Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

It’s a new year so once again we made our way to the balcony of the Hollywood Theater to see the Oscar Nominated Shorts. This is the Portland Hollywood, not California. It’s a neighborhood on the east side of the river, bisected by Sandy Boulevard, and the theater is the last surviving Portland example of the architecture that used to be common for cinema palaces. It has an ornate exterior that was refurbished to its glorious original appearance a few years back.

… Anyway, the Hollywood is the next best thing.

It was a good year for shorts. Of the five animated ones, I really liked four. Of the live action, I found all five to be worthy contenders. But you gotta have a winner, so here goes with my picks.

I am starting each review with the comments that came with the printed announcement of the films to be shown, in parentheses, then following with my own. Many of them have previews on YouTube, and we will include the links to those.

Dear Basketball – Glen Keane and Kobe Bryant, USA (5 minutes)

(Basketball great Kobe Bryant collaborated with visionary animator Glen Keane and legendary composer John Williams on an animated short film that explores what it means to achieve your dream, and then leave it behind.)

Hand-drawn/CGI mix. This one was, frankly, awful. I enjoyed the pencil sketch drawings that morphed fluidly from one image to another; Lee was so put off by the whole thing that she didn’t even enjoy that. It really should have been called Ode to Me, written by Kobe Bryant, narrated by Kobe Bryant, from an idea by Kobe Bryant, produced by Kobe Bryant. Even if I didn’t know Bryant to be a rapist, I don’t think I would have liked this. He is a legend, certainly in his own mind, anyway.

Its one virtue is that it’s quite short. You can see just about the whole damn thing here. Maybe you’ll like it. Me, I have a nightmare vision of this one winning because he’s so famous. Please, Academy, don’t fall for it.

Negative Space – Max Porter and Ru Kuwahata, France (5 minutes)

(My dad taught me how to pack.)

Stop-Motion. Like almost all the animated shorts this year, this one is humorous. It’s nicely done, and the humor works, all building up to a cute punch line. But it’s pretty minor.

Lou – Dave Mullins and Dana Murray, USA (6 minutes)

(When a toy stealing bully ruins recess for a playground full of kids, only one thing stands in his way: the “Lost and Found” box.)

CGI. Every year Pixar has an entry, and every year it’s very good, both technically and in story terms. This year is no exception, with a story about schoolyard bullying that will make you laugh and nod your head. … And every year I hope the Pixar short doesn’t win because, well, Pixar almost always picks up the feature-length Oscar. This time they will win for Coco. I haven’t even seen it, but I know that if anything is a lock this year, it’s this film. It is being compared to the emotional sweep of Up and the cleverness and sweetness of WALL-E. Yeah, I know that the individuals involved are just as hard-working and dedicated as the suffering independents who are nominated, but gosh darn it, it’s still a big company. Animated shorts should be the realm of the truly obsessed, not a corporation, no matter how good it is. Here is not exactly what I’d call a trailer; it’s almost the whole movie:

Revolting Rhymes: Part 1 – Jakob Schuh and Jan Lachauer, UK (28 minutes)

(Re-tellings of classic fairy tales with playful twists and surprising endings.)

Stop motion or CGI, hard to tell. This is my choice. It edged out the others for me. It seems that Roald Dahl wrote a book, illustrated by Quentin Blake, containing six re-tellings of fairy tales in short poems. They are seriously twisted. And hey! All of them are available as minimalist animations on YouTube, voiced by Timothy West and the wonderful Prunella Scales, who so memorably played Basil Fawlty’s long-suffering wife, Sybil. She was always calm through the temper tantrums and fits of cowardice of her husband. (Sadly I learn that she is far down the hard road of Alzheimer’s now.)

This film is a truly inspired mash-up of two of these stories: Snow White and Little Red Riding Hood. The makers cleverly put them together, with some of their own flourishes that I’m pretty sure Dahl would have approved. Here’s the trailer:

And what the heck, here’s the older versions:


The Three Little Pigs:


Jack and the Beanstalk:

Snow White:

Red Riding Hood:

Garden Party – Victor Caire and Gabriel Grapperon, France (7 minutes)

(In a deserted rich house, a couple of amphibians explore their surroundings and follow their primal instincts.)

