Oscar-Nominated Shorts (2023)

Several Oscar shorts come up big

In advance of the March 12 Academy Awards ceremony, you’ll want to check out this year’s 15 nominees in the three “Shorts” categories: Animation, Live Action and Documentary. They deal with subjects ranging from climate change to misogyny to the glories of friendship, seeking to find light amid the darkness. There’s some humor to be found, too, if you look hard enough. But what all 15 have in common is that they seldom fail to make compelling viewing. To get you prepared here’s a rundown on each of the nominees:


The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse (UK 33m)

Directors: Charlie Mackesy and Matthew Freud. Keep the hankies close by for this lovely, water-colored tale about a lost little boy (voice of Jude Coward Nicoll) befriended by a mole (Tom Hollander), a fox (Idris Elba) and a horse (Gabriel Byrne) who tenderheartedly show him the way home. Yes, some of the sugary dialogue borders on platitudes in a production co-produced by J.J. Abrams, but the words of affirmation nevertheless ring true. And they move you, as does the gorgeous animation. Grade: A

The Flying Sailor (Canada 8m)

Directors: Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby. The film, marking a third nomination for the directing team, is based on a true story about a sailor blown into the sky by an explosion, but the resulting production pales in comparison to the actual event. The messy pen and ink animation is unappealing and the action tedious, as we spend what feels like an eternity watching a naked, crudely drawn man tumble over and over again in slow motion. Yawn! Grade: D

Ice Merchants (Portugal/France/UK 15m)

Director: João Gonzalez. Climate change is at the heart of a rather bizarre tale of a father-son ice-making team working out of their home. Not just any home, mind you, but one attached by cables to the side of a towering glacier. While the message is impactful and timely, your interest melts faster than the glacier. Grade: C

My Year of Dicks (USA 26m)

Director: Sara Gunnarsdóttir. Writer Pamela Ribon adapts her 2014 coming-of-age memoir into an R-rated charmer about her failed attempts to lose her virginity as a teenager in the early 1990s. Yes, it’s crude at times, but highly relatable in that it cuts directly to the heart of the often awkward machinations preceding the knowledge that there’s much more to sex than bumping uglies. And that boys can indeed be … well, the title says it all. (Note: Parents with small children will be alerted and given time to exit the theater before this very adult film rolls.) Grade: A-

An Ostrich Told Me the World Is Fake and I Think I Believe It (Australia, 12m)

Director: Lachlan Pendragon. There’s a distinct “Twilight Zone” vibe to this stop-motion tale of Neil (voice of director Lachlan Pendragon), an ineffectual call center employee whose midnight encounter with a talking ostrich opens his eyes to the stark reality of his drone-like existence. It’s all very meta, as Neil determines he’s literally a soulless puppet, part of a rigged system where the entire world is merely a stage. Grade: B

Live Action

An Irish Goodbye (UK 23m)

Directors: Tom Berkeley and Ross White. There’s crowd-pleaser written all over this very Irish yarn about estranged brothers (Seamus O’Hara and James Martin) coming together to bury Mum and settle up her estate. The adversarial banter between the two is knowing and at times touching, but the story is both flimsy and predictable. Grade: B

Ivalu (Denmark 17m)

Director: Anders Walter. A young indigenous girl (Mila Heilmann Kreutzmann) in Greenland is desperate to find her long-missing older sister, Ivalu (Nivi Larsen), whose disappearance her hardhearted father (Angunnguaq Larsen) has no interest in solving. Her only clue is provided by a mysterious raven whose lead she follows in tracing what might have been Ivalu’s last steps. While the story, based on a graphic novel adapted by Oscar-winning director Anders Walter (“Helium”), may sound interesting on paper, it’s deadly dull in its execution. But it IS a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at a culture and way of life to which precious few have been exposed. Grade: C

Le Pupille (Italy 39m)

Director: Alice Rohrwacher. The scarcity of supplies – and love – takes a toll on an Italian boarding school struggling to survive at the height of World War II. While the nuns may be benevolent, they are not above exploiting their charges in an attempt to garner much-needed cash and food from equally bereft villagers. What starts off as a charming ode to the perseverance of children, eventually goes astray before reaching a weak, disappointing conclusion in which players literally fall flat on their faces. Kudos, though, to co-producer Alfonso Cuarón, who has now been nominated in a record-tying seventh Oscar category, a feat previously achieved a year ago by Kenneth Branagh. Grade: B-

Night Ride (Norway 16m)

