Oscar-Nominated Shorts 2024 (2024)

Oscar shorts refreshingly strive for brevity

To the many who believe today’s movies are just too damn long, I offer you some infinitely briefer alternatives: the Oscar-Nominated Shorts. Here, you won’t find anything longer than 40 minutes, with most clocking in at around a half-hour. And some of them, namely Wes Anderson’s “The Wonderful World of Henry Sugar” and the glorious “The Last Repair Shop” (both favorites to win), could hold their own if tossed in the ring with their heavyweight counterparts in the feature film race.

If you’re still not sold, consider this an opportunity to experience these diminutive entries as a means of getting a leg up in your workplace’s Oscar pool. Alas, not all shorts are created equal, whether we’re talking length, budget or, most importantly, quality. To help you separate the wheat from the chaff, here are my takes on the five films nominated in each of the three categories: Live Action, Animation and Documentary:

Live Action

The After (18m, United Kingdom): It pays to have connections, which might explain why Duchess of Sussex photographer Misan Harriman wound up here with his almost laughably cloying tale of a widowed alpha business executive (David Oyelowo) paralyzed by grief after witnessing a terrorist murder his young daughter on the streets of London. The crime is effectively shocking, but the final 10 minutes, in which Oyelowo’s character inexplicably quits his job to become an Uber driver, is embarrassingly contrived. It does, however, allow Oyelowo to shamelessly emote with little impact. Grade: D

Invincible (29m, Canada): Canadian writer-director Vincen

René-Lortie draws inspiration from a real-life incident involving Marc-Antoine Bernier (Leokim Beaumier-Lepine), a 14-year-old juvenile delinquent who escaped from incarceration in Quebec with tragic consequences. Why Rene-Lortie found the subject compelling is a mystery because his film is sorely lacking in substance and context. Yes, it’s sad that Bernier suffered from emotional issues he refused to allow a prison counselor to address, but what makes him different from millions of other disaffected teens around the world? It’s a vital missing piece that essentially neuters the film. Grade: C

Knight of Fortune (25m, Denmark): Dutch writer-director Lasse Lyskjær Noer goes full-quirk with his silly, but sweet, profile of a grief-stricken man (Leif Andree) too overcome with emotion to view his wife’s dead body. But what starts off maudlin takes a twee turn when Andree’s Karl crosses paths with fellow widower, Torben (Jens Jørn Spottag), in the chapel’s restroom. From there, borderline zaniness ensues, leading to a sweet, poignant ending. Grade: B

Red, White and Blue (23m, USA): The Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision gets movingly taken to task in writer-director Nazrin Choudhury’s timely tale about a financially stressed single mom (Brittany Snow, superb!) from Arkansas with no access to a desperately needed abortion. Her only recourse is a road trip to neighboring Missouri. But absent a miracle, she cannot afford it. If Choudhury stopped here, you’d be sufficiently devastated. So you can only imagine how powerfully you’re smacked upside the head with a third-act twist that will floor you. Grade: A-

The Wonderful World of Henry Sugar (40m, USA/UK): Words cannot do justice to this marvel emerging from the inventive mind of writer-director Wes Anderson. It’s sugarcoated to the max, but it’s also a brilliant, star-studded adaptation of a Roald Dahl fairy tale about a man (Ben Kingsley) who boasts 20/20 vision even when heavily blindfolded. This “gift” attracts the rapt attention of a curious physician (Dev Patel) as well as a greedy billionaire (Benedict Cumberbatch), who unlike the benevolent doctor seeks to replicate the trick for personal gain. The cast, which also includes Ralph Fiennes as Dahl, is wonderfully deadpan in their unconventional recitations. But it’s the constantly moving sets and backdrops that are the real stars. It’s not to be missed. Grade: A+


Letter to a Pig (17m, France/Israel): The intent behind this plea for peace by writer-director Tal Kantor is noble and sincere. It’s in the execution where she falters. Shot in a distracting variation on rotoscope, the story centers around an elderly Holocaust survivor imploring young people to never acquiesce to hatred. To strengthen his appeal, he reads a letter he wrote to the pigs he credits with saving him from capture by the Gestapo. That part is effective. It’s when the perspective inexplicably shifts to a bored student’s daydream about a hog being abused that Kantor completely lost me. The disparate elements just don’t mesh. Grade: C

Ninety-Five Senses (13m, USA): Writer-directors Jared and Jerusha Hess, the team behind the cult classic “Napoleon Dynamite,” are the unlikely pair at the helm of this esoteric tale about a death-row inmate (voice of Tim Blake Nelson) contemplating how his five senses have played an integral part in his plight. What’s neat is how the filmmakers employ a different style of animation to illustrate each sense. The kicker is that instead of fearing death, the prisoner, Coy, envisions a new and better otherworld where there exists nearly 100 senses yet to be discovered. It’s certainly inspiring, but Coy’s backstory, scripted by Chris Bowman and Hubbel Palmer, is so disturbing I consistently found my empathy challenged. Grade: B

