Oscars 2019: Best Documentary Short Shortlist

Okay, so let’s make our way into the Shorts categories, which I thought would be easier to deal with because no one cares about them, but I realized that because they’re the ones with the least amount of stuff I know about, that means more work for me. Since I can’t just rattle off my usual bullshit based n seeing names. I actually have to look them all up, see if I can find them to watch, and because I’m a perfectionist, actually watch them first if I can find them, then look up what they’re about, what the synopses are, and then start talking about the categories. So once I do all that other stuff, it’s easy. But here’s where I do all the other stuff. So that’s why these three have waited until this morning. (And yes, that means between last night and now, I’ve gone and watched every single thing I can for these categories so I could be as well-versed as possible.)

We start with Documentary Short, which is one of the two least cared-about categories in the entire show. Most people don’t even bother to watch or look up what any of them are about, and because the whole thing is shrouded in such mystery, they don’t even give people the opportunity to widely watch them beforehand to at least build up an interest in the category.

But anyway, there were 96 eligible shorts and they shortlisted ten of them, of which five will be nominated. Let’s see what they are:

After Maria
Fire in Paradise
Ghosts of Sugar Land
In the Absence
Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)
Life Overtakes Me
The Nightcrawlers
St. Louis Superman
Stay Close
Walk Run Cha-Cha

I’m guessing unless you watch a lot of Op Docs, you probably don’t know what any of these are, as is the case with me. So let’s see what I can find/find out about these:

After Maria is on Netflix. So you can watch it there. It’s about Puerto Rican women in New York after Hurricane Maria whose federal aid money has expired.

Fire in Paradise is also on Netflix. It’s about the Paradise, CA wildfire in 2018.

Ghosts of Sugar Land is, guess what, also on Netflix. It’s about a group of Muslims in Texas who talk about their friend, who became an extremist.

In the Absence is about: “When the passenger ferry MV Sewol sank off the coast of South Korea in 2014, over three hundred people lost their lives, most of them schoolchildren. Years later, the victims’ families and survivors are still demanding justice from national authorities.”

Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl) is “the story of young Afghan girls learning to read, write-and skateboard-in Kabul.” This one’s available on PBS.

Life Overtakes Me is on Netflix and is about refugee children in Sweden who develop something called Resignation Syndrome and end up essentially in comas.

The Nightcrawlers is a National Geographic doc about the Filipino war on drugs.

St. Louis Superman is literally the only one of the ten I’m unable to find in full, which has to be some sort of record for this category. It’s about “Bruce Franks Jr., a Ferguson activist and battle rapper who was elected to the overwhelmingly white and Republican Missouri House of Representatives, must overcome both personal trauma and political obstacles to pass a critical bill for his community.”

Stay Close is an Op-Doc about an aspiring Olympic fencer from Brooklyn.

Walk Run Cha-Cha is an Op-Doc about kids who lost their families in Vietnam and now dance as adults.

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The key with this category, above all others, is what issues they want to highlight. That’s always with this one comes down to.

Here’s what all the nominees of the past few years have been about:

  • 2018: Indian women make and sell their own sanitary napkins, black family moves out of London to avoid racism but encounters it in the suburbs too, people dealing with end-of-life decisions at hospitals, people volunteering to save refugees sinking in the middle of the ocean, footage of a Nazi rally held at MSG in 1939
  • 2017: woman with mental illness overcomes it to make art, 90-year-old interracial couple become the victim of a family feud, the opioid epidemic, ex-cons work at a high-end French restaurant, a traffic stop between a white officer and black passenger
  • 2016: Syrian volunteers who go in and pull people out of the rubble of buildings, Greek coast guard helps save thousands of Syrian refugees, Doctors and family members making end-of-life decisions, Holocaust survivor donates his violin to a local school, family struggling to survive in Syria

I think we can stop at three. You get it, right? You can just look at what they’re about to get a general idea of what strikes their fancy. Because it’s not like the docs are amazing. It’s just the subject they’re voting for.

So what do we have this year?

  • Hurricane Maria, the people displaced and the U.S. governments failure to help them and let them die.
  • The after-effects of the most destructive wildfire in California history.
  • Muslim Americans discuss their friend who suddenly left to join ISIS.
  • Korean ferry sinks and the leaders do nothing to help out the victims’ families.
  • Young Afghan girls learn to read and write and skateboard.
  • Children of refugee families develop illnesses from trauma that put them in coma-like states.
  • Photojournalists go undercover to reveal what’s actually going on with the Filipino war on drugs.
  • A black man in Missouri, radicalized by the events of Ferguson, runs and is elected to his almost all-white state senate
  • Black kid from Brooklyn becomes Olympic fencer
  • Vietnamese couple recounts their experiences during the war, and their newfound love of dancing together. (AKA, couple from foreign country overcomes circumstances by dancing.)

So having watched nine of the ten and seeing what they’re all about, I feel pretty confident in saying this is how you have to look at the category in terms of likelihood of being nominated.

Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone is so on the nose for the category and a win that it’s possible they don’t even nominate it. The Hurricane Maria one is straight up their speed too. The refugee coma one could go either way. I’m thinking it’s not direct enough of an issue for them. Stay Close is just an uplifting sports story, and I think they’ll like it, because they can see the feature version of that story. Ghosts of the Sugar Land could be seen as slight, or it could be exactly what they go for. That’s a 50/50 for me. Walk Run Cha-Cha doesn’t seem like they’ll nominate it, but you never know with them. My gut having seen it says no. Fire in Paradise could strike them because it’s close to home, but it’s not political or uplifting enough to fit what they usually go for. That’s one I think I’d probably ignore and just let it get on. Because I can’t figure out why, past the local element, they’d vote for it. In the Absence is really strong and I think it’ll work with most voters, even though it takes place in Korea. It’s just about a disaster and a government’s inability to take care of its citizens. And I think that will resonate with them for a lot of reasons. Nightcrawlers sounds exactly like what they go for here and I have to assume that gets on. St. Louis Superman I can’t really say without seeing more for it, so I’ll call it a 50/50 at this point, leaning toward it fitting in the category. This feels like something that would get on.

You can never fully guess this category, so I’m talking purely in terms of subject matter, studio, all of that stuff. It’s a crap shoot, but this way feels like the most likely scenario to me, right at this moment. This could all change in a month (or an hour, really):

After Maria
In the Absence
Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)
The Nightcrawlers
Stay Close

Alternate: St. Louis Superman

Dark Horse: Life Overtakes Me, Ghosts of the Sugar Land

Surprise: Fire in Paradise, Walk Run Cha-Cha

The top six, maybe seven feel like the best bets. But with them, you never really know. So we’ll see if anything illuminates over the next month or we’re just flying as blind as we usually are.

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