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Oscar Nominated Short Films 2021: Animation & Live Action (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 18, 2023



(Estimated Running Time: 95 minutes)

Burrow – Madeline Sharafian, 6 mins.

Genius Loci – Adrien Merigeau, 16 mins.

If Anything Happens I Love You – Michael Govier/Will McCormack, 13 mins.

Opera – Erick Oh, 9 mins.

Yes-People – GÍsli Darri Halldórsson, 9 mins.


Kapaemahu – Dean Hamer/Joe Wilson/Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, 9 mins.

The Snail and the Whale – Max Lang/Daniel Snaddon, 26 mins.

To: Gerard – Taylor Meacham, 7 mins.

My favorite part of the Oscar Awards season is the opportunity to view the "best in show" showcase of short films from both international and domestic filmmakers. The short format is a beautiful, bite-sized way to immerse yourself in a story. The best, in my humble opinion, are simple and allow for a view into a world that you may never have considered, opening an opportunity for empathy. This year, while the animated shorts seemed unrelated, the live action films seemed tied together by the thread of injustice.

Last year brought us stand out “Hair Love” which beautifully and simply told the story of a young family in crisis, a father placed in a difficult position rising to the challenge of taking extra special care of his young daughter. For me there was no question that it would win the Oscar nod. 2021's animation winner is more challenging to predict with a range of selections from cute, to painful, to traditional folk tales. The last three on the list were bonus shorts listed as "Highly Commended" and I would agree. They stood out amongst the films in terms of quality of animation and storytelling, even though they were not official Oscar nominees.

“Burrow” from Pixar is for sure the cute film of the group. Clear story, endearing characters. A bunny determined to independently create his dream home, but through his frustration, he learns to lean on his neighbors and becomes a part of his community.

“Genius Loci” is in French with English subtitles. Chaotic, artsy, watercolor feel with cool use of shadows. Great cacophony of sounds throughout the underscore, but more of a mood than a story.

“If Anything Happens I Love You.” This powerful, painful, short black and white film was way too triggering and hard to watch. The grief is palpable as the film lulls you into the bittersweet family life Up-like montage, only to be dragged into the triggering visuals that as a society we've grown to fear. This is not a film that I will want to watch again, nor is it a film i will be able to forget.

“Opera” plays out like the inner workings of a Bavarian cuckoo clock turned war factory set to the drama, crescendo, and decrescendo of opera. The film plays like all drama – little story, with so many small details that it is hard to catch everything. Beautiful and haunting.

I am naturally prone to have a preference towards comedic stories and “Yes-People” was for sure the funniest of the shorts. This Icelandic gem follows the interconnectedness of a small building's inhabitants-their work and home lives, a day in the life. I wish that it would win, but it will not. It is lacking the animation savvy and overall quality of the final three below.

“Kapaemahu” is based on the Kapaemahu stones found on Waikiki Beach, HI. This animated short tells the traditional Hawaiian legend of the healing stones, their historical importance, and how they have survived despite the city that has grown around them. This film is beautifully made, paying homage to Hawaiian culture and language.

“The Snail and the Whale.” With a run time of 26 minutes, this short animation is the longest of the showcase, and notably written in poetic rhymed verse. The title illustrates its two main characters – a small snail described as having "an itchy foot." She yearns to explore with a sense that there is so much more to the world then their little rock and bay. She advertises for a lift around the world and her wish comes true in the form of a humpback whale. This film is endearing and heart wrenching, as the pair become so very important to one another. This film was beautifully designed and written, heartwarming and simple, yet suspenseful and hopeful.

“To: Gerard” plays like a love letter to magic and mentorship. A young audience member, enthralled by a magician's show, is inspired to learn magic on his own. This he then uses to distract a young girl who has wandered into his workspace. The film is a reminder of the joy of following one's passions and then using them to make the world a more lovely place.


(Estimated Running Time: 123 minutes)

Feeling Through – Doug Roland, 19 mins.

The Letter Room – Elvira Lind, 33 mins.

The Present – Farah Nabulsi, 25 mins.

Two Distant Strangers – Travon Free/Martin Desmond Roe, 25 mins.

White Eye – Tomer Shushan, 21 mins.

“Feeling Through” is a gem. It is the film that caused me to immediately text my daughter and recommend that she look for a screening of it online. The shortest of the five live action selections, the film tells the story of Tereek, a young man who has hit hard times. While texting friends to see where he can crash for yet another night, he comes across a man who is both blind and deaf. The man is waiting at a crosswalk with a sign making a simple request: Tap if you can help me cross the street. What happens next between these two characters is thought provoking, stereotype bashing, and active empathy at its finest. As an added bonus, it was really lovely to see that the short was exec produced by Marlee Matlin.

“Two Distant Strangers” feels both familiar and fresh. Coming straight out of the Groundhog Day/Russian Doll playbook, Carter is cursed with re-living the same few minutes on repeat. But this time it is his untimely death is by Officer Merk, who seems hell bent on making sure that Carter can't troubleshoot his way out of death. In homage to the many black lives that have been taken while just trying to live, Carter is determined to make it through the loop to get home to his beloved dog, Jeter. This film is graphic, infuriating, and hard to watch, but not as hard as trying to find justice in a system that is stacked against so many.

In “The Letter Room,” Richard is a corrections officer, a man with a calling and desire to make a difference in a job that is designed to kill hope. When his dream of a human relations position comes open, he is promoted to Director of Prisoner Communications. This means he must open, read, electronically scan, and deliver mail to prisoners, censoring, removing, and reporting any letters that contain potentially harmful information like escape plan, drug activity, or pornography. “The Letter Room” offers a short glimpse into life in the corrections system (both working and incarcerated) and the people on the outside affected by their loved ones’ incarceration. It's uncomfortable at times, but a decent watch all the same. The percussive soundtrack with original music by Paulo Stagnaro was fantastic.

“The Present.” A man and his young daughter walk to the neighboring town to pick up groceries and an anniversary present for his wife. Seems like a simple plot, but the man lives on the Palestinian side of a border crossing and must make his way past Israeli soldiers to pick up his present. The film beautifully and painfully illustrates the hardship and lack of humanity that is happening in the day-to-day struggle living in the occupied territories. This was my second favorite live action short film.

“White Eye.” A man comes across his former bike that was stolen a month earlier from the beach. He knows it's his bike by its dents and a purple heart sticker. The bike is locked up and he seeks assistance in cutting the lock after being seemingly ignored by the police for not having originally reported the bike stolen. The police recommend that the man wait by the bike to watch for the thief and then call them to assist and figure out the true story. But things are not as simple as they seem when the man meets the "thief" who insists that he fairly paid for the bike a week earlier.

Bonnie Paul

Copyright ©2021 All rights reserved. Posted: April 2, 2021.

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