Oscars 2017: Best Documentary Short Shortlist

Been sitting on this one for a while. Didn’t have time to sit and actually watch the ones I’ve been able to watch. Was supposed to do it over the holidays. That never works out. And then it’s been a shitstorm since I got back. So here we are. Figured I needed to do this before nominations on Tuesday.

But anyway, here’s Wonderwall the Documentary Short shortlist. They give you ten, five will be nominated. And this is typically the least interesting category for me in the entire list, and next to Live-Action Short is typically the hardest one to pick because you never really know which way they’re gonna go. This one, though, at least they have some sort of typical logic to how they go, most of the time. So there’s that.

One thing I’m noticing in recent years is that a lot of the contenders tend to come from either the New York Times or Netflix. So let’s see how much that trend continues this year.

Here’s your shortlist for Best Documentary Short:

About a woman marrying a man in prison.

Edith and Eddie, ages 96 and 95, are America’s oldest interracial newlyweds. Their love story is disrupted by a family feud that threatens to tear the couple apart.

Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405

Mindy Alper is a tortured and brilliant 56 year old artist who is represented by one of Los Angeles’ top galleries. Acute anxiety, mental disorder and devastating depression have caused her to be committed to mental institutions undergo electro shock therapy and survive a 10 year period without the ability to speak. Her hyper self awareness has allowed her to produce a lifelong body of work that expresses her emotional state with powerful psychological precision. Through interviews, reenactments, the building of an eight and a half foot papier-mache’ bust of her beloved psychiatrist, and examining drawings made from the time she was a child, we learn how she has emerged from darkness and isolation to a life that includes love, trust and support

This one is on Netflix.

Three women fight to break the cycle one life at a time.

Kayayo, The Living Shopping Baskets

In the capital of Ghana, 10,000 girls from the ages of 6 work as real life shopping baskets – called Kayayo, carrying heavy loads on their head (from 130 to 220 pounds), earning very little and some end up in prostitution to make ends meet. This documentary is about Bamunu, an 8-year old girl who hasn’t seen her family since she was sent away from home two years ago to work as a Kayayo to support her family. We follow her incessant longing to get away from the harsh markets, her journey back home and what awaits there.

Knife Skills

What does it take to build a world-class French restaurant? What if the staff is almost entirely men and women just out of prison? What if most have never cooked or served before, and have barely two months to learn their trade? We follow the hectic launch of Edwins restaurant in Cleveland. In this improbable setting, with its mouth-watering dishes and its arcane French vocabulary, we discover the challenges of men and women finding their way after their release. We come to know three trainees intimately, as well as the restaurant’s founder, who is himself haunted by his time in jail. These men and women all have something to prove, and all struggle to launch new lives, an endeavor as pressured and perilous as the ambitious restaurant launch of which they are a part.

116 Cameras
Holocaust survivor Eva Schloss preserves her story interactively so that she will be able to tell it forever.

Ram Dass, Going Home

A profound and poetic encounter with cultural and spiritual icon Ram Dass, at his home on Maui toward the end of his life.

Ten Meter Tower

On a 10-meter high diving tower, fear of taking the jump is pitted against the personal loss that would arise if you didn’t dare. What do we look like when we hesitate and when we make a decision? What does it look like when we overcome our fear?

Traffic Stop

Traffic Stop tells the story of Breaion King, a 26 year-old African-American school teacher from Austin, Texas who is stopped for a routine traffic violation that escalates into a dramatic arrest.

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Four of the the ten are available to straight up watch, which is nice. A fifth, Kayayo, is available to rent on Vimeo for $2. That I have not done.

Alone was a decent short. Not something I’d nominate. It doesn’t particularly go in depth as much as I’d want it to. Seems like something I’d leave off and let them nominate if they’re gonna.

Edith+Eddie… yeah. I think this might straight up win. I know a bit more about this than some people might, and I think that when people see this (note: I haven’t), it will destroy them. I don’t see how this doesn’t get nominated.

Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405 — feels like something they like. Not sure if it goes on for sure, but it feels like them. It’s an artist overcoming mental issues. Living in LA — they love that shit. I say this gets on.

Heroin(e) is 50/50. It’s about heroin addiction, not the opioid crisis. Not sure how thematically relevant they’ll find this. Then again, it’s Netflix, and they can mount a campaign for this. They had two nominees last year (The White Helmets, which won, and Extremis). This is their only shortlisted film this year, and I’d call it a contender, even if I don’t necessarily think it 100% fits with them. Definitely gonna be in the top six of contention, and I probably will need to guess it in the end just because it makes more sense for it to be there than not.

Kayayo, The Living Shopping Baskets sounds exactly like the kind of thing they go for here. Could even win. I think this will for sure be nominated.

Knife Skills is interesting. The director won this category in 2006 with the documentary about the Chinese kids with AIDS, and he was nominated three times, last in 2010 with the one about a Chinese chemical company that was poisoning local people. This is about a restaurant with ex-cons as the staff. Sounds like it could be a movie, which make me think they’ll go for this. Very easily could be left off, but with the subject matter that could appeal to them and a previous winner and three-time nominee… I think you have to consider it a major contender.

116 Cameras is the Holocaust entry, which most people assume automatically gets on. But when you watch it — it’s a woman telling her story in front of a bunch of cameras that will record her for posterity. It’s not particularly emotionally resonant.I guess they could go here, but I’m not seeing it. Weird that this year, the first three off for me are the New York Times one, which seems unlikely to happen. But how else can we guess this category if not on our instincts and experience?

Ram Dass, Going Home sounds exactly like the kind of short that I’d go, “No way that gets nominated,” and then it does. There’s always one every year that I would never think they’d go for and then they do. It’s practically 100% that I don’t pick this and it gets nominated. Because when I think to go, “I should just pick it,” I’ll invariably talk myself out of it by saying, “But then when it doesn’t, I’ll feel like an asshole.” So I don’t pick it and when it gets on, I feel less bad than if I did.

Ten Meter Tower — will they go here? It’s one of those things… you get it pretty quickly. It’s fifteen minutes of people jumping into a pool. Or not. I haven’t seen them do anything as inconsequential as this in the past five or six years. I’m thinking absolutely not.

Traffic Stop is something that is an unknown entity to me. No trailer, no nothing. The subject matter was the big one for last year. It was cops/excessive force and Aleppo. That was last year. Now… are they past this issue? I don’t know. Could get on, could not. I truly couldn’t tell you. My gut is telling me no at the moment, but I have two days to convince myself otherwise.

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If I had to rank each film’s chances at getting on, this is what I’d have.

10. Ten Meter Tower
9. Alone
8. 116 Cameras
7. Traffic Stop
6. Heroin(e)
5. Ram Dass, Going Home
4. Knife Skills
3. Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405
2. Kayayo, The Living Shopping Baskets
1. Edith+Eddie

Purely guessing at this point. I’ll put real thought into it by Monday.

Edith+Eddie and Kayayo I think are 100% getting on. I’d say Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405 has a very strong chance. After that, Knife Skills, Ram Dass, Heroin(e) and Traffic Stop make the most sense. But it’s Documentary Short. The shorts — assume 2/5 and be happy with anything above that you can get.

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