Oscar Thoughts: Best Actor

Now for another one of the major categories of the Academy Awards: Best Actor! This is one of the most sought-after awards at the ceremony, along with Best Actress, Best Director, and, of course, Best Picture. In lieu of any hesitation, let’s jump right into this one.

Timothée Chalamet in Call Me By Your Name as Elio Perlman

With Chalamet’s nomination, he has already made history as the third youngest Best Actor nominee ever, and the youngest since Mickey Rooney in 1939’s Babes in Arms. Although the Academy tends to honor older, more seasoned actors for this award, I’m not gonna lie – I’m really rooting for this kid. Call Me By Your Name deals with such delicate, sensitive themes that could have really caused its downfall had it not supplied the right performances. Thankfully, Chalamet gives us all that and more. His emotional depth (especially his insecurity) felt so true and realized, and his depiction of the awkward, painfully inexperienced Elio just stole my heart. I wanted to reach out and protect him from his inevitable heartbreak so, so badly. It takes a truly top-tier performance to make me feel for a fictional character in such a way, and Chalamet definitely succeeds in that respect.

Daniel Day-Lewis in Phantom Thread as Reynolds Woodcock

Obviously, Daniel Day-Lewis is pretty much the definition of the type of seasoned actors that often win Best Actor. This is his sixth Oscar nomination to date and if he wins this year, it would be his fourth time gaining the title of Best Actor. This would make him the only actor to achieve this feat four times and no one else comes close! It probably isn’t too far of a reach, though, to surmise that this nomination may not have happened had he not announced his retirement earlier last year. In any case, given that it is Daniel Day-Lewis we’re talking about, of course this is a great performance. I do think that many of the strengths here come with his well he plays against Vicky Krieps, the two of them pushing, pulling, and intertwining with one another to create an intoxicatingly derange love dynamic. As for Reynolds Woodcock himself, he is a blatantly insufferable character I truly love to hate, and Day-Lewis perfect this role with not only superb line-reading, but also more subtle gestures, pauses, and facial expressions. In other words, exactly what I was expecting.

Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out as Chris Washington

And with Daniel Kaluuya’s nomination, even more history has been made! Specifically, he is only the second Black person of British nationality to be nominated for Best Actor. A couple years ago when I finally got around to Black Mirror (I was late in the game), I was completely taken about by Kaluuya’s breakthrough performance in basically the only episode of the show I truly enjoyed. I’m glad that Jordan Peele also saw some potential in him with casting him as the lead for his debut feature, because he was one of the most important factors in the film’s concrete anxiety. Apart from so much of the general aesthetic that made Get Out creepy and disturbing as hell, Kaluuya created such a great protagonist who was easy to sympathize with, making the horror with which this film is saturated all the more realized. It’s actually pretty amazing that Get Out got as many nominations as it did, but the most amazing part is that the usually stuffy Academy voters actually felt to honor a horror performance in the way they did. That’s incredible! And Kaluuya more than deserves the honor.

Gary Oldman in Darkest Hour as Winston Churchill

I saw someone post on social media somewhere that the decision to nominate Gary Oldman this year is the symbolic final breath of a dying Oscar voter… and I couldn’t even  imagine conjuring up a better analogy for this. If there is anything impressive about Oldman as Churchill, it’s the makeup and prosthetic effects used to emulate his likeness. It’s impressively accurate and doesn’t look at all tacky or cheap! The performance, though… snore. I mentioned in my post on the Best Cinematography nominees that I am so, so tired of World War II movies, so I guess I was setting myself up for failure here. However, it’s also plainly obvious that they only snuck this nomination in as an attempt to finally get Gary Oldman his goddamn Oscar. There’s nothing at all exceptional here – it really just comes off as a kind of good Churchill impersonation, but without the emotional resonance or intriguing delivery to keep it very interesting at all. It’s an Oscar bait performance at its most eye-rollingly obvious.

