My Predictions For The 2021 Academy Awards

The date of the Oscars have been moved up an extra month from last year’s awards. One thing that hasn’t changed is that we’re still in the midst of a pandemic, but we are seeing a possible end in sight. Also unlike last year, we had a lot of chances this year to see films in the theatres. Although you can be sure many people did not want to go inside a theatre. They were still nervous, and understandably so. Once again, the Academy was a bit more forgiving towards streamed films although it still encouraged theatre releases. Nevertheless streaming was still the best way to get your view of the Oscar contenders for this year.

This year’s Oscars are to be held on Sunday March 27th. The show is bringing all the stars back in the theatre and with spectators. There is planning to be a big revamp of the Oscars show, and you can understand why. In 2021, almost every awards got less than half the ratings they got the previous year. Even the Oscars weren’t immune as they got their lowest ever and also cut in half! You can understand why a lot of changes to the show. Also the controversial choice of them to have unbroadcasted awardings of seven “lesser” categories. To thing it created a firestorm in 2019, but they are going ahead with it this time. The stars and presenters have all been announced. This will be the first Oscars since 2018 with a host, and there will be three comediennes hosting. That should add to the fun! So now here are my picks for the winners of the 2021 Academy Awards:

BEST PICTURE

Once again, it’s tradition for Olly Gibbs to do a Best Picture drawing that sums up the Oscars well. Great stuff with the ten! While I had to stream all of last year’s Best Picture contenders, this year I only had to stream two. I saw two during the VIFF and six others in the cinema. I like going back to the theatre to see film. It always looks better on the big screen. Since I’ve been taking a lot of courses lately, I didn’t have time to write reviews of all the Best Picture nominees. I think that will come in time. In the meantime here’s my summary of the ten Best Picture nominees:

Belfast- It seems like a film hard to describe. One minute, it’s about a child caught in between political conflict. Another minute, it’s a child living out his childhood and dreaming. One minute you see scenes of hostile hatred and violence. Another minute you get the warm-and-fuzzy moments of the closeness of the family. You figure the two elements won’t mix in a film, but Kenneth Branagh makes it work in a story that’s as charming as it is intense. That’s what Belfast was in the eyes of Little Kenny Branagh. My favorite of the ten-set, but one thing I’ve noticed in the 20 years of tracking the Oscar races is that warm-and-fuzzy films have less of a chance than ever of winning Best Picture. And this film is no exception.

CODA- The buzz started out slow and grew. Now it’s the heavy favorite and both my Will Win and Should Win pick. This is a story you rarely hear about, but it’s worthy of knowing. It does an excellent job of focusing in on what it’s like to be a child of deaf parents and the insecurities they can feel as they’re young. At the same time, it’s of a 17 year-old girl realizing of a talent she never knew she had and having dreams and goals along with it. It also includes the hurdles she has to overcome as her deaf parents and deaf brother are struggling to go into the fishing industry for themselves. It’s also a story of people with a disability and how they are trying to fit into the world, and of how left-out they can feel. This is a very multi-dimensional story that’s deep and a joy to watch too.

Don’t Look Up- What can I say? This is an end-of-the-world story that becomes a comedy about how everyone else from everyday citizens to showbiz hosts to political powers would take such an encroaching incident. And it’s done so with Adam McKay’s bluntly cynical no-apologies cuss-laden fist-in-your-face style of humor! The same comedic vibe McKay brought showing bankers treat the mortgage industry like a toy in The Big Short and showing how former vice president Dick Cheney infamously shaped US politics to be the way we know it in Vice is back in this apocalyptic story. You will be disgusted with what you see, but also think to yourself “I can see that happening” at the same time. On top of that the film ends with what you first think of as a sad ending, but actually an ending that will make you angry. However I don’t this sad comedy about “common nonsense” has what it takes to contend for the Best Picture win.

Drive My Car- It seems like for the fast few years, there would always end up being at least one Best Picture contender that’s a foreign-language film. Not every year exactly, but often enough to think that. This year, it’s a Japanese film. Despite it being slow and too long, this is an impressive story of how two strangers from two completely different world and endured two different tragedies end up being united together through the grief they share. And done during the rehearsals and eventual performances of Uncle Vanya in Hiroshima. It’s a film where one will not sense a connection at first and doesn’t become apparent over the run of the story until the end. The connection was there, but only the two knew it. And it was through sharing the heartache that we see the bond. Excellent surprise contender for this year, but a foreign-language film like this will need Parasite-sized buzz in order to win Best Picture..

