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Oscars 2018 Category Breakdown: Best Live-Action Short

So what we do here each year as a warm up for the Oscars is, I break down each of the 24 categories. The idea is to both familiarize everyone with the category and its history. I look at what the major trends are throughout the past bunch of years, how the precursors tend to go, whether they matter or not, that sort of stuff. I look at how the category came to be this year, and just anything else that seems totally pertinent about it. Then I rank each of the nominees and tell you what their likelihood (at this particular moment in time) of winning is.

This is all prelude to my giant Oscar ballot that I’m gonna give you. But I figure, if you have these as the warmup, it’s not as intimidating. You’ll have seen a lot of the pertinent trends here and we’ll all be able to reference these as a sort of cheat sheet. Plus it shows you where my head is at for how I think each of the categories are gonna go, and you can see me working my way up to all the bad decisions I usually make while guessing. Pretty much, with this, you’ll have a pretty good idea of how the category is gonna turn out.

Today is Best Live Action Short. You know, that category you never pay attention to, that not even the ceremony will pay attention to this year, because they’re probably gonna announce it over a commercial break.

Year Best Live-Action Short Winners
1931-1932 (Comedy) The Music Box

(Novelty) Wrestling Swordfish

1932-1933 (Comedy) So This Is Harris!

(Novelty) Krakatoa

1934 (Comedy) La Cucaracha

(Novelty) City of Wax

1935 (Comedy) How to Sleep

(Novelty) Wings Over Everest

1936 (Color) Give Me Liberty

(One-Reel) Bored of Education

(Two Reel) The Public Pays

1937 (Color) Penny Wisdom

(One-Reel) The Private Life of the Gannets

(Two Reel) Torture Money

1938 (One-Reel) That Mothers Might Live

(Two Reel) Declaration of Independence

1939 (One-Reel) Busy Little Bears

(Two Reel) Sons of Liberty

1940 (One-Reel) Quicker’n a Wink

(Two Reel) Teddy, the Rough Rider

1941 (One-Reel) Of Pups and Puzzles

(Two Reel) Main Street on the March!

1942 (One-Reel) Speaking of Animals and Their Families

(Two Reel) Beyond the Line of Duty

1943 (One-Reel) Amphibious Fighters

(Two Reel) Heavenly Music

1944 (One-Reel) Who’s Who in Animal Land

(Two Reel) I Won’t Play

1945 (One-Reel) Stairway to Light

(Two Reel) Star in the Night

1946 (One-Reel) Facing Your Danger

(Two Reel) A Boy and His Dog

1947 (One-Reel) Good-Bye Miss Turlock

(Two Reel) Climbing the Matterhorn

1948 (One-Reel) Symphony of a City

(Two Reel) Seal Island

1949 (One-Reel) Aquatic House Party

(Two Reel) Van Gogh

1950 (One-Reel) Grandad of Races

(Two Reel) In Beaver Valley

1951 (One-Reel) World of Kids

(Two Reel) Nature’s Half Acre

1952 (One-Reel) Light in the Window: The Art of Vermeer

(Two Reel) Water Birds

1953 (One-Reel) The Merry Wives of Windsor Overture

(Two Reel) Bear Country

1954 (One-Reel) This Mechanical Age

(Two Reel) A Time Out of War

1955 (One-Reel) Survival City

(Two Reel) The Face of Lincoln

1956 (One-Reel) Crashing the Water Barrier

(Two Reel) The Bespoke Overcoat

1957 The Wetback Hound
1958 Grand Canyon
1959 The Golden Fish
1960 Day of the Painter
1961 Seawards the Great Ships
1962 Hereux Anniversaire
1963 An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge
1964 Casals Conducts
1965 Le Poulet
1966 Wild Wings
1967 A Place to Stand
1968 Robert Kennedy Remembered
1969 The Magic Machines
1970 The Resurrection of Broncho Billy
1971 Sentinels of Silence
1972 Norman Rockwell’s World… An American Dream
1973 The Bolero
1974 One-Eyed Men Are Kings
1975 Angel and Big Joe
1976 In the Region of Ice
1977 I’ll Find a Way
1978 Teenage Father
1979 Board and Care
1980 The Dollar Bottom
1981 Violet
1982 A Shocking Accident
1983 Boys and Girls
1984 Up
1985 Molly’s Pilgrim
1986 Precious Images
1987 Ray’s Male Heterosexual Dance Hall
1988 The Appointments of Dennis Jennings
1989 Work Experience
1990 The Lunch Date
1991 Session Man
1992 Omnibus
1993 Black Rider
1994 Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life
1995 Lieberman in Love
1996 Deer Diary
1997 Visas and Virtue
1998 Election Night
1999 My Mother Dreams the Satan’s Disciples in New York
2000 Quiero ser
2001 The Accountant
2002 The Charming Man
2003 Two Soldiers
2004 Wasp
2005 Six Shooter
2006 West Bank Story
2007 Le Mozart des Pickpockets
2008 Spielzeugland
2009 The New Tenants
2010 God of Love
2011 The Shore
2012 Curfew
2013 Helium
2014 The Phone Call
2015 Stutterer
2016 Sing
2017 The Silent Child

Here’s how this category works: They nominate five shorts. You maybe see them all or see some of them. You guess which one you think is gonna win. One of them wins. Maybe you’re right, maybe you’re not.

That’s it.