Denzel Washington in Roman J. Israel, Esq. as Roman J. Israel

Denzel Washington is one of the greatest living actors (maybe one of the all-time greatest?) and has such an impeccable ability to carry the weight of an entire film on his shoulders, regardless of quality. I didn’t quite get on board with all the scathing reviews that Roman J. Israel, Esq. received – though its ideas were undeniably half-baked, it’s fine for what it is. Of course, so much of what made it even slightly watchable is Washington himself in his best performance in quite some time. Yes, even better than Fences. His depiction of the titular protagonist makes for quite an interesting character, and the best part is just how natural and organically he plays it off. He can get cartoonish at times, sure, but he also never fails at elevating above the material he is given – which, admittedly, isn’t always good. Still, there’s no denying his electrifying screen presence and it’s definitely prominent here. It’s not a film that will even be remotely remembered in five years or so, but it is yet another impressive performance for Washington to add to his catalog.

As far as the winner of this award is concerned, I would love, love, love to see Daniel Kaluuya take it come Oscar night. Realistically, though, I know that this very likely will not happen. Regrettably, I’d say that Gary Oldman probably has the best chances here – this performance is just the type that would win in this category, and he’s definitely been due for receiving one for quite some time. I wouldn’t like it… but whatever. I’d also say that the next best chance would be for Timothée Chalamet to win, given the universal acclaim his performance has gotten. However, his age and the fact that this is only his first nomination do lessen his chances considerably… but a girl can dream!!

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Oscar Thoughts: Best Foreign Language Film

I think for me (especially in these days), most of the fun with Oscar season comes from discovering the films that are honored that lie on the more alternative currents of the category layout. Everyone pays attention to the Best Picture nominees and all the acting categories, but I find that the most fun comes from the Best Short Film categories (Live Action and Animated, especially), Best Documentary Feature, and – yes – Best Foreign Language Film. There’s always usually at least one film in this latter category that I find myself loving so, so much. And that’s certainly the case with this year too! More below.

An Fantastic Woman (Chile)

There’s nothing I can say about this film that Willow hasn’t already summed up so perfectly, but I’ll give a few of my own clumsy thoughts anyway. The shining beacon in this film is Daniela Vega, who contributes some of my favorite moments of nuanced emotion that I’ve seen in any film all year. Moreover, there are quite some really lovely, arresting imagery that elevate the movie beyond its simple storyline. The main issue, though, is how the film chooses to navigate its protagonist’s experience as a trans woman, which often don’t work as well as it thinks it does. Early in the film, for example, the script explicitly avoids mentioning Marina’s birth name, which would have been a refreshing turn had they not spoken it in full later on. There are also scenes where the camera lingers over her partially nude body in ways that come off as othering. Maybe under the supervision of an actual trans director this would have been a more humanistic, true-to-life portrayal, but as it stands it feels a lot like the kind of film liberal Oscar voters would nominate to make themselves feel good about achieving the bare minimum in seeing trans folks as people.

The Insult (Lebanon)

Sadly, The Insult also seems to fall into the camp of films that people only root for to feel better about themselves. If it sounds like I’m bitter, it’s probably the Three Billboards effect taking its toll… but I digress. On paper, the concept of The Insult isn’t too outlandish: a simple disagreement escalates to violence between two warring classes due to either side unwilling to back off their case. The film attempts to paint a vivid picture of the conflict between Lebanese Christians and Palestinian refugees, but in the process it simplifies this extremely complicated issue to such unrealistic plainness. The thesis statement of this film leans on little more than, “violence is bad… on both sides”. There’s so little nuance in the delivery of its courtroom narrative and the general message is so damn generic and unchallenging. What would be truly radical would be to not manufacture such a broad moral stance and actually create an explicitly pro-Palestinian film without worrying about alienating the right viewers. But I guess that’s asking for too much. For what it’s worth, though, there is some nice camerawork here and the performances from its two leads are incredibly compelling. The rest can just go away.