CGI. It almost goes without saying these days that the technical quality of animation is exactly as good as you want it to be. That is, usually the visuals are an artistic interpretation, sometimes quite bizarre. Which is fine, I love them. But when they want to go for realism, there is just no damn way to tell that it’s not real photography. That’s the case with this one, which is my runner-up. It shows a half-dozen frogs, totally real, as they hop and jump through a deserted and oddly trashed mansion, inside and outside in the pool-fountain patio, looking for food and getting in trouble. Then we begin to see bullet holes, and get the idea that this gaudy, low-class place (think of Tony Montana in Scarface, or anything Donald Trump likes; yeah, that awful) belongs to a big-time drug dealer or something like that. And sure enough … Very, very well-done, but I just liked the fairy tale better.

* * *

Every year, since the animated shorts tend to be actually short, the program includes two or three runner-ups, and they are often as good as, or even better than, the ballot entries. This time the three also-rans are all better than the awful Dear Basketball, but none of them were better than the other four.

Lost Property Office (Australia) (10 minutes)

Stop-motion, and gorgeous to look at, with some distorted and some realistic props, all in sepia tones. It tells of a man who runs the LPO of an urban railroad and subway. He presides over a dusty cavern filled with shelves of stuff people left behind on trains and in stations. Then he is notified he has been made redundant. He contemplates suicide, but comes up with a better solution.

Weeds (USA.) (3 minutes)

CGI. A little fable about a dandelion trying to cross a hot driveway to get a drink of water. About as much of a trifle as it sounds. I couldn’t find a trailer, though there is a 2:14:47 discussion of the making of it here:

I didn’t watch it. Up to you.

Achoo (France) (? Minutes)

CGI. Every year in China there is a competition between dragons to determine who has the best fire. There are two veterans and one little fellow who can’t seem to get his Zippo started. Then he takes some mysterious elixir. Is it a performance enhancing drug? This is China, you know, and they have been known to dope their athletes. Anyway, not only does he win, but his terrific sneeze invents fireworks. Here’s the trailer in French, but the film was narrated in English for us and the Academy:

* * *

The 2018 Live Action Oscar Nominated Short Films.

As a general rule, you look for the funny stuff in the animated category, and the serious stuff here. This year is no exception. Four of them are deadly serious, to the point of being depressing. Only the Australian one is funny, and it is very funny, very clever.

DeKalb Elementary – Reed Van Dyk, USA (21 minutes)

(Inspired by a 911 call placed during a school shooting incident in Atlanta, Georgia.)

A boy walks into a school office and takes out an assault rifle. (Yeah, NRA, I know you hate that term, and fuck you all right in the magazine.) He says he doesn’t want to go on living, but he doesn’t really want to kill anyone. It looks like a suicide-by-police situation. But the woman in the office engages him, tries to talk him down. It is a pretty tense scene.

We saw this a few days after Donald Trump put an assault rifle (fuck you again, NRA, and everything you stand for) into the hands of one Nikolas Cruz, loaded the magazine for him, cocked and loaded it, and sent him into a high school in Florida to kill seventeen people.

You don’t believe me? You think I’m exaggerating? Take a look at this story from not quite a year ago.

The pile-of-shit enablers in the White House* won’t even let you see a photo of this glorious moment, signing a directive ensuring the right of at least 75,000 mentally ill people to buy guns.

(*Henceforth the presidential residence will be known as the Shit House until Trump and his horrible family leave, when I hope it can be hosed out and used again by decent people. But I’m not optimistic.)

Oh, what a victory for guns, and fuck you again, NRA. Why oh why do none of these shooters ever go gunning for Wayne Lapierre?

There is no way on Earth I can write about this film without ranting about the pile of human garbage that is said to sometimes resemble a human being (I don’t see it, but that’s what they say) that calls itself Donald J. Trump. So what does he say now, and what do the shit-stinking cowards in the Republican Party (yes, and even a lot of Democrats) who follow along behind him have to say? Well, maybe now is the time to talk about maybe not giving guns to mentally ill people. He’s “willing to consider it.”

Now is too fucking late, you pustulent pimple on the asshole of humanity!!! Tell it to the seventeen dead and I don’t even know how many wounded. It’s too fucking late! Oh, but of course, your “thoughts and prayers” are with all the victims’ families. Well, fuck your thoughts and fuck your prayers!

Oh, yeah, this was supposed to be a movie review, wasn’t it? The movie is pretty good, but not my favorite.

