Oscars 2016: Best Documentary Short Shortlist

They announced the ten shortlisted films for Best Documentary Short last week. Which is kinda funny, since the category the least amount of people care about and the easiest to pick is the one we have the most time to think about.

The way this works is, I go through these now, basically figure out which five I think are gonna be nominated, I don’t think about this at all until January, two days before nominations come out, and then I reevaluate and pick basically that list as what I think is gonna be nominated. It’s simple. We don’t get too complicated here.

Anyway, here are what I’m sure are the highly awaited shortlisted documentaries for the Best Documentary Short category at the 89th Academy Awards.

Brillo Box (3¢ Off) — follows a beloved Andy Warhol Brillo Box sculpture as it makes its way from a family’s living room to a record-breaking Christie’s auction, blending personal narrative with pop culture, and exploring how we navigate the ephemeral nature of art and value.

Close Ties — Forty-five years of marriage is an impressive anniversary. Barbara and Zdzisław could be proud of themselves if not for the fact that the husband left the wife for his lover eight years ago. But now they are together again, although Barbara claims that if it were not for his infirm legs, Zdzisław would still be chasing skirts around Kraków. Despite the past resentment, everyday problems with paying bills, an occupied bathroom and rearranging furniture, they have a hard to define bond.

Extremis — Witness the wrenching emotions that accompany end-of-life decisions as doctors, patients and families in a hospital ICU face harrowing choices.

This one is on Netflix.

4.1 Miles — A coast guard captain on a small Greek island is suddenly charged with saving thousands of refugees from drowning at sea.

Here’s everything you need to know about this one, including the doc itself.

Frame 394 — A young man from Toronto entangles himself in one of America’s most high-profile police shootings.

Here’s the short:

Joe’s Violin — A 91-year-old Holocaust survivor donates his violin of 70 years to a local instrument drive,  changing the life of a 12-year-old schoolgirl from the nation’s poorest congressional district, and unexpectedly, his own.

You can watch the short here.

The Mute’s House — Eight-year-old Yousef and his deaf mother Sahar are the last Palestinian residents of an otherwise deserted building in the Israeli part of the city of Hebron. Their island within the Jewish quarter is called “The Mute’s House” by Israeli soldiers, even though Sahar isn’t mute at all. Travel agencies have included the property in their tours. Yousef makes good use of his privilege to cross the border when he goes to school. Through the tour guides’ explanations, we learn the story of Yousef and Sahar, who bravely withstand all the threats and bullying. None of Yousef’s Palestinian classmates can come to his house, and filmmaker Tamar Kay isn’t allowed to cross the border to film the Palestinian quarter with Yousef. Despite his disability – Yousef was born with one arm – he amuses himself with the chickens, goats and rabbits that forage among the ruined neighboring houses, and he plays the guitar and video games. The remarkable situation elegantly illustrates the absurdity of the endless conflict.

The Other Side of Home — In 1915, estimated 1.5 million Armenians were killed by the Ottoman Turks, during the Armenian Genocide. In 2015, a Turkish woman named Maya discovers that her great grandmother was survivor of the Armenian genocide. Maya embodies the conflict as she has two enemies living in her body: one side that suffers and the other side that denies. The documentary follows Maya as she decides to go to Armenia to take part in the 100th commemoration of the genocide and to explore her conflicted identity. This film is a universal story of identity, denial, and how the experience of genocide creates a ripple effect for future generations on both sides.

Watani: My Homeland — Tells the story of one family’s escape from war torn Aleppo and their attempt to make a new life in Germany.

The White Helmets — As daily airstrikes pound civilian targets in Syria, a group of indomitable first responders risk their lives to rescue victims from the rubble.

It’s on Netflix.

– – – – – – – – – – –

This is exciting. Normally I can only fine one maybe two before I have to pick for nominations. Straight up five of them to watch.

When this was announced back in October, there were three available to watch. And I wanted to make sure I watched them before I wrote up anything. Then I got busy and couldn’t, and in the meantime, two more showed up. Great.

So now that I’ve seen half the list, here’s what I can say:

Extremis — really powerful. I could easily see this being nominated and even winning. I’d definitely call this a nominee right now.

4.1 Miles — One of two Syrian docs. One or both will be nomimated. This is done by a student. I don’t know if that helps or hurts. If I had to pick between the two, I’d say this is less likely to make it on. Since it doesn’t have that uplifting kind of story or anything. It’s “here’s this guy, he goes out on his boat and picks up people who try to get out of there.” The other one has more uplifting themes and harrowing footage. So if both don’t make it on, I’d say this is the lesser likely of the two. But what do I know.

