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This year, it’s all about endangered boys: With a single exception, the films nominated for the Live-Action Short Oscar all feature pre-teen boys in trouble, often of their own making. Whether or not that represents a message from the Academy to future Weinsteins and Spaceys, it means this year’s theatrical program will provoke sighs of relief from any adults not tasked with teaching kids to become good men (and ensuring they don’t die along the way).
First, the outlier: Marianne Farley’s Marguerite, like this year’s short-animation nominee Late Afternoon, watches as a young woman tends to an elderly one. Here, the younger protagonist is a nurse who visits the elder one every day in her home, bathing and dressing her and helping with small chores. Given the generation gap, we’re meant to wonder how the title character will react when she learns her nurse is gay. The movie telegraphs her sentiments well before it makes them explicit, but any predictability is outweighed by a beautifully executed final scene.
RELEASE DATE Feb 08, 2019
Two women also share the screen in Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s Madre, in which the boy-in-danger is never seen. When a divorced woman gets a call from her son during his vacation with his father, she’s soon living a nightmare: The young boy is sitting on a beach whose location she has no way of knowing, his father has disappeared, and there are no people or buildings nearby where he might seek help. Sorogoyen’s camera dollies slowly through the apartment as the woman and her mother begin to panic, desperately trying to get help from police or somehow deduce the boy’s whereabouts. Then things get worse.
Moving from Spain to Quebec, Jeremy Comte’s Fauve shouldn’t be discussed very much beyond the declaration that it’s the standout in this fairly strong group of films. Unpredictable but not dishonest, its look at two kids playing in an abandoned surface mine generates worry almost from its first frames, even as it captures the loose joys of unsupervised, make-it-up-as-you-go gameplay.
Unsupervised kids get into a far more upsetting situation in Vincent Lambe’s Detainment, which is based on a true event. Two English boys are being questioned separately by police detectives investigating a toddler’s death. Having been out on a penny-ante crime spree that day, the kids clearly have things to hide from the cops. But just what they might know about the younger boy’s demise is a mystery — at least for non-Brits who didn’t follow that country’s news circa 1993. Centering on the long interrogations and viewing the day’s events only in (slightly garish) flashbacks, the film owes much of its emotional punch to a wrenching performance by juvenile thesp Ely Solan.
The sole American production in this category, by Israeli director Guy Nattiv, is Skin — not to be confused with a thematically related feature-length film titled Skin, which Nattiv also released last year. The short wonders what it’s like for a bright, curious kid to grow up loving a violent racist dirtbag. Like the feature, the short benefits from an excellent cast, this time including Danielle Macdonald and Jonathan Tucker alongside youngster Jackson Robert Scott (It). But the script follows up its shocking centerpiece with some very on-the-nose karmic payback, then adds an O’Henryish end that, however well acted, strains credibility and flatters the viewer’s sense of moral superiority.
Directors: Rodrigo Sorogoyen, Jeremy Comte, Marianne Farley, Vincent Lambe, Guy Nattiv
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