Dune- Three of the ten Best Picture nominees are remakes or re-adaptations. This is a remake of a David Lynch film from the 80’s that didn’t go too far. Frankly David Lynch was more of a director for arthouse cinema than sci-fi. This revamp by Denis Villeneuve is just what we needed. Sci-fi is more welcome than ever and its writing has definitely improved with time. This film really makes the story come alive and capture our attention with amazing visual effects and edge-of-your-seat moments. A great accomplishment. However the Academy hardly ever rewards sci-fi with the Best Picture Oscar.

King Richard- We all know the Williams sisters, but few of us really know of their father Richard. We may see one image of Richard Williams and have one set of feelings about him, but this film shows a whole new angle to Richard Williams. One whom very few of us know about. It gives a sense of the man and his beliefs. However it also shows how his influence can be overbearing to others. It’s interesting to watch and deserving of its Best Picture nomination, but I don’t think it will win.

Licorice Pizza- This is a rarity. A Best Picture contender that doesn’t have to get you thinking too much. A Best Picture contender that you can just simply sit back and enjoy. Mind you I didn’t entirely welcome this at first. I was frequently wondering what is up with independent filmmakers and their love affair with the 1970’s that they can’t let go of it? Despite that, I enjoyed seeing this film about a love between a former child actor and an older woman trying to make her way in the world. And what’s a story about 70’s love without an awesome soundtrack to go with it? This film is second only to Belfast of the contenders I’ve enjoyed. However I don’t see the Academy going for a comedy like this.

The Power Of The Dog- To think we were all talking about gay cowboys when Brokeback Mountain looked like a heavy favorite to win the 2005 Oscar. For those that don’t know, The Power Of The Dog was originally a novel written in 1967 when same-sex love was still criminalized in the US and homosexuality was still labeled a form of mental illness. You can imagine to raised eyebrows back then. It would also inspire Annie Proulx to write her short story Brokeback Mountain and the rest in history! This is an intriguing story of Phil Burbank: a man who you will first think of as despicable, but he’s harboring a secret. At first you think Peter Gordon would be the victim of his that would get hurt the hardest. Instead he ends up being the one person Phil is able to soften up to and come to terms with. It started out with huge buzz winning major awards, but the Producers Guild Award going to CODA has made it lose some ground. I predict this film as the one Most Likely To Upset.

Nightmare Alley- The question is would you watch a remake of a 1940’s film about a killer who escapes to a traveling freak show and finds love? The film didn’t hit it well at the box office but it does provide a lot in terms of spectacle, suspense and a story of intrigue. A lot has changed in terms of effects and dramatization in the seventysomething years since the original was released. Mind you Guillermo del Toro is the director who knows how to deliver the goods in this remake. Don’t forget Nightmare Alley is originally a novel so del Toro and co-writer Kim Gordon are free to do their own interpretation or adaptation of the story. And an excellent adaptation it is! Despite that, having the Best Picture nomination and nominations only in the technical categories is not going to help it win Best Picture.

West Side Story- Now most of us have already seen West Side Story. We’ve either seen it as the Broadway play, the 1961 film (which won Best Picture that year) or as a high school production. You have to ask do we really need a reboot of this Romeo And Juliet musical? Steven Spielberg is one director who can make us say “Yes!” Spielberg and writer Tony Kushner put some unique twists in this reboot of the legendary musical. One is turning the character of Anybodys from “tomboy” to a trans character. Another is the inclusion of a new character: Valentina, played by Rita Moreno, who played Anita in the 1961 film. But most noticeably for me, it’s the emotions being more intense. That is what stood out most in this musical remake. However even though I feel it deserves its Best Picture nomination, I don’t see lightning striking twice.

BEST DIRECTOR

Should Win and Will Win: Jane Campion – The Power Of The Dog

Back when Campion was nominated in this category for The Piano in 1993, she became only the second female director in history to be nominated ever. The first being Lina Wertmuller, who died this past December. Campion already became the first female to achieve a second Best Director nomination. This time, she looks poised to be the third ever to win! And rightly so. She did an excellent job in directing a cinematic telling of a novel that has grown more significant over the years. She does a great job as both director and scriptwriter of conveying the insecurities of Phil Burbank and of how Peter Gordon is the only one who can soften him in any which way. Also showcasing it in Montana along with a cowboy’s way of life adds to the film. She makes a very deserving winner.

