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Even for the Oscars, this year’s crop of live action short film nominees are quite bleak, focusing on war, religion, aandchild endangerment. Yet these five nominees this year showcase the incredible talent it takes to grab an audience’s attention in under half an hour and creates some wonderful new filmmakers to the world.

Ave Maria, directed by Basil Khalil

One of the more lighthearted selections this year is Ave Maria, about a Israeli family who has a car accident outside of a convent. Since it is the Sabbath, the family can’t call for help, but due to the nun’s vow of silence, any communication between the two is difficult. Ave Maria’s key idea is that despite religious differences, people of different outlooks can succeed when put together. Director Basil Khalil relies on the absurdity of the situation for its humor, rather than frustration that the two don’t just drop their beliefs to make things easier. Ave Maria however doesn’t quite have the emotional resonance of the other nominees, and while it’s a slight bit of fun with an interesting message, it’s the least absorbing of the five films.

Day One, directed by Henry Hughes

Day One piles and piles bad news onto its main character Feda, who is on her first day working as a translator for the US Army. Feda makes it clear this is first job and within the first few minutes, she gets her period, reminisces about her divorce, almost collapses on the job and witnesses a bombing, which sets up Day One’s main conflict. The amount of bad luck that is pushed onto Feda almost becomes laughable at times, when it isn’t overwhelmingly brutal. Day One pushes its message home a little too hard, like when Feda out of nowhere proclaims “we should have never come here” about a family home, yet it’s clear that director Henry Hughes also intends the statement to be about the war in general. In its final moments, Day One even plays down the strength and courage that Feda has, but shows Hughes’ ability to build tension in an effective way, even if the overall story is too cruel for its own good.

Everything Will Be Okay, directed by Patrick Vollrath

The longest of the nominees at a half-hour, Everything Will Be Okay has a father struggling with his recent divorce and not being able to see his daughter Lea as much as he’d like. Everything Will Be Okay begins as a father trying to overcompensate for not being with his daughter as often as he wants and builds into something much more dangerous and shocking. Everything Will Be Okay reminds of the fantastic 2014 French short nominee Just Before Losing Everything, which was able to escalate its drama in a way that was surprising and heartbreaking. Patrick Vollrath’s handling of the story of father and daughter, and the great performances he gets out of the his two lead actors make this the most captivating of the shorts.

Shok, directed by Jamie Donoughue

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5vLMJRr8MA

Like Ave Maria and Day One, Shok is about a clash of cultures, as two Albanian boys deal with the violence of living in late-90s Kosovo. The two boys Petrit and Oki make decisions during this time that will unravel their entire lives and those of their family. But Shok ruins its suspense by highly hinting at its dramatic ending in the very opening scene, making the audience question not what will happen, just when will the obvious incident happen. Like Day One, Jamie Donoughue throws in bumps along the road that are intriguing, but once again that feeling of inevitability is gone thanks to an unnecessary flash forward at the beginning that makes the film lose its suspense.

Stutterer, directed by Benjamin Cleary

The shortest film in the series, Stutterer, also happens to be the most terrific of the bunch and is an excellent debut from the promising director Benjamin Cleary. The eponymous stutterer is Greenwood, a typographer with a rehabilitating speech impediment who is afraid to turn an online relationship into a real world one. Because of his inability to speak clearly, much of Stutterer comes from Greenwood’s narration, in which we hear what he wishes he could say. Stutterer’s beautiful cinematography, a script filled with warmth and beauty and slight amounts of quirkiness combine to make the finest short nominated and presents Cleary as a fantastic new director with the most interesting new voice in this category.

AND THE WINNER IS…

The live action short winners in recent years have been mostly melancholy with a burst of hope near the end, such as 2012’s The Shore, 2014’s Helium and last year’s winner The Phone Call. If they follow this pattern, Day One would likely be the one to continue this trend. However both Patrick Vollrath’s Everything Will Be Okay and Benjamin Cleary’s Stutterer feature the most dynamic directors in the category and the most complete and exciting films. But personally, I’d love to see Stutterer win, just for being the most touching nominee and to give Cleary more awareness in hopes that someone will give this guy his own film.

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