Animated, Live-Action, Documentary Shorts preface the Oscars

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"Heroni(e)," nominated in the Documentary Short category.

The Oscar-nominated shorts make a pleasant run-up to the 90th Academy Awards on March 4. They arrive at the M.V. Film Center this weekend. Part of the fun in watching these shorts is deciding for yourself which should win. I’m offering my picks here.

The five animated shorts illustrate the variety of imaginary forms for telling stories. Drawn mostly in black and white, retired basketball superstar Kobe Bryant’s “Dear Basketball” offers an unusual approach to animation because of the real-life story it tells. The viewer learns about a 6-year-old boy who falls in love with basketball.

Using a remarkable animation technique, “Garden Party” follows the antics of several frogs. The setting is a human house and its accoutrements, although no humans appear to be present. These amphibians manage to turn on a sound system and the pool’s lights before a surprise ending.

In Pixar’s entry, “Lou,” a little boy who is a playground bully learns a lesson and changes his behavior. “Negative Space,” a French animated short film by Max Porter and Ru Kuwahata, narrates the way a little boy learns how to pack his father’s suitcase and continues this talent as a grownup. The Roald Dahl story “Revolting Rhymes” inspires the longest of the animated shorts. This tale rearranges classic fairy tales like “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Snow White,” and “The Three Little Pigs.” “Negative Space” appeals most to me because of its story and animation style.

Live Action Shorts bring to life powerful fictional stories because of violence or other elements. “DeKalb Elementary” tells a particularly gripping tale. A young man shows up in the school’s office and pulls an assault rifle out of his backpack. Watching the school secretary talk him down is harrowing. “My Nephew Emmett” relies less on outright violence than a historical narrative about Emmett Till. It represents a horrifying example of American racism.

“The Eleven O’Clock” is a comedy of misidentity. A psychiatrist’s 11 am patient arrives with the apparent delusion that he, too, is a psychiatrist. The two get into a back-and-forth that turns increasingly funny. Childhood deafness is the theme in “Silent Child.” It tracks a family that includes a young deaf girl and the social worker who teaches her sign language. “Watu Wote” is based on an actual event that happened in Kenya in 2015. The border conflict that inspires violence takes place between Christians and Muslims. Because of its historical importance, my pick is “My Nephew Emmett.”

Documentary shorts benefit from relying on real-life events. “Edith+Eddie” portrays an interracial couple who married in their nineties. When family members get involved, the question becomes whose needs will be best served. Imagine liking to sit in a traffic jam. That is the case for Mindy Alper, who is mentally ill, in “Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405.” She is also a talented artist with a poignant story.

From HBO comes “Traffic Stop,” directed and produced by Vineyard summer residents Kate Davis and David Heilbroner. Breaion King, a 26-year-old African American teacher in Austin, Texas, is stopped for a routine traffic violation. Her mistreatment and discussion with her arresters make for an incisive view of race relations.

Netflix entry “Heroin(e)” focuses on Jan Rader, the fire chief in Huntington, W.Va., and the work she does rescuing heroin users who have overdosed. The number of addicts is shocking, and Huntington is no different from most other parts of the country. Watching Rader administer life-saving Narcan is a grim business.

Edwins Restaurant in Cleveland, Ohio, provides the setting for “Knife Skills.” The restaurant’s owner hires and trains men and women recently released from prison. Many have little or no culinary experience. For addressing one of the most serious domestic crises in the country, “Heroin(e),” in my mind, should win the Oscar.

Also coming up at the M.V. Film Center is a showing of “The Post,” sponsored by The MV Times, on Friday, Feb. 9, at 4 pm. Students 18 and under will be admitted free to the movie. They must bring a student ID to the Film Center for the free tickets. A discussion with Times news editor George Brennan and constitutional law professor Jack Fruchtman, a frequent contributor to The Times, will precede the film.

 

Information and tickets for these and other films are available at mvfilmsociety.com.