Loveless (Russia)

Ah, now here comes one of my biggest cinematic weaknesses: slow, languid Eastern European films that are depressing as fuck. Although I much prefer Andrey Zvyagintsev’s previous film Leviathan and especially his earlier The Return, this one also pushed the right buttons for me. Set to the tune of a variety of lovely, chilling establishing shots, this one follows the sudden disappearance of a child and the terrible people who are affected by this happenstance. Even though this is, stylistically, the kind of film I tend to obsess over, this didn’t do much for me. I found myself really struggling to care about any of these characters and the narrative itself seems to spiral into plain, bland apathy very quickly. There are scenes that seems to point at some semblance of political and social commentary (especially re: the war in Ukraine and heightened significance of smartphones), but it never does anything very useful with these scenes. And although Zvyagintsev has never been the best at crafting female characters, they seem to be at their absolute worse here. I’m sure the fact that this film made me feel as empty as it did only proves its success, but with the exception of its cinematography, I didn’t find it very fulfilling in any way.

On Body and Soul (Hungary)

I felt like this particular film was only nominated as a joke. It’s easily my least favorite of the nominees in this category, and I knew it would be from the first twenty minutes or so. It’s too bad though because, once again, this is the only nominee from a female filmmaker and I wish I could support all women directors… but this just sucked! Essentially, two employees of a slaughterhouse discover that they have the same dream each night and thereby attempt to recreate a relationship of their own amongst difficult circumstances. I’ve seen this film described elsewhere as an unusual, peculiar love story of sorts, but I just found it boring and a bit distasteful really. The female lead clearly is in no position to assert her agency in a romantic relationship, certainly not with a man who is relatively neurotypical; their relationship comes off as cold, unfeeling, and just plain manipulative. I didn’t care for a single individual I was watching and the whole experience felt as pointless and sterile as its script, performances, and cinematography. It’s just a totally drab film, one that will surely be forgotten after this Oscar season ends. I will always be bitter that this shit got nominated while BPM was not even shortlisted.

The Square (Sweden)

Yep – this is the one nominee from this category that I unapologetically enjoyed and even kind of loved! Ruben Östlund’s previous film Force Majeure was such a hilariously scathing takedown of masculinity, I couldn’t wait to watch how he’d perform a similar critique of the art world. I certainly was not let down. Clocking in at nearly three hours in length, The Square throws a whole bunch of ideas like tomatoes at the screen, all strung together by a relatively flimsy plot. This film is the definition of the parts being greater than the whole, as I have so many images and moments from this film practically seared into my memory even though I tend to struggle to explain what it’s actually about. It takes so many twists and turns it becomes impossible to predict what’s about to happen next, and it remains hilarious throughout! After a while, it’s wise to just sit back and enjoy the ride – because, boy, what a ride. If it seems like I’m being vague with this description, there’s a reason. Like the previous year’s Toni Erdmann, this is kind of lengthy comedy that is best going into knowing as little as possible. This is probably the most surreal, batshit crazy satirical nosedive I’ve seen any film take and I’d watch it five more times if possible!

Up until about a month ago, I predicted that The Square would have this award in the bag. It did win the Palme d’Or, after all! Nowadays, though, it really seems like A Fantastic Woman is the new favorite for this award. Not only does it have all the obvious elements of good filmmaking that voters love (pleasant cinematography, good acting, a satisfying ending), but the social issue at its core (“transphobia is bad, guys!!”) is one that is presented as easily consumable and agreeable for a general audience. I would still be delighted if the Academy recognized an actual unique, creative film in this category – like The Square – but on the bright side, A Fantastic Woman winning would maybe give Daniela Vega the international recognition she wholeheartedly deserves. There’s a good side to everything!

