The Tragedy of Oscar-nominated Short Films


I tell myself I won’t but I do it every year: I go to see the Oscar-nominated Live Action Short Films that my local theater shows. I say I’m not going because invariably the films are extremely depressing and tragic, as if short films (most are thirty minutes or less) are required to be about death, war, tragedy, and trauma to be relevant. While there is no such requirement, again this year most of the films followed the template.

I had to attend this year. Not only because I keep hoping the short format will deliver a unique and indelible experience, but I’d just heard the sad news that my local theater—The Spectrum—is permanently closing its doors later this week. It was my favorite place to see a movie and the only place to catch international or independent films that often are excellent but fly under the media radar.

The Oscar-nominated Live Action Short Films seem like an occasion for young and independent filmmakers from around the world to showcase their vision and talent. The short format allows for less reliance on the typical three-act structure common in feature films and presents more opportunities for interesting experimentation. But this year a short film by A-list director Wes Anderson was nominated (and will likely win). Netflix also had an entry. I’m sure other big names will jump in next year.

Here are the five from this year’s nominating group:

“The After”

I put this film in the genre of tragedy porn. A man grieves the sudden and violent (and ridiculously portrayed) deaths of his wife and daughter. A year later he’s working as a driver and one of his fares reminds him of his family. It has a startling effect on him, which causes the family to back away in horror but offers our protagonist some emotional relief. The best thing about this overwrought entry was its length—only eighteen minutes.

“Knight of Fortune”

Another tale about grief which most reviewers liked but I found dull, although well-acted. Two men form a bond when they meet at a morgue where they have to identify the bodies of their wives. One can’t bring himself to open the casket and has to rely on support from the other. In the middle of the film is a gag about one of the guy’s wife having a second family. Too contrived to elicit an emotional response from me. My response was: Next!


This French Canadian film tells the story of a young teenager who has just entered a juvenile detention center. Just before he goes in he tells his sister not to worry, nothing will happen to him because he’s invincible. Shockingly, he’s not. Think: sadness and desperation. Well-acted, but the end was given away at the beginning, so we all know what’s coming.

“The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar”

This is the Wes Anderson entry, and the longest running one at forty minutes. It has all the Wes Anderson hallmarks of whimsical sets, packed narratives, and strange characters who narrate, interact, and even speak to the audience. The story itself is a clever and endearing take on the Robin Hood theme, but how much you like this film is directly correlated to how much you like Wes Anderson’s style (“Moonrise Kingdom,” “The French Dispatch,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel”).

“Red, White and Blue”

I saved this one for last because it’s the one I’ve been thinking about the most. A very American entry wielding a political hammer. This film follows a single mother of two who lives in Arkansas but must travel to Illinois for abortion services. One notable reviewer called the film a “horrifically wrong-headed sermon on the issue in the United States.” Another wrote that the “struggle of its strapped, single-mom waitress (Brittany Snow) to cross the state line for a procedure is a gut punch lying in wait.”

I thought the film was compelling. In the first half, I found myself getting a little judgy about the character: economically struggling, pregnant for at least the third time, no man in the picture. I was a little ashamed of my feelings. But then a significant twist occurred, which I didn’t see coming (bonus points to the filmmaker!), and it drastically altered my feelings and perceptions. Any film that can do that is worth my attention.

Side note: The other thing about “Red, White and Blue” I keep thinking about (nerd alert) is the lack of the Oxford comma in the title. The issue is whether you use a comma after the next-to-last item in a list before the word ‘and.’ I’m a big supporter of using the Oxford comma for clarity. I wanted the title to be “Red, White, and Blue.” Or even “Red and White and Blue.” “Red, White and Blue” just looked wrong to me, and my spellchecker flagged it as well. I’m probably the only one who cares.

Anyway, goodbye to my local Spectrum Theater. Goodbye to the only theater playing independent and foreign films in my area. Next year I might not have the choice of whether or not to go see the Live Action Shorts. It’s a tragedy.

By David Klein

David Klein

Published novelist, creative writer, journalist, avid reader, discriminating screen watcher.


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