Tom Santilli is a professional film critic, TV personality, host and the Executive Producer of Movie Show Plus.
Oscar Short Films have long been the biggest enigma of every Academy Awards ceremony. Where most movie-goers tune in to the Oscars for the glitz, glamour and celebrity of it all, very few have seen or even heard of many of the nominated Short Films each year.
Often, the audience might recognize one of the Animated Shorts (if it happened to play in front of big Animated blockbusters like "Frozen" or "Moana"), but two would be a stretch. In recent years, the entire nominated Short Film slate has been packaged and shown in theaters, but even then, they're a hard sell for everyone except the Oscar die-hards or the movie-going elite, and rarely have the Shorts been played at any multiplex or theater that isn't a small art house.
Despite this, they continue to be a part of the celebration, earning a seat at the table among the "longies" at the biggest awards celebration of all. The Globes, the Critics Choice and even the Screen Actors Guild has no such public (or private) award for the Short Film format (under 40 minutes in length), so it is very much a medium which The Academy alone seems to deem important.
But I'm here to tell you: Do not sleep on the Oscar Short Films! Here are 5 reasons why:
#1: They are often the best films of the year...and the most powerful.
It seems obvious but it's true. The films that make it all the way to a nomination phase in the three Short Film categories - Live-Action, Animation and Documentary - often are the most powerful stories you will see in a given year. This year's "Two Distant Strangers," a 32 minute film that creatively gets to the heart of one of the most pressing issues of our time: Racism and the relationship between police and African-Americans. With the short format, the story and the message usually can be brought front and center surpassing traditional character development. On the other hand, some films, like the nominated Documentary short this year, "Colette," - a 24 minute film about a woman in her 90s who returns to the German concentration camp where her brother was killed 74 years earlier - can make you feel like you know someone in record time.
#2: They are often the best films of the year...and the funniest.
Are you under the impression that The Academy doesn't award comedies? Think again. Comedy is often rewarded in the Short categories. Take the 2011 nominated LIve-Action Short, "Pentacost," where a priest hypes up his alter boys before a big church service the way a football coach might try to motivate his players with a pre-game speech. Or the 2011 "Time Freak," where a man invents a time machine, but is so wrapped up in having been dumped by his girlfriend, that he uses it only to go back to fix (and further destroy) his relationship. This year, the Animated nominee "Yes-People" - an 8-minute Icelandic stop-motion film - had me in stitches.
#3: They are deeply ingrained in the history and tradition of the Oscars.
As eluded to earlier, the Short Film categories have been around in some form since the early 1930s, or the 5th Annual Academy Awards. Walt Disney is often regarded the all-time Oscar winner, with 59 Academy Award nominations and 22 wins...both still records. But if you take away his Short Film noms and wins, the number falls drastically (39 of Disney's 59 nominations and 12 of his wins, are from Animated Shorts).
#4: Many important films and filmmakers began with Short Films.
Short films have also been a springboard for several budding directors looking for their big break. Recent Best Director winner, Damien Chazelle, first made a short called "Whiplash" before it was made into a full-length film that started him on his current trajectory. Terry Gilliam's "12 Monkeys" was based on French New Wave filmmaker Chris Marker's 1962 short, "La Jetée." And even film auteur himself, Paul Thomas Anderson first got a go when he produced - at age 17 - a short called "The Dirk Diggler Story," which became his second film, "Boogie Nights" in 1997. "Napoleon Dynamite," "Office Space" and more started as Shorts, and the rest is history.
#5: This year's batch of Oscar-Nominated Short Films are still available to watch!
If your local art house theater is open right now, you need to check to see if they are running this year's Oscar Shorts Program (The Maple Theater in Bloomfield is confirmed to be playing them even past Oscar Sunday). Many of them are. But even if you can't find them theatrically or still aren't ready to go to a movie theater, the entire Short Program is available to rent and watch on Shorts.TV. Since they are all - well - short, it just takes a few hours (the length of a "regular" movie) to get through them all , and I can guarantee you won't be disappointed.
For more details on the exact Short Films that were nominated this year, please check out "Review: The 2021 Oscar Shorts Program."