Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
Over the past few years, there hasn’t been much surprise with Oscar nominations for feature films. It’s shocking how unsurprising the committee has been in selecting the crème de la crème. That said, welcomed surprises generally only come out of the lesser known categories like those in the live-action shorts category. Last year, there was a cavernous disparity between the quality of the material singled out. This year, however, the gap has been narrowed greatly – so much so, it’s hard to predict the winner.
Here’s our attempt to help you fill out your ballot at your Oscar parties.
AVE MARIA (Director: Basil Khalil, France | Germany | Palestine): It’s just before sundown on the West Bank, Palestine at the Sisters of Mercy Convent. As the sisters settle in silently for the night, a car filled with Israeli settlers crashes into the Virgin Mary statue outside right before Shabbat begins. As the two groups reluctantly struggle to find common ground, an unorthodox solution appears. Though the lesson they both learn is expected, its light touch is sweet and well-intentioned. It even earns a few genuine chuckles. 3.5/5
STUTTERER (Director: Benjamin Cleary, UK): Typographer Greenwood Carson (Matthew Needham, “Bezza” from SHERLOCK) has a severe stutter. Daily tasks like talking to his father and calling the utility company can be a challenge. Things ramp up for him when Ellie Parks (Chloe Pirrie), a girl he’s been chatting with online for the past 6 months, wants to meet up. Cleary quickly immerses us into Greenwood’s world. We hear his inner monologue resounding clearly when he’s working himself up to speak, suffering greatly in his defeat when he can’t get those precious words out. There’s a heart-swelling emotional payoff that feels inherent to the genre, but moreover, it’s genuinely lovely and winning. 4.5/5
ALLES WIRD GUT (EVERYTHING WILL BE OKAY): (Director: Patrick Vollrath, Germany | Austria): Divorced Dad Michael Baumgartner (Simon Schwartz) picks up his daughter Eva (Julia Pointer) for a routine overnight visit. However, after a trip to the mall and McDonalds, Lea can’t quite shake the feeling that something is amiss. The drama, which takes its title from a promise the desperate dad makes to his daughter, builds tension at a steady pace. We’re just as much in the dark as Lea. She’s our avatar. Essentially this is a shorter, more potent, intense and heartbreaking variation on WHAT MAISIE KNEW – only we empathize with all parties involved. 5/5
SHOK (Director: Jamie Donoughue, UK | Kosovo): The memories came flooding back as crisp and cold as the day they were created when Petrit sees his best friend Oki’s rusty bike in the middle of the road. As he remembers their childhood adventures together before war tore them apart, we’re supposed to grow emotionally attached to the two young boys. Based on a true story, this is a tale of innocence lost. The bike is a metaphor – a symbol for the homeland and childlike naiveté they were forced to leave behind. However, until the impactful final minutes, the narrative isn’t as riveting as it needs to be in order to become transcendent. 3.5/5
DAY ONE (Director: Henry Hughes, United States): Inspired by a female interpreter Hughes served alongside, this tells the story of a recently divorced Afghan-American Armed Services interpreter in Afghanistan. On her first mission, she’s tasked with the seemingly impossible – to bridge gender and cultural gaps – when she encounters the pregnant wife of a bomb-maker. It imparts a bittersweet taste in viewers’ mouths. Aesthetically, it’s beautiful and thoughtfully composed. Cinematography, editing and sound design earn high marks. The entire ensemble turns in strong performances. However, the narrative misses the mark in terms of the heroine’s character development, leaving audiences asking, “What am I rooting for?” 4/5
THE OSCAR NOMINATED ANIMATED SHORTS will open in Los Angeles at The Nuart in West L.A and in Orange County at the Regency South Coast Village, all on January 29. For more information on where you can find these shorts playing, go here.