Review: Age takes center stage in fine Oscar shorts program

By Tom Long
Special to The Detroit News
Two ten year-old boys are detained by police under suspicion of abducting and murdering a toddler.

Sentiment, whimsy, dread and anguish mix to good effect in this year's Oscar-nominated live action and animated shorts, which begin showing together this weekend at the Detroit Film Theatre.

It's not your standard something-for-everyone mix, though. Those in search of the esoteric may find this year's offerings somewhat grounded, while others will likely be glad they can understand what's happening on screen. And what is happening has a lot to do with children – seven of the 10 entries revolves around childhood experience, some in outright disturbing ways.

Chief among those would be “Detainment,” which follows the true story of two young British boys who kidnapped and then killed a toddler in the '90s. We watch the boys move from shoplifting at a local mall to the aimless abduction, with scenes brought back as the boys are being separately interrogated after the incident. The word chilling is entirely appropriate.

Endangerment is also at the crux of three other live action shorts. In “Fauve” two young buddies are out exploring when they unfortunately come upon a quarry. A young boy lost on a beach somewhere is never even seen in the frantic “Madre”; the camera follows his panicked mother as she talks to him from her apartment while his cell phone battery is dying. And in the appalling “Skin” an 8-year-old boy being raised by crude but otherwise loving skinheads learns the hard way about consequences.

At the other end of the age spectrum is the lovely “Marguerite”: When an old woman realizes her caregiver is a lesbian, she recalls a woman she secretly loved in her youth. It's a reminder that the power of touch and love knows no age.

The outright comic entry among the animated nominees is “Animal Behavior,” in which a dog runs a therapy group for various animals, including a leech with a fear of abandonment and a female preying mantis whose relationships never last. When a gorilla with anger management issues joins things get hairy.

And again there are kids. A young girl's dreams of being an astronaut are encouraged by her humble cobbler father in the one-dimensional “One Small Step”; a small boy is shuffled back and forth between divorced parents in “Weekends”; and in this year's Pixar entry an Asian woman lovingly if smotheringly raises a dumpling as a child only to see him grow off on his own.

The final animated entry, “Late Afternoon” may be the most lovely short of all. An old woman with dementia sits in a chair as her room is being packed up. With various items triggering memories from her life, her spirit and mind take flight, finally landing in reality.

And perhaps this is one more film about youth -- the joy and ecstasy of childhood live on even as the flesh fades.

2019 Oscar-nominated Live-Action and Animated Shorts


Not rated

Running time: Approximately 120 minutes

2019 Oscar-nominated Live-Action and Animated Shorts (Not rated)

This year's comparatively grounded shorts tend to focus on childhood with an arresting mix of sentiment, whimsy, anguish and dread. Great stuff overall. (120 minutes) Tom Long/Special to The Detroit News GRADE: A