Saturday, July 13, 2024

The Wonderful Story Of Wes Anderson’s Oscar: Exploring The 2023 Oscar Shortlist For Best Live-Action Short Film

Pedro Almodóvar already has his Oscar, but Wes Anderson’s still in the hunt. Both find themselves competing for Best Live-Action Short nomination this year. Films from around the globe landed among the 15 shortlisted shorts, including Portugal, France, Afghanistan, and Denmark. There are shorts with big stars like Ben Whishaw, Benedict Cumberbatch, John Travolta, and Pedro Pascal, along with many fresh faces. While there’s often not a lot of rhyme or reason to predicting which five nominees will make the final cut, let’s dive into each of the shortlisted shorts to try and sort them out.

Wes Anderson already has seven Academy Award nominations under his belt across four categories, and he’s looking to add another one to the mix this year with Best Live-Action Short. He directed four shorts based on Roald Dahl stories for Netflix, with “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar” getting a qualifying release, including playing at the Venice Film Festival. The charm of Anderson’s style pairs perfectly with the droll nature of Dahl’s story. Breathtaking production design and cinematography is a site to behold. Naturally, the production value of the short is leaps and bounds ahead of the rest of the contenders. Add in Benedict Cumberbatch, Dev Patel, and Ben Kingsley, and it’s a formidable contender to win the category. Rumor has it these Roald Dahl shorts were going to be an anthology feature. Netflix may have made an intelligent choice in splitting them up to snag an Oscar for Anderson.

Anderson isn’t the only former Best Director nominee searching for a nomination in Best Live-Action Short. Pedro Almodóvar’s “Strange Way of Life” stars Pedro Pascal and Ethan Hawke as cowboys reuniting after decades apart, though it’s not exactly a perfect reunion. They’re at odds, one man a Sheriff and one accused of murder, but they can’t help but reflect on their tryst from years ago. Sadly, one 30-minute short film couldn’t contain all of his ideas. The story is crammed together, incomplete and rushed, resting on endless exposition rather than genuine connection. Perhaps in a longer format, this would’ve been stronger. Almodóvar is undeniably a master, but he missed a nomination here back in 2020 with “The Human Voice,” arguably a more well-received short. “Strange Way of Life” doesn’t feel very secure for a nomination.

Alfonso Cuaron produced a nominee in Live-Action Short last year for Disney+, “Le Pupille,” and returns to the race this year with “The Shepherd, directed by Iain Softley (“The Wings of the Dove” and “K-PAX”). As a young Royal Air Force pilot, Freddie (Ben Radcliffe) flies home for Christmas, his jet loses electrical signal, leaving him flying blindly over the North Sea at night. He tries to fix the issues, to communicate over the radio, or anything to get out of the mess. It’s not until another aircraft, piloted by a Canadian (played by John Travolta), helps guide him home. This mysterious good samaritan may be more than just a guide home. Sitting at 39 minutes, it’s one of the longer shorts on the list, and you certainly feel that length. Freddie’s distress in the sky goes on and on, not exactly thrilling or compelling, just repetitive and lengthy. It’s clear where the short is going right from the start, so there’s not much surprising or engaging. Still, it’s a sweet, family-friendly short. I don’t think the voters will go for it, though.

While Netflix is diverting much of its campaigning to securing Wes Anderson a win, they’ve also mounted a solid campaign for “The After,” a tragic short about grief and loss. Starring David Oyelowo and hailing from first-time director Misan Harriman, it’s genuinely moving short, capped off with an extended long take at the end that highlights Oyelowo’s strong work. Though this is Harriman’s first film, he’s a legendary photographer and has a bright future in the industry ahead. The support from Netflix for “The After” has been strong enough that predicting a nomination feels safe.

