Feeling Through” is a relatively simple film, but it is incredibly resonant and moving to watch.
“Two Distant Strangers,” on the other hand, is much less heartwarming. This film takes the concept of reliving a single day over and over again — think “Groundhog Day” or “Palm Springs” — and applies it to a Black man who is killed by the same police officer every day. When he wakes up after each reset, he tries to figure out what he needs to do to make it out alive, and yet, the same result always comes. It is an incredibly powerful film to watch, and it delivers a poignant and strong message with timely social commentary. It provided an interesting but depressing twist on a well-worn Hollywood concept, and it makes for a truly riveting film.
I was pretty surprised when I sat down to watch “The Letter Room” and saw the film unexpectedly starred Oscar Isaac, who is known for his work in the recent “Star Wars” trilogy and films like “Ex Machina” and “Inside Llewyn Davis.” It’s not often these short films star A-list talent, but it certainly captured my attention right away since Isaac is a phenomenal actor in every sense (and he rocks a magnificent mustache in this movie). He plays a corrections officer whose job is to sort through and read all the incoming mail for the inmates at the prison where he works. His character becomes intensely invested in the lives of the people whose letters he’s reading, and this makes for a gripping story as he begins to take actions based on what he reads. I’m purposely being a bit vague here just because you don’t want to have this movie spoiled, but it’s certainly worthy of the recognition it is receiving. I found “The Letter Room” to be the most stressful film of this group, mainly because it isn’t clear what the lead character’s motivations are until later in the film. Isaac’s performance was wonderful, and as a whole, the film has a ton of heart. It explores each of its characters in a lot of detail, and by the time the credits rolled I found myself enveloped in the story.
“The Present” is a Palestinian film about a man who travels across the West Bank with his daughter just to buy his wife a refrigerator for their anniversary. This sounds incredibly wholesome, but throughout this journey, the man is faced with many different challenges. He’s routinely stopped by Israeli authorities, and it seems that simply going out to buy a refrigerator is an impossible task. It’s a hard film to watch at times because it’s so emotionally heavy, but there’s no arguing that the story is effective and the filmmaking techniques are outstanding. I wasn’t as moved by “The Present” as some of the other films nominated, but it’s still very well-made, and there’s no question as to why it received the nomination.
“White Eye” is the one film on this list that I was a little unenthused with. It’s certainly a good movie, but compared to the others nominated it just didn’t work quite as well for me. The film is well-made and its story provides some intriguing ideas, but ultimately it feels like it doesn’t really go anywhere. The story of the film creates a complex situation involving a man trying to retrieve his stolen bike. However, in doing so, the man creates various other problems for the people he interacts with. He’s forced into unexpected ethical dilemmas and has to decide between getting his bike back or being a good person. Though the ending of the film is a bit lackluster, everything leading up to it certainly kept my interest.
Though I maybe wasn’t as impressed with “White Eye,” I think all of these Oscar nominees for best live-action short film are excellent. My favorites were “Two Distant Strangers” and “The Letter Room,” but if I had to pick one to win I would go with “Two Distant Strangers.” It was powerful, timely and featured an original twist on a concept we’ve seen in movies time and time again.