BEST ACTOR

Should Win and Will Win: Will Smith – King Richard

A lot of people have had to struggle with accepting the actor/rapper formerly known as “The Fresh Prince” as a serious actor. One thing about this modern-day Academy is that they seem less willing than ever to give acclaim to A-listers. As for Will Smith, he’s received two Oscar nominations in the past, but neither achieved a SAG Award nomination. His performance in King Richard appears to be the performance that helped him win major awards right across the board. And rightly so. He does an excellent job in portraying Richard Williams in his emotions, his moral beliefs and his physical traits. He does an excellent job of portraying him inside out. That’s why I’m happy to say that Will Smith deserves the Oscar this year!

BEST ACTRESS

Should Win and Will Win: Jessica Chastain – The Eyes Of Tammy Faye

For those who remember Tammy Faye Messner (formerly Tammy Faye Bakker), one can easily see her as a cartoonish person. Her perkiness, her overly emotional personality, her heavy makeup, one can easily do a cartoonish impression of her. Jessica Chastain doesn’t do that. She does an excellent job in portraying Tammy Faye for all of her traits. She does a great job in depicting Tammy Faye’s entertaining style and her emotional personality, but she also taps into her deep feelings and her insecurities very well. Chastain does an excellent job in turning Tammy Faye from this cartoonish person to this person hurting deep inside that we all overlooked in the past. On top of that, Chastain does an excellent job of singing like Tammy Faye. It’s because off all that she mastered is why I feel Chastain is deserving of the Oscar!

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR

Should Win and Will Win: Troy Kotsur – CODA

Can you believe Troy’s co-star Marlee Matlin is so far the only deaf actor to win an Oscar? Those that saw Children Of A Lesser God already know that. Troy is heavily poised to be the second, and rightly so. He does an excellent job of portraying a character who’s fun loving and loose one moment, but quietly hurting and full of insecurities the next. He does an excellent job of displaying through Frank Rossi the hidden insecurities of people with disabilities that we rarely see, or they might keep hidden. He helps us notice it and pay attention. It’s because of that I feel Troy deserves the Oscar in this category.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS

Should Win and Will Win: Ariana DeBose – West Side Story

Sometimes the Oscars for supporting performances go to performances of roles that know how to steal the show. Back when the first West Side Story was released, Rita Moreno played Anita and she won Best Supporting Actress. Yes, the Rita Moreno that plays Valentina in this adaptation. We’re very likely to see it happening again with Ariana DeBose. Those who remember Rita’s portrayal of Anita may be tempted to compare her performance to Ariana’s. Ariana adds her own twists to the role. One thing about the dancing is that Ariana’s appears to flow more freely while Rita’s is more fierce. Also the emotions Ariana conveys are more intense than the emotions Rita conveys. It’s because of this remastering of the role why I feel Ariana is a worthy winner.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY

Should Win and Will Win: Sian Heder – CODA

It’s a shame that Sian Heder is not nominated for Best Director while CODA is heavily poised to win Best Picture. This could’ve been the second straight year of the Best Director category having two female nominations. Nevertheless her writing of the screenplay has not gone overlooked. In fact it has been heavily rewarded. And rightly so. She does as excellent of a job of depicting a story of a teenage girl who grew up in a deaf family and trying to master a newly discovered talent while also dealing with personal insecurities. She also does an excellent job of intertwining that with her deaf family and their own insecurities as they try to start a business and develop a sense of belonging in their fishing community. Something they feel they’re missing. Heder does more than just tell the story. She lets us experience the people surrounding it. That’s why I feel it deserves the Oscar in this category.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY

Should Win : Adam McKay – Don’t Look Up
Will Win: Kenneth Branagh – Belfast

I have to admit there are times I find Adam McKay’s fist-in-your-face style of humor annoying, but I have to say that the screenplay for Don’t Look Up is the best of the year. Sometimes the films I feel are the best aren’t exactly films among my favorites. However I won’t complain if Belfast wins. This story from Kenneth Branagh does an excellent job of telling the story of his childhood where he dreamed of the stage and screen while also living in Belfast around the time The Troubles first started and was becoming a threat to his family. Even to children like him. This story of a child playing and dreaming during political hostility and a family that stuck close together to protect each other makes for a deserving winner of this category.

