The film to beat this year is "My Nephew Emmett," a 20-minute gut-punch of a drama inspired by the 1955 murder of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African-American boy who was beaten and killed in Mississippi after being accused of whistling at a married white store clerk. Told from the perspective of Till's great-uncle Mose Wright (L.B. Williams), whose home the Chicago teenager was visiting, the film unfolds with a grim inevitability, made no less devastating by the fact that we already know how the story ends. For moviegoers upset by the fact that "Mudbound," another Mississippi-set tale centering on racial violence, was overlooked in the best-picture category - an unforgivable snub - "My Nephew Emmett's" well-deserved nomination is a bit of a corrective.
Other strong contenders are "DeKalb Elementary" and "Watu Wote: All of Us," which are also fact-based. The former is a thriller, much of whose tense dialogue - between a disturbed young man with a gun (Bo Mitchell) and a preternaturally calm school receptionist (Tarra Riggs) - was drawn from an actual 911 call recording made by the receptionist during a 2013 hostage situation in a Georgia school. Set in northern Kenya, "Watu Wote" was inspired by a 2015 bus attack, by al-Shabab militants from Somalia, in which the bus's Muslim passengers shielded Christians traveling among them.
Longer shorts include "The Silent Child," a moving but unsubtle British melodrama about accommodating the needs of a hearing-impaired child (an adorable Maisie Sly) and "The Eleven O'Clock," an Aussie, "Who's on First?"-style comedy about the faceoff between a psychiatrist and his delusional patient, who only thinks he's a shrink. The very funny roles are played by Josh Lawson and Damon Herriman - or is it the other way around?
Pictures - the traditional raison d'etre of animation - vie for supremacy with words in this year's offerings, which include "Dear Basketball," a black-and-white, hand-drawn paean to the sport narrated by former Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant, and "Revolting Rhymes," a twisted take on such traditional folk tales as "Little Red Riding Hood," based on Roald Dahl's 1982 collection of darkly humorous verse.
A couple of the Oscar-nominated shorts - which, as usual, because of their brevity, are supplemented by additional animated films that have not been nominated - feature no words at all. Pixar's "Lou," which some may remember from its theatrical release as a companion to "Cars 3," continues the animation powerhouse's dominance in the CGI field. But the story - about the comeuppance delivered to a schoolyard bully by an unexpected source - is upstaged by the film's imaginative visuals. The wordless "Garden Party" is a better balance of image and narrative, featuring a visual tour of a mansion, abandoned in the wake of a violent assault, and now occupied only by a community of croaking frogs.
The smart money, however, is on "Negative Space," a charming and poignant five-minute, stop-motion piece that manages to tie the art of suitcase packing to mortality. Based on a poem by writer Ron Koertge, and directed by the Baltimore-based duo of Ru Kuwahata and Max Porter, "Space" also has the most proven track record of all the nominated films, having already won 52 awards out of 137 film festivals.
- The Washington Post