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Wes Anderson, John & Yoko and a Little Rock barber highlight Oscar nominated short films

Adam Graham – The Detroit News (TNS)

Wes Anderson has never won an Oscar.

That’s likely to change this year, as the very meticulous, fanciful director is favored to win the best live action short film category at next month’s Academy Awards ceremony, where he’s nominated for his sublime Netflix short, “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar.”

Anderson is the most high profile of the nominees across the three shorts categories, which also include best documentary short and best animated short. All the nominated films can be seen in the Oscar Shorts program, which is playing in theaters beginning this weekend.

Here are rundowns of the films in the three Oscar shorts categories.

Best documentary short

The five films in the best documentary short category are highlighted by “The Barber of Little Rock,” the story of Arlo Washington, a barber and banker in Little Rock, Arkansas, who is aiming to eradicate wealth disparity in his community.

It’s an arduous task, but Washington is offering no interest loans to members of his community, who are primarily Black, who are ignored by the traditional financial institutions in his town. He’s providing opportunities where there traditionally have not been any, and he’s also offering hope, which is also in short supply these days. Director Christine Turner shines a light on Washington and his work, and “The Barber of Little Rock” is an inspiring story of the difference one man can make in the world around him.

“Barber” is up against “Nai Nai & Wai Po,” a quiet rumination on getting older and the looming inevitability of death; “The Last Repair Shop,” a warm profile of the Los Angeles workers who repair instruments used in school music programs; “Island in Between,” a personal reflection from director S. Leo Chiang on his relationship with his his homeland of Taiwan; and “The ABCs of Banning Books,” a too-cute look at the banning of books, told through the perspective of those affected most by the practice: schoolchildren.

Best animated short

Writer-director Tal Kantor’s “Letter to a Pig” is the most powerful of the five nominees in the best animated short category, its sparse animation style adding context to the tale of a Holocaust survivor’s visit with a classroom full of students.

The students don’t really want to hear the old man’s tale, a horrific story of hiding out in a barn while being hunted down by Nazis. But one girl in the classroom listens closely to his story, and is transported on a journey in her own imagination where his words resonate and allow her to feel his fear and his pain, and the importance of his words.

War, and specifically World War II, is also the topic of “War is Over: Inspired by the Music of John & Yoko,” and you need only to read the title to know which song they’re talking about. And director Dave Mullins — previously nominated in the animated shorts category for 2018’s “Lou” — effectively tells a story of two members on opposite sides of the war play a game of chess, trading movies back and forth through the use of a carrier pigeon. The movie itself effectively makes its point without the use of the song, so when it finally arrives, it’s an overkill moment that hammers down the sentimentality the story had otherwise avoided.

The other three nominees are “Pachyderme,” a soft remembrance of childhood visits to grandma and grandpa’s house; “Ninety Five Senses,” with Tim Blake Nelson voicing a character who doesn’t have a whole lot of time left to enjoy life’s simple pleasures; and “Our Uniform,” a story about how the fabric we wear defines the fabric of our lives.

Best live action short film

“Henry Sugar” was one of 2023’s best films, long or short.

It stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Henry Sugar, a wealthy man who teaches himself the trick of X-ray vision and uses it for the greater good. The Roald Dahl adaptation is part of a series of four shorts Anderson made for Netflix, which show off his painstakingly meticulous style, which was put to better use here than his somewhat stunted 2023 feature film, “Asteroid City.”

Anderson has been nominated for seven Academy Awards previously, going back to 2001’s “The Royal Tenenbaums,” including twice for best animated feature (for “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and “Isle of Dogs”), three times for best original screenplay (for “Tenenbaums,” “Moonrise Kingdom” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel”), and one each for best director and best picture (both for “Grand Budapest”). If he wins live action short, in which he’s heavily favored, it will be a win for his body of work, and could make for an early highlight of the Academy Awards broadcast.

In the other nominated live action shorts, David Oyelowo lends some star power to “The After,” about a man dealing with grief and loss; grief and loss is also at the center of “Knight of Fortune,” about a man at a chapel coming to terms with the death of his wife; “Red, White and Blue,” with Brittany Snow as a struggling single mother dealing with an unexpected difficulty in her life; and “Invincible,” a powerful story of a rebellious teenager whose life is fraying at the edges.



Grade: B

Not rated (adult themes)

Running time: approximately 1:05 (animated shorts), 2:15 (live action short), 2:25 (documentary short)

How to watch: Now in theaters


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