ADDITIONAL CATEGORIES:

Alright. Now that I’m done speaking my mind on the major categories, I will be straightforward and give straight predictions of the technical categories. Only in very few categories where I feel I’m qualified to make such a judgement will you see me give a Should Win pick. So here goes:

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE

Should Win and Will Win: Encanto

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

Should Win: Ari Wegner – The Power Of The Dog
Will Win: Greig Fraser – Dune

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

Will Win: Jenny Beavan – Cruella

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

Will Win: Summer Of Soul (…Or, When The Revolution Could Not Be Televised)

BEST FILM EDITING

Should Win: Peter Sciberras – The Power Of The Dog
Will Win: Joe Walker – Dune

BEST INTERNATIONAL FEATURE FILM

Should Win and Will Win: Drive My Car (Japan)

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING

Will Win: Linda Dowds, Stephanie Ingram and Justin Raleigh – The Eyes Of Tammy Faye

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE

Should Win: Jonny Greenwood – The Power Of The Dog
Will Win: Hans Zimmer – Dune

BEST ORIGINAL SONG

Will Win: “No Time To Die” – No Time To Die

BEST PRODUCTION DESIGN

Will Win: Patrice Vermette and Zsuzsanna Sipos – Dune

BEST SOUND

Will Win: Dune

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS

Will Win: Dune

BEST AMINATED SHORT FILM and BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM

Predictions can be seen in this blog. Click here.

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT

Prediction can be seen in this blog. Click here.

**BONUS** OSCAR CHEER MOMENT
I know this is not really an official Oscars category and even some people panning this category, but I thought I’d give it a guess:

Will Win: Spider-Man Team-Up! – Spider-Man: No Way Home

JUST ONE MORE – MOST LIKELY OSCAR UPSETTERS

Sometimes I like predicting which upsets will happen to my main predictions for wins. I know I predict Dune to clean up in all of its technical categories but the Oscars have always had a surprise or two and I’m expecting surprises for this year. Here are the six biggest surprises I anticipate, and they’re listed in category order:

  • Nicole Kidman for Best Actress in Being The Ricardos
  • Kodi Smit-McPhee for Best Supporting Actor in The Power Of The Dog
  • Attica for Best Documentary Feature
  • Pamela Martin for Best Film Editing for King Richard
  • “Dos Oruguitas” for Best Original Song in Encanto
  • Spider-Man: No Way Home for Best Visual Effects

And there you have it! Those are my predictions for this year’s Academy Awards. Tune in tomorrow night where you can see the Oscars go back to being the Oscars. Let’s also hope they get their ratings back too!

2021 Oscars Shorts Review: Animation and Live-Action

Last year, I was only able to see the Oscar-nominated short films online through VIFF Connect. This year, they returned back to the theatre. I had the good fortune to see the nominated films for both the Animated and Live-Action categories. All the films are unique and deserving of their nominations. Here’s my review of the nominated films for Animation and Live-Action:

BEST ANIMATED SHORT FILM

Affairs Of The Art (dir. Joanna Quinn) – Beryl is a struggling artist. She comes from an eccentric family. She has a sister whom, as a younger child, had a fixation with deceased animals and dissecting them. It paid off for her as her sister has done a very profitable post mortem business in Los Angeles and has attracted many big name celebrities. Beryl has always had an obsession with drawing and colors and has a goal of being an ‘artiste of note,’ but it’s only paid off very humbly for her. How can she make it work?

This is a charming animated film. Full of quirky drawings with a quirky story and charming characters. Not to mention very colorful 2D animation. It’s a story that will get you either laughing or weirded out. You will find yourself liking it in the end.

Bestia (dir. Hugo Covarrubias) – This stop-motion animated film tells the story of a Chilean woman. She has a good relationship with her dog. The outside world on the other hand, she is savage to. She is cold and calculated in every move she does. She cuts her meat in sinister fashion. Whenever she plays music, it’s in cold fashion. And she’s cold to the people she meets. She just comes as a very sadistic emotionless person.

The character is inspired by a female prison guard who is one of the most infamous Chileans ever. The film in stop-motion is done excellently giving a cold feel of the story. Although most of us outside of Chile may never know this person, it does an excellent job in capturing someone cold, merciless and emotionless. Also a reminder of how Chile still harbors silent wrath over some of its past infamy.

BoxBallet (dir. Anton Dyakov) – The film is a story of two people. One is a female ballet dancer, slender and graceful. The other is a male boxer, rough and laden with visible scars. Boy meets girl and opposites attract. But can it result in love? What unfolds is a love story between two people that one would not expect to see happen.

