Feature: Oscars 2022 | Academy Award Nominated Live-Action Short Films Reviewed

Written by Patrick Hao

In this holistic look at the Oscar Nominated Live-Action Short Films of 2022 Patrick Hao provides a glimpse of distinctive qualities each title has and notable similarities and differences they share.

Ala Kachuu – Take and Run

Directed by: Maria Brendle

65/100

The longest film of this year’s Live-Action Shorts category is one that elicits complicated feelings. Directed and made by Swiss director, Maria Brendle (and produced by a Swiss production company), “Ala Kachuu” highlights the real problem of bride kidnapping to force marriages in communities in Kyrgyzstan. However, the complexities of such a problem are too much for a short that runs 38 minutes long without the creeping feeling of white savior filmmakers using the plight of others as a springboard for their careers. A longer narrative could have easily diminished any of these feelings of discomfort.  

But the film is well made, with a big boost from the natural landscapes of Kyrgyzstan. “Ala Kachuu” Alina Turdumamatova as Sezim, a young woman who dreams of going off to school in the city, is an arresting presence, whose expressive emotions carry us through the film. The film as a whole could have easily come off as a fatalistic look at the plight of women in certain cultures. But, the strength that is imbued into Sezim by both the filmmaker and the actress prevents “Ala Kachuu” from becoming total misery porn.

“Ala Kachuu – Take and Run” Trailer

The Dress

Directed by: Tadeusz Lysiak

25/100

Speaking of misery porn, “The Dress,” unfortunately embraces total dourness in exchange for praise. The film follows a woman with dwarfism, Julia (Anna Dzieduszycka), who works as a maid in a hotel. For the majority of the 30-minute run time, she oscillates between settling with her lot in life and for something better. She talks about life, love, and friendship with her friend Renata (Dorota Pomykala). She faces little microaggressions from patrons of the hotel. She smokes like a chimney. And for a few moments, it feels like the film will be a simple slice of life portrait.

However, there is a sense of dread that comes from, not the filmmaking, but the meta-textual nature of these Oscar shorts. As Julia begins harboring romantic feelings towards a trucker who is staying at the motel, any audience member who understands the type of film that gets nominated for these awards knows what is going to happen. When that moment of dread does occur, it feels like an inevitability. There is no catharsis, just a disgusting feeling of manipulation.

“The Dress” Trailer

On My Mind

Directed by: Martin Strange-Hansen

60/100

There is nothing to especially like or dislike about “On My Mind.” It is the platonic ideal of a live-action short. There are key pieces of information withheld from the audience as some vaguely sentimental and comedic actions occur just for an emotional wallop to levy the viewer in the final moments. And Danish filmmaker, Martin Strange-Hansen’s film hits all of those moments with the appropriate amount of gravitas that makes “On My Mind” a perfectly watchable if not exceptional short.

The film follows a man (Rasmus Hammerich) who goes into an empty bar early one morning. The bar is inhabited by the empathetic bartender Louise (Camilla Bendix) and her easily annoyed boss Preben (Ole Boisen). It becomes clear that this man is grieving, looking to soothe his sorrows in drink. When he spots a karaoke machine, he becomes hell-bent on recording a version of him singing “Always on My Mind” by Elvis Presley, the reason being the punchline of the film. “On My Mind” is perfectly amiable with moments of humor and messages towards being empathetic towards your fellow man – none of which it does enough to particularly stand out.

“On My Mind” Short Film

The Long Goodbye

Directed by: Aneil Karia

54/100

“The Long Goodbye” actually comes from a concept album produced by actor-rapper Riz Ahmed. What starts as a day in the life of a British Pakistani family, turns into a nightmare when armed guards storm into their suburban home to begin arresting everyone. Once again, this is another short that uses images of terror and genocide to garner emotional gravitas.

Those images in and of themselves do not work, as once again similar to the other shorts, it feels as if they are using these images as a cheap manipulation tactic rather than earning it. What does linger is the rap soliloquy Ahmed performs straight to the camera at the end. His words ring with great ferocity as he expresses his feelings of discontent as xenophobia takes hold of his home country. There is a reason why Ahmed is one of the brightest actors working today and his forceful, angry charisma carries “The Long Goodbye.”

“The Long Goodbye” Short Film

Please Hold

Directed by: KD Davila

71/100

“Please Hold” is the rare satire to be nominated in this category that feels like there is any teeth to it. Director KD Davila and co-writer Omar Levin Menekse create a dystopian future that touches on the inhumanity of the judicial system. From the drone police officers mistakenly arresting Mateo (Erick Lopez) to how the scales of justice are disproportionately weighted, to the apathy of private and public prosecutors.

The horror of the film comes from how extraordinarily light it feels. Every automated phrase and commercialized video Mateo watched on his touchscreen in his jail cell is said with the cheeriness of a taxicab commercial. Soon those jingles and chimes become a dizzying rhythm driving Mateo to madness. This is not filmmaking that feels the need to pump in artificial dread. Rather, the dread is in how dystopic our justice system already feels. All Davila needed to do was ratchet it up to 11 and set some already existing technology and maybe people will begin paying attention.

“Please Hold” Trailer

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