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Oscar Nominated Short Films 2020: Animation & Live Action (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 18, 2023

2020 Oscar Nominated Short Films: Live Action & Animated



(Estimated Running Time: 104 minutes)

A Sister (une soeur) – Delphine Girard, 17 mins.

Nefta Football Club – Yves Piat and Damien Megherbi, 17 mins.

Brotherhood – Meryam Joobeur and Maria Gracia Turgeon, 25 mins.

Saria – Bryan Buckley and Matt Lefebvre, 22 mins.

The Neighbors’ Window – Marshall Curry, 21 mins.

I have had the opportunity over the past three years through to screen the Oscar Nominated Live Action and Animated Shorts. It has become the highlight of the Awards Season – in minutes, these short pieces share stories that moved me from laughter to tears, challenged me to think about other cultures, and opened my eyes to acts of beauty and horror.

Some years and pieces have been better than others. Last year, the Live Action shorts took their toll on me with their heavy weight dramatic choices. In 2020, the Academy has mixed it up a bit – some levity interspersed with the dramatic pieces. I felt that all few nominees are worth the watch, though only a few I would want to watch a second time.

My personal favorite of the five nominees is “A Sister (une soeur).” At its 16:29 runtime, it is the shortest of the five, but felt even quicker with its gripping story of a woman in a car at night, sitting beside a man driving, hands gripped tightly at the wheel. It’s late and she tells him that she is reaching out to her sister to make overnight arrangements for her daughter. Mid-conversation, the narrative switches and we are on the receiving end of the call and the story takes a wild turn. The two lead females are smart, focused, committed to their roles and their end goal. I did not see this one coming and enjoyed watching it, twice.

“Nefta Football Club” takes place somewhere on the Algerian border, where two brothers cross paths with a literal drug mule lost in the desert. The film is smartly funny, with great dynamics between the older and younger brother, culminating in a turn of events that made me laugh.

“Brotherhood” was the longest of the five nominees, at just over 25 minutes. Set in Tunisia, a long-lost brother returns to his hardworking family’s one room, hand-built house after a year away in Syria, with his burka clad, very young, pregnant wife. The patriarch of the family is not welcoming to the couple, his son’s involvement with ISIS and the wife’s refusal to remove her coverings in his home. There are secrets that unfold, and it becomes a race to see if the father and son can bridge their differences in time. The casting of this film was brilliant. The red headed; freckle faced family looked very much related (at least three of the cast members share the same last name).

“Saria” shocked me with its horrific “based on a true story” events that took place at the Virgen de la Asuncion Orphanage in Guatemala between February 14 through March 8, 2017. A story involving 41 young girls – an unthinkable story. The short focuses in on Saria, a young girl dreaming only of escape from the prison-like orphanage with her sister. The film opens with a heavy-stepping guard loudly waking the girls every morning pre-dawn as she hits a wrench against the metal frames of the bunkbeds shouting “good morning bitches, it’s late” to do their pre-classroom chores. The living conditions are poor, and the class conditions add to the oppressive feel of the environment. In a well-timed moment, the director shows us the humanity in Saria as she climbs up a bathroom sink to reach an opening in an overhead window to free a spider – this is not a bad kid, certainly not a person deserving of this kind of environment. We learn that the mother had been murdered forcing the sisters into the orphanage – again with no rationale for the hatred shown to them by the guards. “Saria” is a fascinating and horrifying watch – a story demanding to be told so that justice can be had.

Finally, “The Neighbors’ Window” rounds out the nominations with humor, heart, and grief. It started out a little too “R” rated for my viewing buddy, so I had to watch this one solo, but if you continued on the journey, with our characters, you were in for an emotional roller coaster – a glimpse into the lives of two city dwelling families.


(Estimated Running Time: 85 minutes)

Hair Love – Matthew A. Cherry and Karen Rupert Toliver, 7 mins.

Kitbull – Rosana Sullivan and Kathryn Hendrickson, 9 mins.

Dcera (Daughter) – Daria Kashcheeva, 15 mins.

Sister – Siqi Song, 8 mins.

Memorable – Bruno Collet & Jean-François Le Corre, 12 mins.

Let me start with my hope: “Hair Love” for the win.

I was already biased before I started watching. “Hair Love” has been trending around on social media for a few months and I was super excited to see that it had been given a nomination. Of the nominations, it is one of only two traditional animations (both from the US) on the list, the other three being more mixed media art platforms for film. But the story, while simple, is beautiful and heartfelt – the tale of a young girl as she struggles to follow an online hair tutorial to manage her beautiful natural hair on a day that appears to be special, where she wants to look her best. She is very little and needs a little help from her trusted adult, who in this story, is her loving dad. Without words, we see a family that is pressed for time but filled with love. After some chiding from the family cat, dad gets back in the game. Spoiler (not really) I cried. A lot. In the best way.

The second traditional animation nomination, “Kitbull,” also made me tear up, but took a roller coaster to get there, including *trigger warning* animal abuse. This is a hard one to watch, but worth pushing through to the end. The story is about a ridiculously cute stray cat, with eyes that dilate with every alleyway sound, and a new to the neighborhood Pitbull. We watch the playful, sweet pup be chained to his outdoor doghouse and worse, see as he is thrown around, scratched by his master as he is trained. We watch a friendship be forged between the two animals in the darkest of moments. “Kitbull” is a worthy watch.

“Daughter” is a mixed-media piece from the Czech Republic, created with fabric models used to tell the back and forth story of a father and daughter at an impasse in their relationship. It is a time when he needs her the most, as he lays in his hospital bed. There is history between the two and communication has been missed, leading to gaps in their relationship instead of growth. A common thread holds them together, but can they remember before it is too late? It was interesting to watch how the cinematography captured speed and chaos with the mixed media models.

“Sister” is a collaboration piece between China and the United States. Using cotton/felt material, the primarily monochromatic piece (punctuated with baby sister pink bows and other highlights) is visually impressive and socially important. Narrated by an older brother (by four years), Sister is as story told in three parts with a surprising ending, for so many reasons. Sister is an important one to watch and I hope it gets some audience time.

Finally, “Memorable” is a fascinating study of neurodegenerative disease told through the points of view of a man with a new and ever worsening diagnosis and his ever-patient caregiver/wife. Through clay and paint animation we see at times through his eyes, a world that is so very different from our own. Memorable also paints the story of compensation, which makes it so much harder for family and friends not living with the afflicted person daily to recognize the severity of the situation. It tells the story of love and patience working through life with chronic illness. Animation is the perfect medium for this disease process as it exceeds our own boundaries of imagination.

I look forward to seeing which nominee takes home the 2020 Oscar, but hope you have the opportunity to see some, if not all of this year’s selections.

Bonnie Paul

Copyright ©2020 All rights reserved. Posted: February 7, 2020.

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