Most Oscar-nominated live action short films are issue driven. Seriousness wins awards. As cynical as it may sound, it’s the truth. Think hard, and name the last comedy that won Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Four of the five nominees for 2018 fall in seriousness category. Those films tackle school shootings, the mainstreaming of deaf children in modern schools, a hate crime in rural Mississippi and the Muslim-Christian conflict in Kenya. The fifth film offers us a mistaken identity farce and brings some comedic relief to the proceedings.
Dekalb Elementary gives us the tale of an active shooter with mental health issues who locks himself in the school office with one of the administrative assistants. He fires some shots for dramatic effect, but it’s not his intent to harm anyone. As he repeatedly says, “I just want to go to the hospital.” As compelling as the premise may sound, Dekalb Elementary proves to be the weakest of the five entries. It’s momentum grinds to a halt mid-film, and one implausibility after another undercuts the seriousness of the subject matter. (No school shooter is going to pace back and forth in front of a bank of windows without getting dropped by a police sniper.) The film could’ve been an interesting indictment of mental health services in this country. How sad is it that someone would need to stage a school shooting to receive in-patient care? Instead, we’re given a well-executed film with a plot that feels too obvious.
My Nephew Emmett is set in 1955 and tells the true story of Emmett Till, a young African American man from Chicago, who was murdered in rural Mississippi for whistling at a white woman in public. The production design and cinematography convincingly capture the period setting. The incident itself is simple, but the film draws the societal complexities out of its source material. The white villains feel a little too stereotypical, but that’s a nitpick for a powerful film that will likely take home the gold statue on March 4th.
The Eleven O’Clock is a comedy entry from Australia that combines stellar performances with a snappy screenplay. A psychiatrist is seeing a patient who thinks he is a psychiatrist, and it all takes place on the afternoon that a temp has replaced the regular secretary. Who is the psychiatrist and who is patient? The audience doesn’t know until the end of the film. If the Academy Award went to the most professionally executed short film, The Eleven O’Clock would take home the trophy. It’s a flawless short film, but funny doesn’t usually win awards.
The Silent Child explores the relationship between Libby, a profoundly deaf four-year-old girl, and her social worker, Joanne. As with so many deaf children, Libby was born into a family with parents and siblings who can hear. Her brother knows a few rudimentary signs. Her mother emphasizes “lip reading” which traps the little girl in a world where she can’t communicate. She’s been mainstreamed into a classroom with no aide or interpreter. When Joanne enters her life, Libby’s frustration fades, and the audience begins to see the intelligent, loving child trapped in a world of silence. In the United States, children like Libby would be assigned an interpreter to attend class with her, but such progress has not been made in the United Kingdom, and The Silent Child is intended to draw attention to this inequity. It’s a powerful twenty minutes.
Watu Wote (All of Us) dramatizes the true story of a bus hijacking in Kenya in December 2015. Al-Shabaab terrorists make all of the passengers disembark with the intention of killing the Christians traveling among the Muslims. In a spontaneous act of solidarity, the Muslim passengers refuse to reveal who among them are the Christians and even help disguise the would-be targets of the attack. The story is powerful, but the portrayal of the incident feels too rote. The audience never really gets to know the characters enough to feel fully invested in the story. It’s the selfless humanity of the Muslim passengers that is memorable and not necessarily the film.
The 2018 Oscar-Nominated Live Action Short Films (as well as the 2018 Oscar-Nominated Animated Short Films) open at Landmark Theatre locations across the country on Friday, February 9, 2018.
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.