Frame 394 — It’s coincidental that I watched this short on the day that it came out one of the jurors in the Walter Scott case was refusing to convict the police officer when the rest were. On the surface, had I not seen this doc, I would have assumed they would vote for it. Police shootings of black men. But you watch this — it’s pro cop. Well… that makes it sound simplistic. But it’s about some millennial video editor who takes it upon himself to, first post the video of Scott’s death to Reddit and show that it looks like the officer is planting a taser. Then he goes back and analyzes more and realizes the officer might not have done that. But of course the internet doesn’t want to hear about that part. So he then goes around, offering his footage to people, who don’t want it. Until he gets a hold of the cop’s attorney, who bring him in. And then it ends with a weird notion of, “Oh, but things are all fucked up, and that’s how this happened.” It’s a weird doc.

At one point, the millennial is mentioned as being a “Benedict Arnold.” First he was on “their” side, now he’s on “ours.” And afterward, he goes, “Benedict Arnold? I have no idea who that is.” That’s what the guy says. He’s Canadian, but still.

I know it’s meant to be about getting to the truth rather than narrative, and trying to find nuance in the era of internet outrage, but it comes across as “look at me, look at how I figured this out.” And the fact that it’s the equivalent of a privileged white 20-something saying, “Here’s why Trump was actually right” — the Academy’s not gonna want to hear that. It ends by saying the system is fucked up, and that’s what led to this, no matter what the truth, but no. You can’t do that.

I feel like the only way this gets nominated is if

Joe’s Violin — Oh they love this shit. Holocaust survivor having a violin for 70 years and then giving it to a student so they can learn music? They eat this shit up. Normally I’d say cynically this will automatically win. But I’m not so sure. This is a nice headline but not much more than that. I’d definitely pencil this in for a nomination, though.

The White Helmets — Another of two Netflix docs. I feel like Netflix has the pull to get these on there. One, if not both. Fortunately, this is a subject matter they go for. Men in Syria who risk their lives to pull victims out of the rubble of bombings. This is tailor made for this category.

And then, my take on the other five…

Brillo Box (3¢ Off) — ehh. I dont’ know. Seems vaguely interesting, but it’s too vague to tell now, without a trailer or anything.

Close Ties — Oh, they eat this shit up. It could easily not make it, but they definitely

The Mute’s House — They also eat this shit up. Interesting, interesting. This seems pretty likely too.

The Other Side of Home — ehh. Armenian genocide is one thing. A woman’s journey is slightly interesting. Maybe they go for it. But given what they usually go for, this seems unlikely.

Watani: My Homeland — A third Syria movie. This is the theme of the year. They’re not gonna nominate all of them. They just aren’t. This has the family angle, of them trying to escape. I can see this being more likely to make it on. Filmed over three years, framed through children. Oh yeah. They like it when they can see a film being made about something, and it’s a big topical issue. They like stories and feeling important. This will give them both. (You can actually see this movie, but only in German, here. I’ll watch it subtitled in English when it’s nominated, but for now, this definitely helps me think it will be.)

– – – – – – – – – –

If I had to guess now, I’d say you have six big contenders here and four alternates. I will let you know now that it’s easier to pick a winner than to guess all five nominees in this category. They routinely go against what I think when they nominate.

But, if I had to guess based on this moment in time, your five nominees would be:

  • Extremis
  • Joe’s Violin
  • The Mute’s House
  • Watani: My Homeland
  • The White Helmets

And these five would be the others.

6. Close Ties

7. 4.1 Miles

8. Brillo Box (3¢ Off)

9. Frame 394

10. The Other Side of Home

I am sure I will get at least two of those wrong, and I may even change my guesses in the next six weeks. No clue whatsoever. But that’s based on an initial reaction having seen five and a half of the contenders.

You have to figure Netflix gets one, if not both, of their contenders on. Which makes Extremis very, very likely and/or The White Helmets very likely.

Joe’s Violin could easily be left off, or it could be their nice Holocaust one they like to put on. People overcoming shit through music. Perhaps I’m overthinking it, or perhaps this is the lighter, feel-good doc they want in a category of heavier shit. No way to know until nominations are announced.

The Mute’s House is everything they want — people overcoming hardships in war-torn places. That seems almost a lock, to me.

Watani also seems likely because they like things with kids. Maybe 4.1 Miles makes it on becaues it’s the NY Times, I don’t know.

Close Ties could easily take that Joe’s Violin spot, and that’s one I’m gonna think about very closely come picking time. (I’m actually leaning toward that now, that it’s more likely to get on, if that’s any help.)

Brillo Box — no idea. Gonna have to fly blind on that one unless something more comes out about it in the next month.

And The Other Side of Home is the one that I will throw out that will undoubtedly be nominated, as there always is each year.

You can’t really win with this one, you can just hope for the best.

– – – – – – – – – –

Hopefully if I keep this pace going, there will be two more shortlists going up this morning/today. Let’s not get our hopes up. The minute I tell you they’re coming, they won’t. And I’m all about the low expectations.


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