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Every Hot 100 Number One Single: “Don’t Forget About Us” (2005) by Mariah Carey

Looks like the latest theme for this Every Number-One Single challenge is “slow R&B ballads about heartbreak with polished, dance-pop production sung by hugely prominent female performers”. I swear, though, that this song coming right after “Take a Bow” is nothing more than mere coincidence by way of my randomizer. It’s debatable over who is the bigger deal in this particular instance, as both Carey and Rihanna are among the most successful artists of all time… but we’ll save that debate for another day.

In all honesty, no matter how much detail I get with this particular review, it’s only telling half the story – because I’ve got it all backwards here! In order to understand the success of this song, it’s important to remember that Mariah Carey’s previous number-one single, “We Belong Together”, was a much, much bigger deal. Earlier that summer, it placed at the number-one spot for fourteen non-consecutive weeks, the second-longest length for any song at the top, and is the top song for 2005 as a whole. Thus, when Carey re-released her hugely successful tenth album The Emancipation of Mimi (from whence “We Belong Together” came) and announced “Don’t Forget About Us” as the first single from this Ultra Platinum Edition, fans were quick to point out the heavy comparisons between the two hits.

In this case, though, lightning seemed to have struck twice, and “Don’t Forget About Us” eventually became Carey’s seventeenth number-one single. It stayed at the top spot for two weeks that winter, becoming both the last number-one single of 2005 and the first of 2006. I’ll save a solid overview of “We Belong Together” for when I actually get around to it in this challenge, but for now I’ll mention that there’s one crucial thread that ties that song to “Don’t Forget About Us”, inevitably leading to its success. That thread is producer Jermaine Dupri, who gained much acclaim for his work on Mariah’s hugely popular track and returned to produce this one as well.

Dupri is an producer from Atlanta who has his beginnings in the late 80s and the early 90s, notably for working with acts such as Kriss Kross, Lil Kim, and Da Brat. It was during this time that he worked with Carey for the first time, for her track “Always Be My Baby” – given that she was still in her early stages of superstardom, this track – yes – topped the charts! In the decade leading up to The Emancipation of Mimi, Dupri worked on and off with Carey but also collaborated with a number of other up-and-coming artists. Notably, he was a factor in elevating Usher to fame and fortune as well, producing his early tracks “You Make Me Wanna”, “My Way”, “Nice & Slow”, and “U Got It Bad” (the latter two being number-one singles), as well as cuts from his more mature album Confessions, including “Burn”, “Confessions Part II”, and “My Boo” (all chart-toppers). The point to be made here is that if you’re a young R&B starlet yearning for the spotlight, the chart success, and all the Grammys, Jermaine Dupri is the guy for you.

For the most part, the majority of Dupri’s productions that top the charts are in the mid- to low-tempo R&B ballad category, though there are many exceptions (like “Grillz”!). Unfortunately, though, as evident by some of the Usher songs mentioned, there’s also a tendency for many of his similar tracks to sound nearly indistinguishable from one another. Indeed, this is probably the main qualm to be had with “Don’t Forget About Us” – listening to this one side-by-side with “We Belong Together”, its hard to ignore the extreme similarities in the smooth, polished backing instrumental, both interpolating heavy bass with more delicate handclaps. Even Mariah seems to be playing by the same handbook in both, opting for softer vocals in the early verses, building up into intensity until exploding in her signature emotional delivery in the final parts of the song.

And yes, just like the song that came before, “Don’t Forget About Us” tells the all-too-familiar story of heartache following the breakup of a passionate relationship. And it’s very clear in this particular song that the speaker isn’t taking it well at all, fully enamored in intimate memories with no desire to just let them go (“Late nights, playin’ in the dark / And wakin’ up inside my arms”). These feelings are definitely familiar and I’m sure I’m not the only one who thinks so. I guess I’m just not a fan of how meek and pathetic she comes off in this narrative, especially since she’s made it clear that her ex-lover has moved on (“They say that you’re in a new relationship / But we both know nothing comes close to what we had; it perseveres”). In the bridge, she even goes as far to insult the new woman, fully committed to the idea that she was the best he had and nothing else could improve upon it (“And if she’s got your head all messed up now, that’s the trickery… I bet she can’t do like me; she’ll never be MC”).