This is another charming 2D animation story. It has its own quirky style of animating and telling the story. The visuals are comedic and entertaining to watch. The story does seem odd at first, but the relationship and the story does come across as right in the end. Very enjoyable.

Robin Robin (dirs. Dan Ojari and Mikey Please) – This is a sweet fable of a robin who is raised by mice since birth. The mice have a habit of stealing from humans houses. But every time they attempt stealing, the robin gets the ‘who-mans’ angry and after them. It happens every time. The Robin breaks the top rule of their stealing: “Don’t attract attention.” And now they’re down to the last house in the neighborhood. On Christmas, the robin wants to prove to the mice, and a cat who’s pursuing her, that she can be a good mouse and steal the Christmas Star. In her attempt she fails again, but she later learns a lesson of self-acceptance.

This is a charming story, a fable put to good visuals, Kind of what most of us expect of animation. Aardman Animations, the studio famous for the Wallace and Gromit and Shaun The Sheep movies, does an excellent job in telling the story with great visuals and great characters in its short time. A charming delight for all to see. It’s because of this I give it my Should Win and Will Win picks.

The Windshield Wiper (dir. Alberto Mielgo) – Inside a cafe, a man is smoking a whole pack of cigarettes and reading a newspaper. Then he poses a question he asks all of us: “What is love?” The film then goes over his narrative of how humans view love along with visual images of dates, encounters and even dating apps.

The film is a 2D film full of visuals that are key to telling the story. It gives us colors and various images that we can identify with and also add more significance to what the man is talking about. Funny thing is in these 2D images, we can see us. Sometimes it makes it look like humans nowadays are more clueless about love than ever!

To sum up the five nominated films, all are good in their storytelling. Some are 2D and some 3D. All have their own different style. No two are alike. What’s most surprising is that none of the films shown before the Disney Studios or Disney Pixar films were nominated this year! Most years, one of the films is nominated. That’s a surprise!

BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT FILM

Ala Kachuu: Take And Run (dir. Maria Brendle) – Sezim is a young girl in a village in Kyrgyzstan who dreams of going to college. Her friend Aksana is supportive of her and arranges an interview with the college for her. She even gives her a brief driving lesson. This does not sit well with Sezim’s mother who wants her to be more traditional. One day while working at the bakery, three men come looking for one of her female co workers. The co-worker is absent for her shift. They first leave, but then return to abduct her and have her married off to a man she never met before. This breaks Sezim’s heart because she had so many future goals. Her mother is very approving. The village is supportive of this and her husband acts loving to her. However Sezim is frustrated and needs to find a way to escape. Can she seize the opportunity?

This is an excellent film from director Maria Brendle. It deals with the taboo of marriage-by-capture or “bridenappings.” This is something that is happening in many countries. In most of them, they’re illegal, but law officials are too laxed to enforce the law. Traditionalists often embrace it as the way to be. Often the woman is pressured to stay in the marriage by the society and even her families. This story puts a human image to this taboo issue. Even seeing of how her mother is approving of this sends a message of one of the barriers to stop it. That scene where Oksana is searching for Sezim, but her mother talks scornfully to her about her independent way of living also adds to how traditionalism adds to this problem. Even the attitude of traditionalists to “city girls” says a lot about this issue. It’s because of how a hot but taboo topic is tackled is why I give it my Should Win pick.

The Dress (dir. Tadeusz Lysiak) – Julia is a woman with dwarfism in her thirties who works cleaning motel rooms. She’s been single all her life. Her best friend, Renata, her co-worker for years, is a full-grown divorced woman and the mother of three. Julia often confides to Renata her personal feelings. Julia hates feeling like a misfit. She strongly feels if she was “normal-sized,” she’d have a man in her life. One day, she attracts a patron named Bogdan. She later learns Bogdan lives in the same building as her. Bogdan has been showing attraction to her, but it’s hard to date since he has a trucking job where he frequently goes to Kyiv and back. Could she finally have a chance at love? Julia always dreamed of having a nice dress. Renata helps assemble a dress for her for the big night. The big night between her and Bogdan finally happens, but it turns out to end not how she expected at all.