Director: Eirik Tveiten. Cold, tired and anxious to get to bed following a Yule party, a little person (Sigrid Husjord) unwittingly embarks on a most eventful journey home in the driver’s seat of a Green Line-like trolley. Witnessing how she and a transgender passenger (Ola Hoemsnes Sandum) cleverly fight back against a couple of bigoted bullies is pure joy, and one that brings much warmth to a subject many conservatives want to put on ice. Grade: B+

The Red Suitcase (Luxembourg 18m)

Director: Cyrus Neshvad. Expect plenty of chills witnessing the horrifying situation of an Iranian teenager (a terrific Nawelle Ewad) attempting to flee the creepy old man (Sarkaw Gorany) who bought and paid for her to be his bride. Set inside the Luxembourg airport, the ensuing game of cat and mouse is requisitely nail-biting, but it’s also an illuminative treatise on the everyday anguish women face when victimized by sexist cultures that see them merely as chattel. Grade: A-


The Elephant Whisperers (India 40m)

Director: Kartiki Gonsalves. What a treat it is to meet Bomman and Belle, two bonafide elephant whisperers with an amazing knack for raising and befriending orphaned baby pachyderms. Their latest charge is Raghu, whom we get to know well during his time on the wildlife preserve he calls home in southern India. But just when you’re convinced there’s nothing more adorable, another baby, Ammu, proves even cuter. They are the jumbo stars, but Bomman and Belle, descendants of a long line of whisperers, aren’t far behind, as their love of elephants steers them toward love for each other. The visuals are to die for, and ultimately cry over. Climate change is doing a number on all involved, and if the images of dying vegetation aren’t powerful enough incentive to join the fight to save the planet, you’re not paying attention. Grade: A

Haulout (UK 25m)

Directors: Evgenia Arbugaeva and Maxim Arbugaev. Climate change also plays a significant role in this stunner, which follows Russian biologist Maxim Chakilev on his annual expedition to the Arctic to observe the behavioral patterns of walruses. Along with the sibling filmmakers, we witness the heartbreaking truths about how warmer temps have wiped out the miles of frozen sea upon which the gentle giants once congregated. As a result, the walruses are now forced to crowd on top of one another along a tiny beach beside the Chukchi Sea. Trapped in the ensuing misery, are Chakilev and the filmmakers, who cannot leave their makeshift shed, even if they wanted. Warning: this doesn’t end well for nature. Grade: A-

How Do You Measure a Year? (USA 29m)

Director: Jay Rosenblatt. By far the worst of the 15 contenders in the Shorts categories is this snoozer in which director Jay Rosenblatt, (also a 2022 nominee for “When We Were Bullies”) interviews his precocious daughter, Ella, on each of her birthdays from age 2 to 18. Posing the same questions – What is power? What do you want to be? What do you like to eat? – yearly is a mildly intriguing concept, but the answers are rarely revealing. Frankly, it’s boring, not to mention a vastly inferior knock-off of Richard Linklater’s Oscar-winning “Boyhood.” See that one instead. Grade: D-

The Martha Mitchell Effect (USA 40m)

Director: Anne Alvergue and Debra McClutchy. Modern politics is awash in accusations of gaslighting, but it’s hardly a new manner of controlling the narrative. As proof, meet die-hard Republican Martha Mitchell, spouse of President Nixon’s attorney general, John Mitchell. In June of 1972, she smelled a rat when her husband’s handlers essentially held her prisoner to prevent the woman known as “The Mouth” from learning about the Watergate break-in. And when she did hear of it – and discovered her daughter’s bodyguard was one of the infamous “plumbers” – those same handlers attempted to portray her, and her “Nixon is a crook” proclamations, as the rantings of a mad woman. Although it went down 50 years ago, Alvergue and McClutchy render Mitchell’s story as fresh as today’s news. And in the process, captures a time when white men held all the power and women of all colors were expected to shut up and do what they were told. Grade: A-

Stranger at the Gate (USA 29m)

Director: Joshua Seftel. Here’s a film that promotes our tendency to pigeonhole certain people. In this case, Richard McKinney, an ex-Marine whose hatred for Muslims nearly got the better of him in the wake of 9/11. When you first meet this burly, tattooed man-mountain, you’re sure his story is not going to be a pleasant one. But fate and kindness intervened on his way to blow up the Islamic center in Muncie, Indiana. And what ensues will move you to no end. It might even go so far as to restore your faith in humanity. Grade: A-

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