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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, April 20, 2024

Memory and mayhem: The Oscar-nominated shorts of 2024

The Daily explores some of 2023’s most evocative short films.


An Oscars red carpet is pictured.

At the beginning of every year, film critics and fans catch up on the previous year’s films in preparation for awards season, which culminates in the Academy Awards on March 10, better known as the Oscars. While most critics have devoted their awards season coverage to Best Picture contenders like “Barbie,” “Oppenheimer” and “Poor Things,” there’s one type of film that’s often overlooked: the shorts. Every year, 15 shorts are recognized by the Academy in three categories: animated, live action and documentary. Before this year’s ceremony, let’s take a look at the contenders in the short film categories.

Animated Shorts

Our Uniform”: Self-produced by Iranian director Yeghane Modhaggam, “Our Uniform” is one of the most unique shorts of the year, narrated by a young Iranian girl who describes her memories of her old school uniform. The film’s animations are drawn on articles of clothing and animated using both computer animation and stop-motion techniques, reminding viewers of the strict clothing conventions that dominated the narrator’s life in Tehran. Modhaggam’s unique multimedia approach to storytelling is clever, and her short tells a simple but powerful story. (7 minutes, Farsi)

Letter to a Pig”: Told almost entirely in black and white with abstract animations that look like brushstrokes on the screen, “Letter to a Pig” is a vivid exploration of memory and generational trauma. The film opens with a frightened child hiding in a pigsty and then transitions to a classroom of children. The children are hearing from a Holocaust survivor, who reveals that he was the child forced to sleep with pigs. He then reads a letter addressed to the pig who saved his life. The story is told through the eyes of one of the students, who is forced to grapple with the survivor’s harrowing story. Directed by Tal Kantor, the film poignantly explores how we remember tragedy and how we pass it on to future generations. (17 minutes, Hebrew)

Stéphanie Clément’s beautifully animated short begins with Louise, a young girl on vacation with her grandparents in the countryside. Louise recalls happy memories of walking in the garden and swimming in the lake, but as the story progresses it becomes clear that there’s something sinister hiding beneath the surface. As Louise describes her desire to escape her traumatic experience, the film’s compelling script effectively complements its colorful visuals to create a feeling of unease in an otherwise idyllic setting. (11 minutes, French)

“War is Over! Inspired by the Music of John & Yoko”: An unexpected collaboration between famous animator Peter Jackson and Sean Ono Lennon, “War is Over!” tells the story of two soldiers on opposite sides of a battlefield who play a game of chess together, aided by a heroic messenger pigeon who crosses enemy lines to deliver the players’ chess moves. The animation is crisp and the ending packs an emotional punch, but the film’s anti-war thesis doesn’t break much ground. Additionally, the inclusion of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” during the credits is a jarring needle drop that detracts from the film’s narrative. (11 minutes, English)

“Ninety-Five Senses”: Like several of the other animated shorts, “Ninety-Five Senses” explores the power of memory. The main character, voiced by veteran character actor Tim Blake Nelson, looks back on his life through the lens of his five senses, describing the sights, smells and sounds that defined his childhood and adolescence. Jared and Jerusha Hess’ blend of animation styles is extremely effective, as each visual seamlessly transforms into the next. The narrator looks back on both the good and the bad memories, until he shockingly reveals he made a tragic mistake that landed him on death row. As he eats his last meal and faces his own mortality, he wistfully looks back on what his life had to offer. (13 minutes, English)

Live Action Shorts

The frontrunner in this category is “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar,” a delightful adaptation of a Roald Dahl short story from visionary director Wes Anderson. Featuring many of Anderson’s filmmaking hallmarks, “Henry Sugar”' is a joy to watch. At 39 minutes, it just makes it into the shorts category (anything 40 minutes or longer is considered a feature film). It faces stiff competition from “The After,” a moving British film featuring David Oyelowo as a father grieving the loss of his daughter, and “Red, White, and Blue,” an American film about a young mother (Brittany Snow) who travels across state lines in search of an abortion.

Also in the running are “Invincible,” a Canadian short about a troubled teen in juvenile detention, and “Knight of Fortune,” a Danish short about a chance encounter between two widowers at a morgue.

Documentary Shorts

The most moving documentary short this year is “The ABCs of Book Banning,” which explores the impact of recent book bans in Florida’s public schools and around the country. Some of its competitors tell more personal stories, including “The Last Repair Shop,” featuring a unique Los Angeles shop that keeps thousands of student instruments in good condition, and “Nǎi Nai & Wài Pó,” in which director Sean Wang documents the daily lives of his grandmothers. Also in contention are “The Barber of Little Rock,” about a Black Arkansan barber’s efforts to close the racial wealth gap, and “Island in Between,” which explores the complicated relationship between Taiwan and China through its director’s personal reflections.

Many of the shorts are available to stream online, and the shorts are now in theatrical release in select theaters. The live action and animated shorts are playing now at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, and the documentary shorts will be premiering at the Coolidge on March 1.