This is a story you want to have a happy ending. Like finally Julia meeting the man of her dreams. Finally Julia’s in love. Instead, Bogdan turns out to be a misogynist. The ending of the film leaves you wondering if the overall message of the film is about the way women are treated. Julia learned Bogdan gets misogynist in his lust, but Renata has an abusive husband. Maybe the message is saying that it doesn’t matter whether a woman is full sized or small like Julia. Women share the same struggle with their treatment from men. I mean the story appears to be one about a woman with dwarfism searching for a purpose or a belonging but maybe it was meant to be something else.

The Long Goodbye (dirs. Aniel Karia and Riz Ahmed) – The film begins with an Indian family in the UK getting ready for a wedding. Everyone in the house is excited and panicking at the same time. They all want to look their best but will they be ready? However the simple concerns about being dressed properly end as they notice a group of white nationalists enter their area with a van and a gun. Riz is the first to notice and warn the family, but it’s too late. The nationalists enter and demand the family get out of the house where they are lying down on the street. Then one of the men shoots five of his family. Riz gets up and does a rap full of anger about British imperialism and how his people have been treated by the UK in history.

White nationalism is on the rise in many countries, including the UK. Something that many were hoping to see become a thing of the past has seen a recent resurgence as many right-leaning politicians in the world have help embolden racists and stimulated in them a will to be more vocal. Most threatened are the racial minorities. Like families from India who come to settle in the UK. And this is where Riz starts his angry rap about where he’s from. They came to the UK to get a better life only to get this racist incident. He doesn’t know whether to see the UK as a country of opportunity or this monster who’s constantly running his people through the mud time and time again. The mix of drama and Riz’s rap really makes a strong angry statement. He concludes it well when he says “Where I’m from is not your problem, bro.” That’s why I give it my Will Win pick.

On My Mind (dir. Martin Strange-Hansen) – It’s morning in a bar in Denmark owned by a husband and wife named Preben and Louise. Louise doesn’t have too many customers to serve which allows Preben to do accounting of all the receipts from the previous night. A depressed-looking disheveled man comes into the bar and asks for a large amount of a whisky. His name is Henrik. As he’s drinking, he notices the bar has a karaoke microphone. He asks Louise if he can do a song for his wife: the country song “Always On My Mind.” The problem is the karaoke system isn’t on until the evening. Henrik can’t wait until the evening. He has to do it now. He even gives the two 500 Krone to do it. Preben is stingy about it, but Louise is more willing. Preben begrudgingly allows him one chance. Henrik starts singing and Louise records his singing on his smartphone, but it’s interrupted by a message. Henrik attempts to do it again, but Preben cuts the power to the screen. He’s had it with him, especially since running the karaoke machine is costly. He even gives Henrik his money back, but it’s there when Henrik explains the reason why this is so important; his wife doesn’t even have an hour to live. It’s there when Preben is willing. Henrik is finally able to complete his rendition of the song and play for his wife to hear, even if she’s brain-dead when he plays it for her.

At the end of the showing of the shorts, I was with some Danish students who said it’s very common in Danish student movies to have it set in a bar. I never knew that. Whatever the situation, this is a good story. You think it’s one thing but it turns out to be something more instead. You think it’s a simple karaoke song, but instead it’s Henrik’s last opportunity to tell his wife he loves her. Even though she’s brain-dead, he senses she got the message. The film gets you believing in the human soul and it convinces you the love between Henrik and his wife is eternal. Not just “til death do us part.”

Please Hold (dirs. K. D. Davila and Levin Menekse) – A young man named Matteo is just living his life normally when all of a sudden, a police drone, gun and all, has let him know he’s under arrest. He’s ordered to enter the automated police car which takes him to the automated holding centre. He’s instructed to go to his cell, where he’s unattended and supervised by video cameras. He can see a lawyer, but it’s through an online legal service where lawyers meet through Zoom-style meetings. Making phone calls to anyone is very costly and credits can be earned back through time or hobbies automatically delivered. That’s especially frustrating since Matteo is in danger of being sentenced to over 20 years in prison. He needs a lawyer bad. He takes a knitting hobby which he slowly earns credit. He does get the lawyer money he needs from his mother, but the appointment fizzles out, leaving him extremely frustrated. However there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

This is a very unique “What If” scenario. We have computers and Zoom meetings taking care of a lot of our duties. Can we really trust an automated justice system or police drones? Sure, the flesh-and-blood police have lost a lot of our trust, but replaced by computers? This film seems to think computerized technology can’t replace human interaction. Also Matteo’s scenario of being in a prison where he can only communicate through automation could even remind a lot of people of the pandemic and of its tightest days of how people had to confine themselves to their houses. A lot of ways you can look at this film.

