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Tragedy, Terror, & Telepathic Transmission: A Review of the 2024 Oscar-Nominated Live Action Short Films

April 10, 2024

Written by Ellen Dong

In the wake of the 2024 Oscar season, movies like Priscilla and actors like Lily Gladstone have been mourned, as yet more victims were snubbed of the prestigious Academy Awards for which they were nominated. However, the more overlooked categories of films this year have proven to be equally captivating and discounted. Playing at Coolidge Corner Theatre for nearly all of February were five incredible Oscar-nominated live-action short films—all of which, in my opinion, equally deserved their place as nominees.

5. Invincible, directed by Vincent René-Lortie

Invincible by Vincent René-Lortie is a Canadian short film following the last days of a boy trying to find freedom from the confines of a troubled youth center. As a true story depicting René-Lortie’s childhood friend, it’s clear that the short was made from a place of love and regret that seeps into every part of the film. At the beginning, the viewer sees the final moments of Marc, a 14-year-old boy, before going back and seeing the days leading up to it. A sense of dread follows the audience as they know what events will unfold, but they cannot change their course. This film is more restrained compared to others on this list, but still, the themes of loss and tragedy are present, and the photography within the short is beautiful. In my ranking, this film comes in fifth place out of all the Oscar nominees, but with a list of films as excellent as these, fifth place is still quite an achievement.

4. The After, directed by Missan Harriman

With excellent acting from David Oyelowo, The After depicts the aftermath of a rideshare driver’s life after a violent, traumatic event. Oyelowo’s portrayal of grief and the weight it holds long after its inception is heartbreaking and central to the film. The initial action of the short contrasts starkly with the mundanity of much of the middle of it, and while this is likely meant to show the indifference of the world to grief and tragedies, to the audience, the intrigue of the film grows a bit stale. Of these five short films, I rank The After fourth overall. It certainly tugged at the audience’s heartstrings, but my interest in the film gradually grew distracted, and while the ending did feel bittersweet and almost hopeful, it didn’t seem to stand out for me the way the rest of the films did.

3. The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, directed by Wes Anderson

In signature Wes Anderson style, The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar looks and feels like a bedtime story come to film—and indeed it is. With a star-studded cast, including Benedict Cumberbatch and Dev Patel, the actors do an amazing job portraying an air of seriousness that only ups the fun and silly nature of the Roald Dahl tale of the same name. Henry Sugar is a children’s story about a man learning “how to see without his eyes” to win more money gambling, and coming at the end of the short film showcase, this film felt like a breath of fresh air from the more serious topics explored by the rest of the nominees. Henry Sugar is told practically word-for-word from the original text of the story, which makes it seem like this is the movie you imagine in your head when you’re reading the story rather than viewing it. While an Oscar for a Wes Anderson work has been long overdue and this short was incredibly well done, of the films nominated, Henry Sugar falls third in my personal ranking of live-action Oscar shorts.

2. Knight of Fortune, directed by Lasse Lyskjær Noer

Knight of Fortune contrasts the number one short wildly. Rather than having a persistent and steady tension in the film all the way through, the bulk of the pressure comes in interspersed between more lighthearted and humorous moments. The film follows a man trying to work up the nerve to open his wife’s casket at a morgue. Along the way, he meets another man in a similar situation to himself, and together, they overcome their fears and mourn with one another. As tear-jerking as it is funny, this Danish film tackles the isolation of grief and old age in a way that feels almost more realistic for its absurdity and floundering. Knight of Fortune made the audience in my theater laugh out loud through the tears streaming down their faces, and for that emotional whiplash and its underlying tender messages, this short has earned the number two spot in my rank of the short films.

1. Red, White, and Blue, directed by Nazrin Choudhury

In the post-Roe era, we find ourselves living in the U.S., Nazrin Choudhury is unafraid to confront the harsh realities of current restrictive abortion policies. Red, White, and Blue is a story that you’ve seemingly heard before: a single mother living paycheck to paycheck has to cross state borders to get a much-needed abortion. However, under Choudhury’s direction, the film presents a more complete look at the gut-wrenching emotional burden this journey entails. Even in the slower moments of the film that show the long journey to the abortion clinic, the sympathy Choudhury pulls from the audience toward the characters keeps the film engaging and only builds up the ending twist. Red, White, and Blue evokes anger, horror, and sorrow within viewers, and even in the days since I’ve seen the film, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. This short stands out as my number one ranking out of all the live-action short films, and in my opinion, it deserved the 2024 Oscar.

All in all, the films this year for the Oscar’s live-action short film category were excellent. Though less excitement has been given to them in the general media buzz, there was no shortage of talent, skill, or artistry in any of these nominees.

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