Salute your shorts

The Flying Sailor | Courtesy National Film Board of Canada

Past, present and future moviemakers will gather on March 12 at the Dolby Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard to celebrate the best of 2022. Ten movies will contend for the Best Picture prize, 20 actors will compete in four categories — you know the drill. 

You probably also know that 15 short subjects will compete in three categories: Animation, Documentary and Live Action. These categories often get short shrift at the ceremony, but if you’ve ever attended an area film festival or spoken to one of the programmers who run our art-house theaters, then you know the short subject packages are some of the most popular programs around. Why settle for one movie when you can buy a ticket to five?

And starting this weekend, you can with the 2023 Oscar Nominated Short Films, 15 titles across three programs. The International Film Series is first to the party, showing all three this weekend — they’ll repeat them over two more weekends, March 2-5 and 10-12 — with the Dairy Arts Center screening the Live Action shorts Feb. 23-26 and Animation March 2-5. Down in Denver, the Sie FilmCenter opens the Documentary shorts on Feb. 17. Options, you have them.

As for the programs, settle in. Of the 15, only one is under 10 minutes in length — the animated Flying Sailor from Canada — with nine clocking in at over 20 minutes apiece. The duration of some of these feels wishy-washy. More aggressive cutting could have gotten to the point a heck of a lot sooner and more powerfully (The Elephant Whispers and The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse), while others feel like there’s enough material for a feature (The Martha Mitchell Effect).

Those, and a few others, can feel like letdowns, but there are some real gems to discover. In the Live Action category, The Red Suitcase from Luxembourg is a taut, hold-your-breath thriller about a young Iranian girl (Nawelle Ewad) trying to dodge her waiting — and much older — betrothed at the airport. In the U.S. documentary How Do You Measure a Year?, director Jay Rosenblatt interviews his daughter on her birthday every year from 2 to 18 with the same questions. You can probably guess how her attitude shifts throughout the ages, but it’s through the compression of time that the story develops and identity is forged.

How Do You Measure a Year? is the best of the doc bunch. Haulout, about a lone marine biologist studying the effects of climate change on walruses in the Siberian Arctic, is also good — and contains one of the most jaw-dropping reveals you’re likely to see — but the other three range from informative to downright infuriating. That latter dubious honor belongs to Stranger at the Gate, which employs a reprehensible bait-and-switch aesthetic to drum up dread and surprise.

The Red Suitcase is the best when it comes to Live Action, but Italy’s Le Pupille competes with real playfulness. An Irish Goodbye is rote but has its moments, while Ivalu and Night Ride feel exploitative.

Looking to take the kiddos along? The first four of the Animation program are suitable for kids 10 and up (The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse; An Ostrich Told Me the World is Fake and I Think I Believe It; The Flying Sailor and Ice Merchants), but there will be a short break in the program before the fifth entry — My Year of Dicks, chronicling a 15-year-old girl’s failed attempts to lose her virginity — so parents can escort their children out. (That makes the film sound racier than it is. Truth be told, there’s more animated penis in The Flying Sailor.)

They might not be the strongest showing of shorts in recent memory, but what works, works well. 

ON SCREEN: 2023 Oscar Nominated Short Films International Film Series (Feb. 17-19, March 2-5, March 10-12) CU-Boulder, Muenzinger Auditorium. Dairy Arts Center (Feb. 23-26 and March 2-5) 2590 Walnut St., Boulder. Sie FilmCenter (opens Feb. 17) 2510 E. Colfax Ave., Denver.