To sum up the nominated Live-Action Shorts nominees, all of them are very good films. There are a lot of stories that are well thought-out and some stories that end up being more than what one originally expects. Some have topics that are very relevant to what’s happening now, like about racism and sexism. There’s one that focuses on a futuristic topic and fancies what the future of justice will be like, which is nothing to fancy over. And there’s one about a universal topic of love beyond death that has always been one of thought and continues to be one of thought.

And there you go. This is my summary of the films nominated for the Oscars for Best Animated Short Film and Best Live Action Short Film. Hope you’re lucky enough to catch them in the movie theatre like I did. Some may be seen on streaming services or YouTube, but the big screen experience can’t be beat.

2021 Oscars Shorts Review: Documentaries

The documentary shorts nominated for this year’s Oscars had a combined running time over three hours. So it’s understandable why I chose to see the Animation and Live-Action shorts one day while seeing the Documentary nominees another day. The documentary nominees for this year are an impressive range of films. All have a unique topic of focus that gets one thinking. Some were positive stories while some were more on negative issues. All have something to say. And here are my thoughts on this year’s nominees:

Audible (dir. Matthew Ogens): The film focuses on the football team on the Maryland School For The Deaf. For sixteen years, they’ve had the best deaf football team in the nation. But the film begins as they show their first loss in sixteen years. Although the film showcases the school’s students and the football team, the prime focus is on student Amaree McKenstry-Hall. We see Amaree as he bonds with the team and conversates with the students. Sometimes it can get heated. We learn that he and the team play in memory of a former student who committed suicide after being send to a regular school. We learn of his family background of how his father left the family shortly after his birth. Soon he reunites with his father, who’s now recovered from his drug addiction and is the head pastor of a church. Then the homecoming game happens. This is to be the last game for many of the players.

This story couldn’t have come at a better time, just as CODA is a heavy favorite to win Best Picture! And just last year, The Sound Of Metal was a Best Picture nominee! The unique thing about this is it’s about deaf athletes. You learn about how deaf football players play, you learn how they communicate. However you also get a glimpse of what it’s like to be a deaf teenage. You see they have the same fun stuff you and I had as a teenager, but you also see they have problems, concerns and insecurities all their own. It’s not only about deaf teenagers and how they live out their teenage years, but it also shows us about Amaree and his own issues, his own battles. It’s a story that goes through so many angles, but is very insightful, and very much an eye-opener.

Lead Me Home (dirs. Pedro Kos and Jon Shenk): The film focuses on the homeless situation in the cities of San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle between 2015 to 2019. The film also focuses on some individuals whom they interview. They’re various men and women, and one trans female. They come from various races. The come from various backgrounds. The interviewees are asked three main questions: their names and ages, how they ended up as homeless, and would they live in a home. The people range in ages from 26 to their 50’s. How they became homeless are a mixed bag of scenarios from drug addiction to a criminal past to the trans female disowned by the family to abusive family scenarios to the mental illness of some one messed over by the welfare system. Many would like to live in their own house, but one does not. He says every time he moves into a place, he finds himself back to being homeless soon. He would like his own van.

This is an inciteful film about the homeless situation we rarely see. We see the people interviewed on how they deal with whatever sleeping situation they can fix up, their bathing or showering opportunities they can seize, the food they’re lucky to eat and whatever counseling they get. In some cases, we’re shown the homeless in their surrounding areas, and the homeless camps in that area are large in size. We’re also shown how the homeless are in debate in their civic and state rallies and how some citizens speak their disgust at them. It wouldn’t surprise me if there are some with Trump-fueled rage at the time. The film doesn’t exactly have too much of a beginning, middle and end. Nevertheless this film is a good showcase to a problem that we don’t really know a lot about, but think we do.