It’s at this point where I’m fully convinced that this song is little more than a lesson in masochism. There is little sign of emotional growth, only endless pain and jealousy. To continue to draw parallels with my previous review, there is little sign here of the pompous empowerment of “Take a Bow” or “Irreplaceable”; in fact, this song has more in common with the icy heartbreak of Ne-Yo’s “So Sick” (which I will get to eventually). Overall, though, “Don’t Forget About Us” feels like little more than “We Belong Together Part 2”, both lyrically and stylistically – though even the lyrics don’t quite measure up in this respect. Nonetheless, Carey mentions in the song herself that this is a “first true love”, which could very well explain the confused emotions and instability. This doesn’t always make for the most pleasant listening material, though. For now, at least, I’ll stick with “We Belong Together”.

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Oscar Thoughts: Best Animated Short Film

Since I recently did a write-up on this year’s nominees for Best Live Action Short Film, it only makes sense that I also do one for its animation counterpart! Honestly, although I tend to enjoy the animated shorts more than the live action ones, this year’s nominees were, disappointingly, a bit of a mixed bag. But I’ll expand more on each one down below!

Dear Basketball

Animator Glen Keane teamed up with pro basketball player Kobe Bryant (formerly of the Los Angeles Lakers) to create a short non-narrative about Bryant’s lifelong love of the sport and his inevitable departure from it. Indeed, this is based off of an open letter written by Bryant back in 2015 when he announced his retirement, and he even provides the narration. Taken at face value, this is pretty gentle and loving, a tone that owes much to the calming nature that Keane’s hand-drawn style often employs. I’m sure this short means a whole lot to folks who are in love with the basketball; however, the fact that this was able to move me despite my general apathy towards sports as a whole shows that this film does its job well. Inevitably, though, given that Bryant’s name is attached to this, it does come off a bit like a blatant advertisement for the Lakers and the NBA as a whole (I’m pretty annoyed that this has anything to do with Bryant at all, for reasons I won’t get into here). Despite these mild displeasures, though, it’s charming and impressively understated… as long as you pretend it isn’t completely Kobe Bryant-centered.

Garden Party

I really don’t know what to make of this one!! The most impressive aspect of Garden Party is definitely its animation. France has definitely fostered a reputation for some pretty interesting, impressive animation work and it definition shows here. The textures of these computer graphics are breathtaking, especially intriguing with how they capture the vivid sliminess of all the amphibians. What doesn’t win me over, however, is the narrative itself. Most of the short consists of frogs and toads navigating this empty mansion, partaking in its abandoned food and deserted rooms. There is an air of mystery that hangs over the entire short, which makes for some pretty compelling storytelling in its own right. But for the most part, it’s all just kind of boring, going from one scene to the next without anything particularly interesting happening. It isn’t until the end when a sudden, jarring image fills the screen, ending the story with an unusual moment of real-life gruesomeness. While I get what the team were going for, I didn’t think it made for a very good payoff and was mostly just unpleasant. All in all, this should probably only be watched by hardcore animation buffs.

Lou

At this point, it’s pretty much unheard of for Disney and/or Pixar to not have a film nominated in this category (the last time this happened was 2009!). This year, their nominated film was the one that preceded Cars 3, and I never got around to it until very recently because… well, Cars 3. In general, though, Pixar’s shorts have been lacking as of late, so I didn’t have high hopes for this one. Surprisingly, I actually found it to be pretty cute, given the tools it was working with. It’s a short little tale about an anthropomorphic pile of lost-and-found items teaching a playground bully about the treasures of empathy. It sounds unusual, but it actually offers a refreshing slice of childhood imagination that has been sorely missing from mainstream animated features lately. The animation itself is pretty middle-of-the-road – if you’ve seen literally any Pixar film with a child character, you know what to expect on that front. These writers have these shorts down to a formula and this follows it pretty much to a tee,with no real surprises here. Still, it’s sweet, colorful, and bubbly enough for kids, all while going down smoothly for adults as well. Not bad.