Whenever I consider writing a rant like this I always wonder. Are any of you out there, folks on my mailing list … Trump supporters? Did any of you vote for him? I can’t imagine how anyone could like my stories and still vote for Donald Trump, but I guess it’s possible. What have you seen in my stories that would somehow jibe with the values this motherfucker has expressed? Do you like grabbing women by the pussy? Do you enjoy it when he disrespects a Gold Star family, or when he calls the widow of an American serviceman a liar, or mocks a man who trembles from a disability?

Am I offending you with a rant like this?

Well, I hope so. I hope I’m deeply offending you. I will continue to do so, and if you have a problem with that, fuck you, too. Take a fucking hike, and take your fucking president with you. He’s not welcome here, and neither are you.

The Silent Child – Chris Overton and Rachel Shenton, UK

(A profoundly deaf four year old girl named Libby who is born into a middle class family and lives in a world of silence until a caring social worker teaches her the gift of communication.)

This one made me almost as angry as the first one, though at least it was anger at characters up on the screen and not a real-life monster like Trump. A young woman bicycles up to a pretty posh country home and is greeted at the door by a man who says “Our expectations are very low.” I instantly disliked him and I didn’t even know yet that he had a deaf daughter.

It just went downhill from there, as far as the awful family went. Dad barely even seemed to notice his daughter. Mom and the two children notice her, but are too busy to be bothered by her. All wrapped up in their whirlwind of activities. They park the little girl in front of the telly and pretty much ignore her after that. Then the social worker begins to teach the girl to sign … and if anything, the parents are even less attentive. The girl starts to come out of her shell, so what do her parents do? Why, they are so alarmed at the idea of the “stigma” of the girl signing that they bundle her off to be “mainstreamed” with the hearing children. They want her to talk, like a normal person.

Naturally she hasn’t a clue what is going on (no one provides an interpreter), so she stands alone on the playground. The social worker is helpless to do anything for her.

Do you ever get so angry during a film that you just want to jump into the screen and start slapping people around? Well, I do. For one brief moment the son notices that little Libby is signing … but he promptly forgets about it. I wanted to punch the father out, and I wanted to grab the mother by the neck and scream at her, “Learn to sign, you incredible bitch!” I simply cannot imagine having a deaf child and not learning to sign. I can’t process that thought. But apparently it’s quite common.

This movie is a plea for understanding of the plight of the deaf child, who so often is assumed to be just stupid. It seems the problem is worse in the UK, surprisingly, whereas most deaf kids in the US are able to get signing interpreters because of the Americans With Disability Act of 1990. You may not be surprised to learn that the House just voted a few days ago (2/18/18) by a margin of 225-192, to gut the act in the name of stopping frivolous lawsuits. Our own Congressbitch, a horror-show named Jaime Herrera-Butler, voted to end it. You can check how your own POS rep voted here. Write to them.

This one has my vote for Best Live Action Short. The little girl is played by Maisie Sly, who actually is profoundly deaf. It was written by the actress who plays the social worker, Rachel Shenton, one of whose parents went deaf.

BTW: I was surprised to learn that British Sign Language (BSL) is quite distinct from ASL. They share only 31% of signs, so I guess it’s a bit like French and Spanish, which are both descended from Latin. To an American, BSL is a foreign language. It seems a shame that when these languages were being developed, not all that long ago, that they weren’t able to make them international.

My Nephew Emmett – Kevin Wilson, Jr., USA

(In 1955, a Mississippi preacher tries to protect his 14-year-old nephew, Emmett Till, from two racist killers out for blood. Based on true events.)

I guess there’s a generation now who may not have heard of Emmett Till’s lynching. He was a black Chicago kid who went down to Mississippi for a visit and did not understand how he was signing his own death warrant by daring to whistle at a white woman. He was dragged from his home and turned up three days later, dredged up from the bottom of the Tallahatchie River where his killers had weighted him down. He had been beaten and shot. His killers were acquitted. Everyone knew they were guilty, but in 1955, just like in To Kill a Mockingbird, no white man was going to be convicted of killing a Negro. It was a big deal, a significant event during the growth of the Civil Rights movement.

People really need to learn about this atrocity if they don’t know already, but this isn’t the film to do that. It is slow, even ponderous, and focuses on Till’s uncle, who agonizes over what he should do. It ends with the pick-up driving off, and the rest of the story is told in written comments. They completely missed the most iconic and dramatic moment of the story, which is when Till’s mother insists that her boy be shown in an open coffin so everyone could see what Southern justice was like. You can easily find what he looked like with a Google image search. I’d recommend bringing a strong stomach, and don’t look after eating. And I’m sorry, but some movies are certainly well-meaning, but just don’t cut the mustard.