Best Live-Action Short

Detainment

Fauve

Marguerite

Mother

Skin

I never know what the hell they’re gonna pick. This year, they went all serious. No idea what to make of this, but as of last night, I’ve seen all five of these. So I’m just gonna guess wildly and hopefully be slightly more confident come Oscar night.

Rankings:

5. Skin — I have no reason to really put this fifth other than it’s the one that didn’t really move me any way. The premise is never really capitalized on and it’s slightly ridiculous. Basically — it’s from the point of view of a child who is raised around racist rednecks. It’s all normal to him, but he’s like, five. Meanwhile, at the supermarket, a black guy smiles at the kid and the dad takes it upon himself to beat the shit out of the dude in the parking lot with his racist buddies. Then later, the guy’s friends abduct the dad, drug him, and tattoo him from head to toe so he looks like a black person. Then when they release him back to go home, his wife thinks it’s a black person breaking into the house and his son shoots him dead in the doorway. So yeah. That’s the short. Doesn’t really do much of anything. I know the fact that it’s becoming a feature (or is a feature… it played at Toronto) may lead you to think it’s more of a contender. But I tend to look at this as, “What’s gonna move the voters emotionally?” And that’s any direction. Serious or cute. And this isn’t that. So I’m treating it as fifth for now until I see something that makes me feel otherwise.

4. Mother — The best premise, I’d say. But also the one that does the least with it. A woman gets ready to go out when she gets a call from her young son, who is out on a trip with his father. He says he’s out on a beach, alone, and the father left a while ago and hasn’t come back. The kid has no idea where he is, only that they walked a long through trees and he can’t see any sign of people or anything other than sand and rocks. Oh, and his battery is dying. So of course the mother freaks out, tries to get a hold of anyone and calls the police. And you see this stressful situation in real time. Oh, and then the kid sees a man, who starts approaching. So the idea is that it’s truly the worst situation you could be in as a parent. But it just ends. The battery dies right as the man approaches the boy and the mother rushes out to start driving to find out where the hell he is. And then the camera tracks in on the grandmother with this almost cartoonishly ominous music as it just kind of cuts out. Feels way too heavy-handed and light on execution of the premise to win. I could be wrong, but unless they’re going all in on just the premise, I’m not sure this will do enough for them for a vote. I guess we’ll see.

3. Fauve — This well could win. It looks the best of the three. I’m not sure it’s a complete short, but it gets the job done on most levels. It’s about two boys playing in the middle of nowhere. On an abandoned train and in a quarry. They’re having some sort of game, which I guess the objective is who comes across as stronger or something. They keep giving and taking points. Then eventually they get to a big open area, where one of the boys gets stuck in quicksand. And basically he drowns. The other boy tries to figure out how to help, but when there’s no one and he comes back, the other boy has completely gone under and is gone. So the boy walks all the way back to the road, alone and traumatized. And then he gets picked up and driven back by a woman, totally changed from the experience. And it just kind of ends. There’s an image of a fox, which is a callback to something that happened earlier, but otherwise it just ends. It feels like it could almost be a complete short, but I don’t know if it’ll add up for voters. I’ll give it a slight edge over Mother, but it’s also in that realm of “I wish there were a bit more to grasp onto here.”

2. Detainment — This is the most complete of the shorts. It’s the longest, and is definitely emotional. The two lead performances are very strong. The two boys do a lot. But it’s somewhat of a problematic short in that it’s based on a real murder in the UK from the 90s. The James Bulger case. Basically two ten year old boys picked up this two year old at the mall, kidnapped him, tortured him and murdered him. And they left him on the train tracks where his body was later run over by a train. The short is built around police transcripts of the interviews with the boys. People in the UK are upset because it humanizes these boys, by showing them as ten year olds. Which I kind of get. It shows them as scared children and doesn’t fully get into all the fucked up stuff they did. But also, did you want to see the stuff they did (which apparently consisted of sticking batteries in the kid’s ass and also throwing bricks at him)? It’s emotional enough to where it could get votes. Not sure it makes it a distinct favorite over Fauve or Mother, but it at least feels more like a total package than anything else here.

1. Marguerite — This is the only thing resembling an “uplifting” short, which is why I’m giving it the edge. They seem to grasp onto anything uplifting here, unless it’s something like The Phone Call, which ends tragically, but is a complete short with great performances and makes you feel something along the way. So I’ll give this the edge on emotion, even if, like most of the other shorts, it feels incomplete. It’s about a female caretaker of an old woman. The old woman is just kind of accepting of death and waiting for her time to come. One day, she finds out her caretaker is a lesbian. It brings back old memories of hers, which involve her having a crush on a friend of hers but being unable to do anything about it because of the era. So she married a man and moved on. But she never forgot her feelings. So one night, she admits this to her caretaker and asks what it’s like to make love to a woman. The caretaker, as she puts the woman in bed, gives her a kiss and gets in bed with her. That’s really it. It just kind of ends. There’s no real emotion there, but you could read into something. Mostly I was wondering if she was giving her some sort of medication overdose as she did it, but it wasn’t set up in any way so I don’t think that’s the case. But I don’t know. Some people might see this as life-affirming or something, so I’ll make it the frontrunner. Honestly, I have no clue with this one and I think it can go four or even five deep. I truly don’t know what to make of this crop that they gave us this year. I’m sure I’ll be just as stumped on Oscar night as I am now. The good news is I always expect to get this category dead wrong, so it’s not like it’s anything outside the norm.

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