Negative Space

And now for another short animated film from France, this one is a much more different style than Garden Party. For the most part, there doesn’t seem to be very much going on – through some pretty inventive stop-motion animation, the protagonist how much of the bonding that occurred between him and his often-estranged father was with the latter teaching him how to strategically pack a suitcase. As I mentioned, even though this only runs about six minutes in length, there are still some pretty lovely, eye-catching uses of stop-motion that budding filmmakers should definitely be taking as an example. Eventually, the narrative ends on a pretty dark turn that takes its motif of negative space  to a much more macabre place. Usually I would be all over an ending like this, but I somehow found myself just thinking, “… and?”, which is disappointing since I’m sure it would be a much more interesting film had it been a tad longer. Pretty ironic, considering that concept of never taking free space for granted is highly emphasized through this short – in my opinion, it could have benefited from being a little baggier.

Revolting Rhymes

And now for an opinion for which I am almost certainly in the minority. I guess my general dislike of Revolting Rhymes is partially due to my unfamiliarity with its source material, written by Roald Dahl and illustrated by Quentin Blake. I read a lot of Dahl’s works as a kid, but this one just managed to slip away from me (I guess I was too busy reading The Stinky Cheese Man?). As such, I watched this film just as face value, and while I can see the appeal of this film for children in seeing their favorite nursery rhymes subverted and strung together so cleverly, I found myself bewilderingly bored. Magic Light Studios has put out some relatively fun work in the past, but most of what I’ve watched from them have been pretty middle-ground. This one definitely has the most generic animation of them all, and not even the characters and their various misadventures kept me compelled through its half-hour run time. Once again, I know I’m in the minority and I’m sure children might find this fun – but it just didn’t do anything for me.

The easy answer to the question of who will win the Oscar for this category this year is, unsurprisingly, Lou. Disney have snagged the most awards in the category and Pixar shorts have become a 21st century staple of pleasant, family-friendly short entertainment. Nonetheless, the Best Animated Short Film category has also been known to award some of the most beautifully out-of-left-field shorts of the past ten years or so, including The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore and La Maison en Petits Cubes. As such, while there aren’t any entries this year that are particularly ground-breaking, I could see Glen Keane winning the Oscar this year for Dear Basketball, especially since it won the same award at the Annies earlier this month. Given that Keane is such a talented animator and would certainly deserve his first Academy Award… well, here’s to hoping!

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Oscar Thoughts: Best Live Action Short Film

It is now about ten days until the Oscars ceremony and I haven’t completed quite enough of these Oscars Thoughts posts as I wanted to! I partially place the blame on my sudden need to plow through my overview of the top 100 songs of 1984 – but really, there just isn’t ever enough time in the world to do everything I want. No matter, though!

Every year, I try to watch through the Oscar-nominated live action and animated shorts (sadly, I could never. ever get around to the documentary shorts). While often mixed in terms of quality, it’s always loads of fun discovering what are often considered among the best of the year. How did this year’s nominated live action shorts measure up? Read below and find out!

Dekalb Elementary

Undoubtedly, this particular short film is the one, out of the five nominated, that garnered the most reactions and after-screening discussions. Based off of an actual 911 emergency call, it details a horrifying predicament wherein a gunman enters the front office of an elementary school, and an employee talks him into surrendering himself to authorities with patience and compassion, with no one harmed in the end. The basic narrative is tragically very relevant, and the film’s greatest strength lies in its hopefulness that so many of these shooting incidents could end with much different results than they often do. Unfortunately, I think it is also in danger of (unintentionally) painting a false equivalency with countless other predicaments and assuming they all could end just as peacefully. We shouldn’t expect all victims of similar situations to willingly risk their lives in an attempt to achieve mutual empathy with their attacker, which may never actually come. Nonetheless, it’s a nice story and an inspiring one at that.