Our Uniform (7m, Iran): Iranian writer-director Yegane Moghaddam pretty much retraces the tracks of the vastly superior “Persepolis” in expressing her resentment of living in a repressive society demanding she hide her hair – as well as a large part of herself – beneath a hijab. Moghaddam makes her point, but the tale is so slight at a mere 7 minutes, it seems trite. Grade: C

Pachyderm (11m, USA): Writer-director Stéphanie Clément affectingly tackles the issue of child sexual abuse with her visually arresting drama in which a 9-year-old girl is left confused and traumatized by her grandfather’s inappropriate actions on their summer fishing trips. The animation is suitably unadorned, underscoring the utter lack of joy in a child who wills herself to blend into the wallpaper, forever hidden and safe from harm. Grade: B+

War is Over! Inspired by the Music of John & Yoko (11m, USA): Based on an idea by Sean Ono Lennon, former Pixar hand Dave Mullins covers somewhat familiar ground in damning war by illustrating the potential for friendship between alleged enemies. In this case, it’s a pair of World War I chess aficionados who dispatch a carrier pigeon to traverse the frontlines to trade moves. Eventually, the two come face to face – in the heat of battle. What will they do? More importantly, how will the young Lennon shamelessly incorporate his father’s holiday classic, “Happy Xmas (War is Over)”? Not very well. Grade: C


The ABCs of Book Banning (27m, USA): While the filmmaking is a bit disjointed, the message conveyed by director Sheila Nevins is hauntingly solid. It’s also terrifying, as she blends testimonials from the readers and writers of children’s books that have either been restricted or banned from school libraries. To emphasize her point, Nevins weaves in footage of Grace Linn, a 100-year-old war widow who rightly shames a conservative Florida school board. And she does it by reminding the hacks that her husband gave his life to ensure America would never adopt and implement such Nazi tactics as banning and burning books that champion people falsely perceived as threats. Amen! Grade: A-

The Barber of Little Rock (35m, USA): The actions of Arkansas community activist Arlo Washington are certainly worthy of praise, especially his crusade to promote equal lending practices in Black communities. But in chronicling Washington’s tireless efforts through the establishment of both his barber school and Peoples Bank, directors John Hoffman and Christine Turner fail to render his story urgent and compelling. Although inspiring, it’s better suited to a “60 Minutes” segment than a big-screen treatment. Grade: B

Island In Between (20m, Taiwan): For director S. Leo Chiang, the decades’ long standoff between Taiwan and mainland China is deeply personal. And you sense it fully in his fascinating profile of Kinmen Island, Taiwan’s first line of defense if China ever gets the itch to invade. Situated 10 kilometers off the shores of the communist enclave of Xiamen, the city’s massive skyscrapers loom ominously in the distance. We learn Chiang’s kinship with Kinmen dates to the middle of the last century, when his dad was stationed there. Most intriguing is the mindset of residents who jubilantly express their defiance by blasting music and speeches 24-7 across the channel to the mainland. You both cheer and fear for them. Grade: B+

The Last Repair Shop (39m, USA): Oscar-winner Ben Proudfoot (“The Queen of Basketball”) and Kris Bowers (the “The Color Purple” score and a previous nominee for “A Concerto is a Conversation”) combine forces to direct this engrossing, deeply moving tribute to the unsung heroes who keep in working order the thousands of musical instruments in the Los Angeles public school system. We meet the heads of the brass, strings, woodwinds and piano departments. Their skills are unquestioned, but what gives “Shop” its three-sizes-too-big heart are their personal stories, the common denominator being how picking up an instrument profoundly changed their fates and fortunes. Keep the Kleenex handy. Lots of it! Grade: A

Năi Nai and Wài Pó (17m, USA): Fresh off his Sundance smash “Didi,” director Sean Wang goes the “Grey Gardens” route with his profile of eccentric relatives living a “unique” lifestyle. In this case, it’s his 94-year-old grandmother, Năi Nai, and her 83-year-old sister-in-law, Wài Pó. Other than the fact they sleep in the same bed and that Năi Nai feels old and Wài Pó feels young, there is absolutely nothing interesting about the women. In fact, at times, you have the uneasy sensation that Wang is exploiting them. Ageism? Perhaps not. But it’s uncomfortably close. Grade: C-

Movie review

Oscar-nominated Shorts 2024

Rated: Most are suitable for children ages 12 and up

Runtime: The Live Action program is 140 minutes; the Documentaries are 141 minutes, and Animation is 80 minutes, including two bonus entries that were worthy but did not make the final cut, “Wild Summon” and “I’m Hip.”

Where: In theaters and on Shorts TV

Grades: Live Action B; Documentary B+; Animation: B-

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