The new sci-fi blockbuster “Avatar: The Way of Water” clocks in at three hours, 12 minutes. The unlikely Oscar favorite “Everything Everywhere All at Once” crosses its finish line after two hours, 19 minutes.
Looking for cinematic experiences that aren’t overblown, overstuffed and overlong? Oscar Shorts are for you: films that are short by design, yet so good they might just leave you hungry for more.
Three programs of Academy Award nominated short films — live action, animation and documentary — are headed for independent cinemas this weekend so viewers can check them out in advance of the televised awards ceremony, set for March 12. Each program is a lineup of stellar but quick features.
How quick? A couple of the longer documentaries reach 40 minutes. Most live-action and animated films are no longer than 30 minutes. Some are much shorter.
“Sometimes people make short films to get noticed on their way to making feature films,” said Richard Beer, the programmer at Vancouver’s independent Kiggins Theatre. “But tons of great filmmakers make shorts because that’s how they want to tell their stories. A lot of this year’s shorts tell just as good or better a story in 10 minutes or 30 minutes than some films can do in two or three hours.”
For example, there’s “The Flying Sailor,” which packs a big bang, literally, into eight minutes as it spins a visual fantasy from the tragically true story of the Great Halifax Explosion of December 1917. When two ships collided in the harbor, one packed with TNT, the result was perhaps the largest artificial explosion that had ever occurred until then. Nearly 2,000 people died and much of the city was destroyed.
Based on the true tale of one unlikely survivor, “The Flying Sailor” is an oddly beautiful, balletic trip through space and back again. Cosmic in scope, it deserves to be seen on a big screen.
Oscar-nominated animation doesn’t mean cartoons for kids. The longest animated feature follows one high school girl’s disastrous romantic experiments in slightly disturbing fashion. The title, “My Year of Dicks,” refers to teen boys’ behavior (not any visible onscreen anatomy), but the 26-minute film is still preceded in the animation program by a disclaimer that it’s not meant for children.
Dominating this year’s live-action program are stories of women seeking empowerment or freedom.
“The Red Suitcase” is the gripping moment-by-moment account of an Iranian girl arriving at a European airport and fleeing an arranged marriage. “Ivalu” is a simple, visually stunning, tragic tale of a Greenland girl who goes off in search of her missing sister but already knows a terrible truth.
These stories of struggling women aren’t all so desperate. The thoroughly charming, slightly zany “Le Pupille” stars a group of impossibly angel-faced rebels at an Italian girls’ orphanage during the Christmas season.
The Oscar Shorts can always be counted on for international flavor, Beer said.
“These films take you to all different parts of the world. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a film from Greenland before,” Beer said. “This year’s live action films all feel so fresh.”
“An Irish Goodbye,” a tough yet hilarious film about two mourning brothers, is so fresh and authentic that Beer found it occasionally hard to decipher the thick Irish brogue dialog, he said. Even so, he called it “wonderful and fun.”
Documentaries are often hard and heavy going, but this year’s collection offers reasons to smile. “How Do You Measure a Year?” is the joyful, poignant, fascinating result of yearly birthday interviews with the filmmaker’s daughter, starting at age 2 and continuing through her departure for college.
“The Martha Mitchell Effect” looks at the unlikeliest whistleblower in the Watergate scandal that brought down President Richard Nixon: the wife of Nixon’s own attorney general. The film explores claims that the irrepressible Mitchell was essentially kidnapped in order to stop her from speaking out.
“Haulout” immerses the viewer in a vanishing slice of nature that virtually nobody knows. In the Siberian Arctic, one scientist leads an ironically solitary life while his little cabin is surrounded — and nearly overwhelmed — by a mass gathering of untold thousands of walruses. What initially looks like a miracle of nature turns out to be a sobering indicator of global warming, as the scientist finds the walruses exhausted, overcrowded, unwell and dying off in record numbers because they had no ocean ice to rest upon during migration. The ice they have always counted upon has melted.
“ ‘Haulout’ has one of the most cinematic moments I’ve ever seen,” Beer said, as the cabin door opens upon teeming walruses.
“Stranger at the Gate” is the slightly terrifying yet ultimately heartwarming story of a hardened veteran of the Afghanistan war — a self-described “scary redneck” — whose intense hatred for Muslims nearly inspired him to bomb a Midwestern mosque. But when he visited that mosque, the unexpected kindness and support he found there turned his life completely around. It’s an astonishing, timely and positive tale.
“Anyone who’s had hatred and prejudice shoved down their throats should see this film,” Beer said. “Everyone should see this film.”