As a group, this year’s Live Action Short nominees are a pretty dour bunch. While 2018 saw a resurgence of politically minded agitprop, the Academy voters of 2019 seem preoccupied with the fears of an aging populace. Whether it’s hoodlum kids running amok or elderly hospice patients pining after long-lost loves, everything on the ballot for this year’s award founders in a sea of unaddressed anxiety and sociological hand-wringing. If that sounds like a good time to you, well, here you have it.
Detainment. Director: Vincent Lambe. Country: Ireland. 30 minutes. Having already grabbed headlines on the basis of its salacious source material, this drawn-out recounting of the brutal 1993 murder of a Brittish toddler by two 10-year-old delinquents is an odd choice for any awards consideration, much less an Oscar. Playing like little more than an overwrought episode of a TV police procedural, it’s a tawdry piece of exploitation cinema that makes no meaningful point about the case it’s recounting. Frankly, I don’t know why this film exists.
Fauve. Director: Jeremy Comte. Country: Canada. 16 minutes. Another case of kids running wild, this time with a more evocative setting. Deeply disturbing and frustratingly obtuse, Fauve packs more of a punch than Detainment but still doesn’t make much of a point. Maybe something about foxes? At the very least, director Comte’s tale of two unattended minors, whose prank war takes on serious consequences, boasts a unique aesthetic acumen that merits audiences’ consideration, even if it’s unlikely to garner the same from the Academy.
Marguerite. Director: Marianne Farley. Country: Canada. 19 minutes. This story of an elderly woman trying to die with dignity and the home nurse tasked with caring for her during the process is perfectly tailored fodder for a doddering Academy. Who doesn’t harbor regrets about missed romantic opportunities? And who isn’t haunted by the specter of a lonely death? Well, that’s about all that’s on offer in this well-meaning but largely forgettable melodrama. That very capacity for morbid self-indulgence is also why this one will probably take home the shiny statue.
Madre. Director: Rodrigo Sorogoyen. Country: Spain. 19 minutes. A tense, claustrophobic psychological thriller that ultimately goes nowhere, Madre is possibly the most filmic entry in this year’s roster. This story of a mother trying to track down her lost son gets ugly fast, but it boasts some solid performances and uses its setting to expert effect. Definitely the most arthouse-friendly entry in the 2019 competition. Definitely zero chance of winning the Oscar.
Skin. Director: Guy Nattiv. Country: U.S. 20 minutes. The only entry from the U.S. in this year’s competition is a thoroughly American product. Largely an exercise in exploitative race-baiting, Skin still features an unexpected twist that almost outweighs its sadistic sensibilities. Almost. With a recognizable B-list cast, including character actor Jonathan Tucker and Danielle Macdonald (of Patti Cake$ fame — or infamy), this is potentially another safe bet for a self-obsessed Academy’s vote this year. What that says about the people voting, I will leave to your evaluation.