A guide to the 2023 Oscar shorts


In recent years, access to the Academy Award-nominated short films has gotten a bit easier for Oscar completists, the obsessives who try to watch all nominated films in every category before the annual telecast (this year on March 12). That’s true even with the absence of the National Archives’ free screenings of the Oscar shorts — a favorite of local cineastes — which haven’t returned since being suspended during the pandemic. In addition to the commercial theaters that will be begin offering the bite-size films this weekend, several of this year’s nominees are available to stream online, including a record five films — spanning every category: animated, live action and documentary — released by the New Yorker and available to watch free on the magazine’s YouTube channel. (See below, as noted, for additional streaming options.)

Netflix is also in the game with a couple of nominees, and Apple TV Plus and Disney Plus have contenders as well, though the latter, shockingly, has no animated film in competition. For those who want a leg up on the Oscar pool, here’s our annual guide to all 15 nominated films, presented in area theaters by ShortsTV, and how we handicap this year’s race.

This year’s nominees are an unusual bunch, and not just because there’s no entry by Pixar or any of the other big-dog studios. Mostly it’s the wide range that will draw notice.

On one end of the spectrum is “The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse” (available on Apple TV Plus), an absolutely gorgeous, poetic and G-rated meditation on the meaning of family, based on the book of the same name by Charlie Mackesy (who co-directed this charmer with Peter Baynton). Voiced by, respectively, Jude Coward Nicoll, Tom Hollander, Idris Elba and Gabriel Byrne, the unlikely crew of title characters travel together through a snowy landscape — the better to showcase the animation, which replicates the evocative pen drawings of the book — in search of a lost boy’s home.

At the other (far) end is — ahem — “My Year of Dicks” (available on Vimeo). Based on a chapter of Pamela Ribon’s memoir “Notes to Boys: And Other Things I Shouldn’t Share in Public,” the uncensored and funny film follows the adventures of a 15-year-old girl (voice of Brie Tilton) who has resolved to lose her virginity. It is, appropriately enough, animated by Sara Gunnarsdottir, who created the animations for the daringly frank 2015 live-action film “Diary of a Teenage Girl.”

In between these extremes lie two hand-drawn and surreal vignettes: “Ice Merchants” and “The Flying Sailor” (both available on the New Yorker’s YouTube channel). The first imagines a father and son — the film’s titular vendors of artisanal ice, in a global-warming-themed fable — who live in a precarious cliff-side shack, from which they jump to the ground with the day’s harvest. The second is loosely fact-based: inspired by the so-called Halifax Explosion of 1917, in which a sailor, Charles Mayers, was said to have survived being been thrown more than a mile through the air after two ships collided, triggering an explosion.

Critic’s pick: Call it “The Truman Show” meets “Wallace and Gromit.” In the delightfully meta stop-motion tale “An Ostrich Told Me the World Is Fake and I Think I Believe It,” an office worker (voice of filmmaker Lachlan Pendragon) realizes that he is part of a stop-motion film production, stumbling into, as he puts it, a box of his own faces. Fans of the stop-motion films of Aardman and Laika studios will love this one.

Unrated (treat as R). The animated program contains strong language, sexuality, nudity and smoking. 97 minutes.

Disney switches things up by presenting one of this year’s live action films: “Le Pupille,” a gentle period comedy set in an Italian orphanage during the privations of World War II, and centering on the mild conflict over a cake between the Mother Superior (Alba Rohrwacher, sister of the director, Alice Rohrwacher) and an adorable little girl (Melissa Falasconi). The film’s Hallmark-y moral — destiny works in mysterious ways — is spelled out on-screen. Equally sweet and straightforward is “An Irish Goodbye,” in which estranged brothers (James Martin and Seamus O’Hara) repair their bond in the aftermath of their mother’s death.

There are heavier offerings, including two from Scandinavia: “Night Ride” (available on the New Yorker’s YouTube channel) centers on an incident on a Norwegian tram car, in which a passenger (Ola Hoemsnes Sandum) is harassed by other riders, and “Ivalu,” by Danish filmmakers Anders Walter and Pipaluk K. Jorgensen, is based on a graphic novel about a teenage girl’s disappearance by Morten Durr and Lars Horneman.

Critic’s pick: In “The Red Suitcase,” a 16-year-old Iranian girl (Nawelle Ewad) arrives by plane at a Luxembourg airport, awaited by a much older man (Sarkaw Gorany) carrying a bouquet of flowers — a seemingly innocuous scenario that is belied by the girl’s panic. Directed and co-written by Cyrus Neshvad, a Luxembourg filmmaker of Iranian origin, the short film — a gripping thriller unspooling in 17 minutes — draws much of its power from the recent protests in Iran that have taken place over the abuse of women by the state.

Unrated (treat as R). The live-action program contains strong language and mature thematic elements, including suicide, sexual abuse and a child bride. 115 minutes.

Jay Rosenblatt, whose 2022 short “When We Were Bullies” was our pick for the Oscar last year (it didn’t win) is back with another nominee: “How Do You Measure a Year?,” in which he interviews his daughter Ella on her birthday every year from age 2 to 18. It’s a smart window into coming of age, but also sweet. So too is “The Elephant Whisperers” (available on Netflix), a portrait of two caretakers at an Indian elephant rehabilitation center, for whom their pachyderm charges are like children.

The Washington-centric “The Martha Mitchell Effect” (available on Netflix) revisits Watergate through the story of its subject: the wife of Richard M. Nixon’s Attorney General John Mitchell, who was silenced as “crazy” and “hysterical” for speaking out about the political conspiracy. But for sheer visual power, “Haulout” (available on the New Yorker’s YouTube channel) is a strong contender: Centering on the threat to walruses in the face of melting sea ice, the film follows Russian marine biologist Maxim Chakilev on one of his annual visits to Cape Heart-Stone on the Chukchi Sea. In the film’s most dramatic scene, Chakilev wakes up to some 95,000 animals outside his hut, exhausted and weak because they have no sea ice to rest on during their travels.

Critic’s pick: “Stranger at the Gate” (available on the New Yorker’s YouTube channel) tells the powerful and profoundly moving story of Richard (Mac) McKinney, a former Marine with PTSD after service in Afghanistan who planned to detonate a bomb at the Islamic Center of Muncie, Ind. — until he met and was befriended by some of its members. The film is not just about McKinney’s journey, but about the journey of two Afghan immigrants — McKinney’s potential victims — whose startling kindness converted him.

Unrated (treat as PG). The documentary program contains strong language; smoking; and some mature thematic elements, including Islamophobia, mental illness, discussion of violence and animals in jeopardy. 160 minutes.

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