Yet another film with a big star, “Good Boy,” features Ben Whishaw as the titular good boy, a man on the run from his curious past. Sentimental and strange, it’s a quirky little short that lives and dies on the shoulders of Whishaw’s phenomenal performance. While we don’t know what’s haunting Whishaw’s character, he’s clearly trying to take steps forward to throw off the ghosts in his head. While the short doesn’t have a ton of staying power compared to many other shorts on this list, it’s good for what it is. And hey, “The Long Goodbye” and “An Irish Goodbye” are the last two winners in the category, so maybe it’s time for “Good Boy?”

Comedy shorts are a bit hit-or-miss in Best Live Action Short. The very funny “An Irish Goodbye” won last year, but dramatic work is typically more reliable for a nomination. Nevertheless, “The Anne Frank Gift Shop” is the most direct comedy on this shortlist. Centered around a marketing meeting for the Anne Frank House, a group tries to figure out how to make the Holocaust marketable to Gen Z. Needless to say; the comedy is extraordinarily dark. It’s a risky move, but the humor is balanced with a clear intention not to let the younger generation go uneducated about the tragedy of the Holocaust. Featuring Chris Perfetti, Ari Graynor, and Josh Meyers, among others, this feels a bit too much like a YouTube sketch. Still, a lot of it really is funny. I’m not so sure the Academy will go for it, but there’s some vigorous campaigning happening for this one. Keep an eye out for it as a spoiler.

The most consistently funny film on the shortlist hails from Canada and is called “Dead Cat.” It’s a perfect premise for a short film – cute, concise, and genuinely hilarious. When a precious family cat is found dead, two parents struggle to tell their daughter the truth. Instead, they get him stuffed so he can remain in their lives. The little girl is so incredibly good, and her maturity makes the whole thing work. While so many shorts struggle to cram too much story into a small package, “Dead Cat” is precisely the right length.

Like “Dead Cat,” there’s an art to having a short film premise that truly fits within a short. “The One Note Man” does just that. As one man lives his comfortable, repetitive life, things are just fine. He has his routine. He hits his one note on the bassoon in his orchestra every day and seems unbothered by the monotony. That is until he starts to notice a beautiful violinist in the orchestra., and his routine is upended. Like the main character’s life, there’s not much surprise about this short, and you know exactly where it’s going when it begins. Even so, it’s certainly cute enough to work as a whole. This doesn’t seem strong enough to crack the lineup, though.

Of the comedies on the list, the Danish film “Knight of Fortune” is undoubtedly the most subtle. Two men strike up an unlikely friendship in a morgue while they both visit their recently departed loved ones. The humor is gentle, even occasionally dark, as you might imagine in a morgue. “Knight of Fortune” switches between its dark humor and more sentimental observations about death, and the tonal shifts aren’t always flawless, but this is ultimately a very sweet short film all in all.

Looking to make history in the category is “An Avocado Pit.” A nomination for the short film would make Ary Zara the first ever trans filmmaker nominated for a Live-Action Short. That seems like a strong possibility, as “An Avocado Pit” is one of the list’s stronger and most meaningful films. A trans woman and a cis man meet up on the streets of Lisbon and share a surprising night together. So few stories like this are told without violence that I was waiting for a darker shoe to drop. Thankfully, this is a story of a beautiful connection. Wonderful performances make this an easygoing experience, charming and engaging from beginning to end. This could easily land among the five nominees, especially with Elliot Page as a producer helping with the campaign.

Two films on this list take on the challenges of immigration and deportation, but from vastly different perspectives. From here in America, “Bienvenidos, a Los Angeles,” sees Imani, a Nigerian immigrant on the verge of deportation, and her chance encounter with another mother in need. The film’s heart is clearly in the right place, but the message is very on the nose. Still, it’s a basic story told pretty harmlessly. If it was the only film that tackled unfair deportations, perhaps it would find more favor with voters, but there’s a better film communicating a similar message they could vote for.

Told through the eyes of an Austrian immigration officer, “Invisible Border” presents a challenging story about disrupting a harmless family. Just as Nancy, the officer, bolsters herself for the terrible mission of the evening, the film presents the story in a straightforward manner. Rather than overdramatizing the situation, it feels disturbingly real, even as the situation escalates. Some truly unexpected moments caught me off guard, and that emphasizes the terrible job Nancy has to do. Of the two immigration-related shorts, “Invisible Border” clearly has the upper hand.