The Queen Of Basketball (dir. Ben Proudfoot): Lusia Harris is possibly the greatest basketball player you’ve never heard of. Born in Mississippi in 1955, she grew up poor in a segregated town. At the time, there were very few opportunities for African-American girls. However basketball for her was a way out. She would watch NBA games with her brothers and they would try to imitate the moves. Lusia stood out with her moves and her 6’3″ height. Her basketball prowess helped her pursue post secondary education at Delta State. During her first season (1974-75), the goal was to dethrone the Mighty Macs of Immaculata University who were considered the best female college basketball team ever. It paid off as Lusia and the girls were able to win over Immaculata and a new era had begun. The following year, Lusia and the Deltas did it again. Her prowess allowed her to represent the US at the Montreal Olympics where women’s basketball was being held for the first time. The US team won silver behind the Soviets. The following year, Delta repeated their win, duplicating Immaculata’s feat, and Lusia was crowned MVP. But it ended right there. There was no WNBA for Lusia to go to. She was also diagnosed as being bipolar over time. She was offered to play for an NBA team and was offered big publicity, but she turned it down. Instead she devoted her life to administration at Delta State, coaching and teaching. She married shortly after she graduated and bore four children. Looking back she has no regrets.

This appears to be a great story sold in a simple manner, but when you look at it, it makes for a great story worth telling. It often appears like the story of a pioneer in female basketball. Like she’s one of the many women who brought women’s basketball to where it is now. It showcases her achievements and her big moments and her post-basketball life. In that same manner, it’s told through her. It’s like it’s her story and it’s rightful that she is the narrator of this story. It makes sense as she’s the one who made it happen. In recent time, it also appears like a retrospect. Back on January 18th of this year, Lusia died at the age of 66. The documentary almost appears like a case where Lusia is looking back on her life. I’m glad she had the chance to do this documentary. A great way to remember her. That’s why I give it my Will Win prediction.

Three Songs For Benazir (dirs. Gulistan and Elizabeth Mirzaei): Shaista Khan is a man living in a camp for Afghanis displaced during the war in Kabul. He is recently married to a woman named Benazir, and he sings a song of his love to her. He has plans to start a family but he also has ambitions to join the army along with starting a family. He doesn’t know how hard of a balance this will be. His father does not look upon his goal of joining the army as a good thing. Finally he is given the opportunity to join the army as he will have a meeting with a sergeant. He celebrates with friends and with Benazir, who is pregnant in expecting their first child. He again sings to her. However when he goes to the military base, he learns he needs to be endorsed by a family member if he’s to join. Strict rules in the Afghani military. When he goes to his father and brother, they refuse. Shaista is distraught. The film flashes ahead four years. Shaista is now in an addictions treatment centre. Benazir comes to visit. He is overjoyed at seeing her and his two songs. He sings one last song to her.

This is a poignant documentary. Shaista is simply an Afghani man who wants to make something of himself for himself, his family and for his family to be. We should also remember that Afghanistan is the poorest nation in the continent of Asia. What you see in Shaista appears to be the common struggle of the Afghani people as they try to pick up their lives now that the war is over. Sometimes the losses end up bigger and more hurtful in the end. Nevertheless the film ends with an image of hope. It’s needed now especially since we learned six months ago that the Taliban have returned to power. This is a film that does get you thinking and hoping.

When We Were Bullies (dir. Jay Rosenblatt): While director Rosenblatt was watching a bullying film from the 50’s, a single incident brought back a memory of an incident when he was in the fifth grade. That was when he started a fight with a boy named Richard, who was the odd kid in the class, and other classmates joined in. This Richard was also the inspiration for his first film The Smell Of Burning Ants (1994). Soon he wanted to investigate more into this. What happened to Richard? Do the other students from the class remember that moment? Did they participate? Are they remorseful of it? What does the teacher feel of it? He goes to the school to look into more pictures. He meets with other former classmates at a school’s reunion. Over time, he was able to talk more and find out how they felt about Richard and the incident. He even learned his teacher from his grade is alive and mostly well and he’s able to talk with her. She’s able to give her opinions on bullying and even mentioned her late daughter was bullied too. Later Jay reveals he lost a brother the year before so he was carrying burdens too.

This is a surprising documentary. It’s surprising how one image can suddenly trigger back an unfortunate memory of the past of when you were young and stupid. It’s full of clever imagery mixed with animation as it goes about telling the story. The visuals and the audio make for a good mix. You can call it what you want. Some will say this is a very inciteful story, especially sine bullying is a hot topic. Some will say the film was done in a ridiculous manner. Some will even say this film was a work of Jay’s egotism. Nevertheless it does get one intrigued about human nature. Even its ugliest sides. That’s why I give it my Should Win pick.

Additional Note: Although we don’t know who this Richard is or see what his face was back then, we do learn that he’s still alive and he’s actually a film producer.

And there you have it! That’s my review of the Best Documentary Short nominees. We’ll see on Sunday not only which one wins, but if it’s one of the eight categories whose award won’t be broadcast!