The Eleven O’Clock

This year, the nominated live action shorts were mostly pretty bleak and depressing in content, so it is pretty nice to have a bit of humor thrown in for good measure. In The Eleven O’Clock, a psychiatrist finds himself wrapped in a session with a patient who suffers from the delusion that he is a psychiatrist. Through a series of numerous misunderstandings, the battle ensues between the two of them wherein one is fully convinced he is the doctor and the other is the patient. Even more impressively, though, the lines between fiction and reality become blurred indistinguishably and after a while, I don’t even know what to believe anymore! This is predictably hilarious, and the whole thing plays off like some sort of madcap Monty Python sketch. Yet, like even the best Monty Python sketches, the joke turns a bit stale pretty quickly and just generally leaves less of an impact than preferred. Still, for what it is, it is pretty well-done and worth a single, solitary viewing.

My Nephew Emmett

The racist lynching of fourteen-year-old Emmett Till is one of the most disgraceful events of our country’s recent history. With My Nephew Emmett, the events of that fateful day are told through the eyes of his uncle, played magnificently by L.B. Williams. Visually speaking, this film is the best shot of all five nominees, each shot filling the frame with foreboding light and rich darkness. The emotions in this film are raw, real, and absolutely incredible. One complaint I do have is with the actor they chose to play the titular Emmett Till, who is very obviously in his mid- or even late-twenties. Too often, Black boys are robbed of a childhood by white folks who disproportionately treat them like adult criminals whereas white boys (and even young men) often get away with much more for reason of their youth. Casting an actor closer to the age of fourteen would much more effectively get across the senselessness of this child’s murder. Relatively speaking, though, these complaints are minor, and the best parts of this film are more effective than the rest of the list.

The Silent Child

Out of these five films, this one has attained the most nominations and wins across the festival circuit; thus, it is undoubtedly a favorite to win the Oscar this year. For what it is, though, it’s quite alright. It tells the story of a social worker who begins working with a family’s six-year-old daughter, who is deaf. As she teaches her sign language, the two share an immediately close bond that is tried by her parents’ reluctance with the language. I really love the decision to include subtitles to every part of the film, not just the signed parts, despite the whole rest of the film being in English. It suggested a sensitivity and awareness of deaf/hard-of-hearing folks who should definitely be part of its target audience. It’s shot nicely and the story is paced well, but it generally felt to be lacking in complete cohesion, especially since it ends right when the the story is about to get really interesting, relaying its message of inclusiveness to its audience rather literally. Nonetheless, its themes are pretty important and I’m definitely glad it exists.

Watu Wote: All of Us

Every year, there always seems to be a nominated short film with politics that lie mostly on the tired liberal tendencies that are just so generic and Oscar-bait. Regrettably, this year’s short to fall in this category is also the only short directed by a woman. It reenacts the true story of how traveling Muslims and Christians in Kenya acted in a brief, refreshing moment of solidarity when their bus is attacked by a militant terrorist group. Specifically, it follows a Christian woman who learns to think outside of her instilled prejudice toward Muslims and becomes a better person in the end. And this is where my initial problem lies: I feel that having a Christian as a main character, someone to sympathize with, does little to challenge the commonly-held assumption that Islam is an inherently violent, backwards religion. Sure, this is based on a true story and I assume that this narrative is closer to reality than the contrary. It’s well-acted and objectively well-made, but it’s also just not very challenging and follows the same beats and patterns that it’s expected to go. I wish I liked this one more… but alas.

As I mentioned before, I think The Silent Child has this one in the bag. It’s simply the most crowd-pleasing entry here, dealing with real-world issues that don’t come off as too grim or challenging (like My Nephew Emmett or Dekalb Elementary), while also containing heartwarming moments and a soft tone overall. Plus, it’s got a child in one of the most important roles in the story, and films with child actors in them are huge favorites for the Best Live Action Short Film category. It just checks all the boxes!

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