March 1, 2023

2023 Academy Awards Nomination Breakdown: Best Documentary Short

The Academy Awards are airing live on March 12, and for the first time, I have set out to break down every nominee in every category in order to assess, as accurately as I can, who and what has the best chance of winning. Today I will be discussing the nominees for Best Documentary Short!

The Elephant Whisperers
The Elephant Whisperers follows an indigenous couple as they fall in love with Raghu, an orphaned elephant given into their care, and tirelessly work to ensure his recovery & survival. The film highlights the beauty of the wild spaces in South India and the people and animals who share this space.”

The Elephant Whisperers is both one of the most adorable and most heartbreaking documentaries I’ve ever seen — the score, cinematography and editing are all top-notch. The documentarians followed around the central family for five years to make the doc, and the dedication shines through with the warmth and happiness that are notably absent from most of the shorts nominated this year.

“On a remote coast of the Russian Arctic in a wind-battered hut, a lonely man waits to witness an ancient gathering. But warming seas and rising temperatures bring an unexpected change, and he soon finds himself overwhelmed.”

Haulout is haunting, and very effective — another portrait of how we as humans are failing to prevent the slow decline of our own planet, and one that is shot incredibly well with plenty of food for thought. There is almost no human speech, and manages to say so much with so little in ways that not many films can.

How Do You Measure a Year?

“Each year, a father films his daughter on her birthday, asking her the same questions. In just 29 minutes, we watch her grow from a toddler to a young woman with all the beautiful and awkward stages in between. Each phase is fleetingly captured but leaves an indelible mark. Her answers to her father’s questions are just a backdrop for a deeper story of parental love and independence.”

How Do You Measure a Year? feels exactly like a YouTube video. It’s directed by Jay Rosenblatt, who made a polarizing short nominated last year (When We Were Bullies), and now along he comes with a short he’s been working on for almost sixteen years, tracking the growth of his daughter over the course of her young life. It’s very personal and entirely harmless, and at the same time feels like the sort of thing you’d see on the Trending page for a few days before it quietly disappears.

The Martha Mitchell Effect
“She was once as famous as Jackie O — and then she tried to take down a President. Martha Mitchell was the unlikeliest of whistleblowers: a Republican wife who was discredited by Nixon to keep her quiet. Until now.”

I have a notable bias when it comes to The Martha Mitchell Effect — one of its nominated producers was my film professor last semester — but even though I saw it at a Netflix-sponsored screening in New York City, I believe I was able to view it objectively. And, objectively, what it is is uneven; either too long to be a short or too short to be a feature, not in-depth enough to offer too thoughtful of an examination but never committing to the deep dive that would make it a more interesting story. I am fascinated with the character that the film gives to Martha Mitchell (a figure I previously knew nothing about), but it never quite goes the extra mile to tell me why I should keep thinking about her.

Stranger at the Gate
“A U.S. Marine plots a terrorist attack on a small-town American mosque, but his plan takes an unexpected turn when he comes face to face with the people he sets out to kill.”

This is as tone-deaf and “pseudo-emotional” as you can get while some still recognize it as an effective work of impactful art. Its heart may be in the right place, but the execution is so baffling and disquieting that I have a hard time wrapping my head around how it got into the mix this year.

What Will Win: Haulout

What Should Win: The Elephant Whisperers
What Should Have Been Nominated: The Best Chef in the World

1 comment:

  1. You're so right about all the Martha Mitchell effect stuff. That's the only one of these I've seen tho. The Greatest Chef in the World deserved a nomination iswis