The Eleven O’Clock – Derin Seale and Josh Lawson, Australia

(The delusional patient of a psychiatrist believes he is actually the psychiatrist. As they each attempt to treat each other the session gets out of control.)

This is the only funny one. A psychiatrist is told that his next patient, the eleven o’clock, has the delusion that he is a psychiatrist. When he arrives he tries to take up residence behind the shrink’s desk, and proclaims that the psych is the crazy one. And, in fact, it’s impossible to tell which one of them is real. It even occurred to me that neither of them were actually doctors, but two patients thrown together to see what happens. The dialogue is very clever, as the men get more and more frustrated with each other and possibly even begin to doubt their own sanity. There’s no way this one will win (I predict) and it probably shouldn’t, but I was grateful for the momentary chance to laugh between all the heartbreak.

Watu Wote/All of Us – Katja Benrath and Tobias Rosen, Germany/Kenya. (22 minutes)

(For almost a decade Kenya has been targeted by terrorist attacks of the Al-Shabaab. An atmosphere of anxiety and mistrust between Muslims and Christians is growing. Until in December 2015, Muslim bus passengers showed that solidarity can prevail.)

So we wind up here, on the border between Kenya and Somalia, two of the “shithole countries” our pretend “president” mentioned a few weeks ago. (The irony, to me, is that they are shitholes by almost any criteria. There is no government to speak of in Somalia, hasn’t been in decades. Kenya is pretty fucked-up, too. The thing is, I can say that, but the president of the United States should not. Just one more thing that shithead doesn’t understand.)

It’s a true story of how a bus full of Christians and Muslims was ambushed by a bunch of sub-humans calling themselves Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen (literally: Movement of Striving Youth). These Muslim terrorists and mass murderers commanded the Muslim passengers to identify the Christians so they could kill them. The Muslims refused, even going so far as the wrap the Christian women’s heads in scarves before getting off the bus. One schoolteacher was singled out and told to testify or die. He refused, and was shot. (He survived six weeks, then died.)

Once more I’m struck by just how much human misery is directly attributable to competing fairy tales about a proposed “supreme being.” (The only supreme beings I believe in are Florence Ballard, Mary Wilson, and Diana Ross.) One of these fictional assholes is called Jehovah, another is Allah. There’s dozens of them, all wanting to be worshipped.

Right now the religion with the most violent and fanatical followers is unquestionably Islam. But we all know what Christians are capable of if you let them run wild, like in the Reformation and the Inquisition. And remember the sectarian violence in Northern Ireland, which could flare again in a heartbeat.

Give a “true believer” any power and he will quickly impose his ideology on you, and happily kill you if you object. Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Jews will kill you if you don’t drink their brand of Kool-Aid. And I’m sad to say that even Buddhists, the one religion that I thought was possibly immune to this sort of horror, are bloody-handed. Just take a look at what Buddhists are doing right now in The Country Formerly Known as Burma.

As a film it is quite well done, and very tense. But I’m still going with The Silent Child. A word about the bus. It is very claustrophobic. The seating is five across, three on one side, two on the other. A fat person could not get to a seat. Of course, there are not a lot of fat people taking buses in Somalia or Kenya. The fat ones can afford a Mercedes.

It all reminded me a little of a bus ride I took between Orly and Charles de Gaulle airports in Paris. It was five-across seating, too … but the fifth seat was a fold-down thing. They filled the regular seats, and then filled the aisles with the jump seats. No aisle at all. I tried to imagine evacuating the bus quickly, and just couldn’t do it. I was never so happy to get off of a bus, and I’m always happy to get off buses. I don’t like them. I’m too damn big.

So, to wrap up …

Best Animated Short: Revolting Rhymes: Part One. UK
Best Live Action Short: The Silent Child. UK

A clean sweep for the British. One thing they did this year that we hadn’t seen before is that during the end credits for the live action, they showed videos of the cast and producers watching the announcement on television and going wild when their labor of love was nominated. I thought that was really sweet, and I hope they do it for the animated films, too, next year. See you on Oscar Night, March 4.

Vancouver, WA
February 22, 2018