“Yellow” is one of the shorter films on the list, running 12 minutes, but it’s a perfect length for the simple yet moving story it’s telling. In Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, this short is set entirely inside a clothing store when a young woman enters to purchase her first full-body veil. She’s dressed in brighter colors, but the veils will soon cover them. The film finds beautiful moments to showcase her personality and how nervous she is about her future. “You’ll get used to it,” the man in the store says. Such a subtle moment that speaks volumes. “Yellow” works really well and pairs perfectly with the shortlisted Animated Short “Our Uniform.”

While some of the films like “Yellow” feel perfectly tailored as a short, “Invincible” is perhaps the only film on the list that I would watch a feature of. And I mean that as an absolute compliment. Based on a true story, “Invincible” follows a kid named Marc, played by the remarkable Léokim Beaumier-Lépine, who is full of rage and unable to find a place for it. He’s been in trouble in the past and lives in some sort of juvenile detention center. He’s granted a pass to be with his family for a weekend, getting a taste of freedom, but is soon back in his room, causing trouble for the guards. He just can’t contain his anger at the world. It’s a tragic story but told with such gentleness and intimacy. Lépine is genuinely excellent. I could’ve easily watched 90 minutes of his story, tragic as it might have been, but this short utilizes its time so well. This is a powerful short, and I could see voters being moved by it as well.

While all the Live-Action Short nominees are rarely driven by “timely” political subjects, “Red, White, and Blue” may just be urgent enough to score a nomination. The short follows a struggling single mom, played by Brittany Snow, faced with an unplanned pregnancy. She’s already broke and at her wit’s end but is forced to cross state lines to take care of the situation. With abortion rights threatened across America, there are few topics as poignant at this moment, and “Red, White and Blue” tackles it head-on. The film does layer the tragedy on a bit thick, but it’s an effective short that should stick in people’s minds. Of the “timely” shorts on this list, I could imagine this doing very well with voters.

This is a strong crop of shorts, perhaps more robust than in recent memory. There are typically a few of the shorts that are mind-boggling each year, but even as some shorts clearly rise above the rest, none are really poor, in my opinion. But what will the voters gravitate toward? Wes Anderson’s “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar” seems inevitable, not just for a nomination but a win as well. Otherwise, it’s anyone’s game.

With the strength of Netflix’s push, “The After” is a safe bet. They’ve been promoting it pretty strongly, even with “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar” on their plate too. “The Anne Frank Gift Shop” has some strong support as well. At least one comedy tends to appear among the nominees, and with a provocative and memorable title, “The Anne Frank Gift Shop” could make it. “An Avocado Pit” has a lot going for it, and with Page and Zara doing a good amount of press, I think it’s highly likely this get nominated. For the fifth slot, it’s a truly tough call between “Red, White and Blue,” “Invisible Border,” and “Invincible.” Both “Red, White and Blue” and “Invisible Border” have resonant political themes that voters could easily lean toward, while “Invincible” is just a powerful film that feels similar to shorts that are often nominated. For now, because abortion rights are very much top of mind for many Americans, I’ll settle on “Red, White, and Blue.” But this is a tight race.

Below are my favorites on the shortlist and my predicted five nominees…

Predicted Nominees:

  1. The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar
  2. An Avocado Pit
  3. The After
  4. The Anne Frank Gift Shop
  5. Red, White, and Blue

My Personal Favorites:

  1. Invincible
  2. Dead Cat
  3. An Avocado Pit
  4. The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar
  5. Invisible Border

What do you think will be nominated for Best Live-Action Short Film at this year’s Academy Awards? Please let us know in the comments section below or on our Twitter account and check out our latest Oscar nomination predictions here.

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Daniel Howat
Daniel Howat
Movie and awards season obsessed. Hollywood Critics Association Member.

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