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Amid a succession of PR disasters – such as nominating Bryan Singer’s Bohemian Rhapsody for a slew of awards after sexual abuse allegations, which he categorically denies, were made against the director; or hiring as host the comedian Kevin Hart, who then stepped down after an outcry over his perceived homophobic comments and tweets – the Oscars have done something to displease just about every film fan this year. But none prompted as loud an industry backlash as their proposal to cut a handful of lower-profile awards from the live broadcast, presenting them in ad breaks. Among those slated for the chop: best live action short.
Industry titans from Martin Scorsese to Spike Lee voiced their displeasure with the idea, and the Academy sheepishly reversed course: all 24 Oscar categories, including the live action, animated and documentary short prizes, will survive on the broadcast another year. It would have been a shame to lose them: for most casual viewers, those few minutes at the Oscars are probably the most they’ll hear about short cinema all year. (Not to mention the fact that they reliably offer far higher odds of seeing female film-makers rewarded on stage than the feature categories.) Short film awards may be comparatively unglamorous, but they encourage public interest in a form that otherwise gets little exposure or distribution in cinemas. Now that ShortsTV makes all the nominees available to view online through Amazon Video, these awards no longer feel so obscure. You may not have gone out to see every film up for best picture, but in one or two streaming sessions, you can be up to speed with all three short fields.
They won’t, admittedly, make for the most cheerful evening’s viewing: “kids in grievous peril” is the overwhelming theme of this year’s live action race, expanding into more general parent-child anguish for the animated selections. The short doc category isn’t a barrel of laughs either, though that’s generally to be expected.
More of a letdown is the uneven quality of the live action shorts, too many of which feel like sleek stunts: indeed, the likely frontrunner, Guy Nattiv’s rather blunt racial parable Skin, is such a blatant calling card that it’s already been expanded into a feature starring Jamie Bell. Controversy has circled the Irish nominee Detainment, a reconstructive exercise built around recordings from the police questioning of Jamie Bulger’s young killers. Bulger’s family has petitioned against the film, prompting tabloid-enabled rumours that it’s a more grisly reenactment. It’s nothing so crass, though it does feel a bit hollow. More impressive is Canadian film-maker Jeremy Comte’s Fauve, an eerie, boys-against-nature study that pulls off the most shivery cinematic coups in the category. I’ll be rooting for it.
The animated field is stronger, largely thanks to the presence of one mini-masterwork. Trevor Jimenez, another Canadian, drew on his own childhood for Weekends, a brilliantly designed, heartache-heavy study of a young boy shuffling between the separate worlds of his divorced parents. It’s a simple, familiar concept made freshly haunting and mysterious by its stylised, child’s-eye perspective. I’ll be disappointed if it loses to its amiable but slighter competition: Pixar’s dumpling-as-baby whimsy trip Bao is just a little too cute, while Animal Behaviour, from Bob and Margaret creators David Fine and Alison Snowden, is a jaunty, anthropomorphic throwaway.
Finally, in the documentary field, regular Guardian and Observer readers may already be familiar with Black Sheep, our company’s own potent study of a teen taking disturbing measures to shield himself from council estate racism. It might well be the best of its class. Still, with Marshall Curry’s remarkable six-minute experiment A Night at the Garden – craftily assembled from archive footage of a 1939 Nazi rally in New York, with chillingly timely political undertones – also in the running, this is the category that lingers longest in the mind.
New to streaming & DVD this week
Central Airport THF
Never released in cinemas, Karim Aïnouz’s keen-eyed social-architectural portrait of Berlin’s Tempelhof airport, now repurposed as a mass refugee shelter, was one of last year’s great documentaries.
Much admired on its release in 1986, Margarethe von Trotta’s biopic of the Marxist revolutionary still holds up robustly, with a fierce Barbara Sukowa in the lead.
A polished Masters of Cinema rerelease for this neglected Fritz Lang work from the 1950s: a steely, straight-to-business film noir spin on Émile Zola’s La Bête humaine.
I Think We’re Alone Now
Director-cinematographer Reed Morano’s uneven but striking post-apocalyptic parable strands Peter Dinklage and Elle Fanning in a love-hate bind as humanity’s final survivors.
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Source: The Guardian
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