REVIEW – 2023 Oscar Nominees for Best Animated Short Film and Best Live Action Short Film

For the second year, you can catch this year’s Academy Award nominees for Best Animated Short Film and Best Live Action Short Film on the big screen at select Australian cinemas. For full location details and screening dates, click here. Here are my reviews of this year’s contenders.


Letter to a Pig

An elderly Jewish man recounts his experiences during the Holocaust to a classroom of seemingly uninterested high school students. As he recalls his tale of surviving the Nazis by hiding in a filthy barn filled with pigs and his furious desire for revenge once the war was over, a young girl falls into a dark, twisted dream where she confronts questions of collective trauma, memory, and identity.

While writer/director Tal Kantor never explicitly shows the horrors of World War II in Letter to a Pig, her use of numerous visual metaphors creates a haunting portrait that’s just as effective as any bombastic war epic. Kantor fuses minimalist hand-drawn monochromatic animation with vibrant watercolour pinks to craft something that’s easily the most visually unique entry this year. She deftly taps into the idea of generational trauma with such a gentle, personal hand on this compelling journey of one young girl’s awakening to the notion that the past is never far from the present. It’s expressionist animation at its finest and a short that will permeate inside your brain for days.

Ninety-Five Senses

While awaiting his final meal on death row, an elderly inmate (voiced by Tim Blake Nelson) reflects on his life, the events that brought him to this point, and how the five senses have each played a part. From the booming sound of wood cutting in a sawmill that robbed his father of his hearing to the smells of the food that will line his stomach for the last time, the man ponders what was and what could have been while confronting his own mortality.

Both heartwarming and heartbreaking, Ninety-Five Senses is a simple but beautifully realised tale of regret and longing as one empathetic man looks at the life he could have lived. Nelson is perfectly cast with his Southern-fried drawl providing the kind of folksy narration that draws you in and touches your soul. Each of the five senses is illustrated by different artists with distinctive styles to create a vibrant and captivating aesthetic. From simple, hand-drawn 2D animation to more extravagant expressionistic styles, it melds together to create something beautifully tragic. It’s disarmingly charming and will make you consider how our senses are often intrinsically linked to our memories.

Our Uniform

An Iranian girl unfolds her school memories through the wrinkles and fabrics of her old uniform. She admits that she’s nothing but a “female” and explores the roots of this idea in her school years. By recalling her experience wearing hijab as a school uniform in an Iranian girls’ school, the young woman recounts how her perspective on hijab changed as she moved to the United States where such attire is far from the norm.

With a pre-film disclaimer that Our Uniform is not a condemnation of hijab or those who wear the Islamic head covering, Iranian director Yegane Moghaddam makes it clear this is merely a reflection of her own experiences with the “controversial” piece of clothing. It’s a fascinating exploration of the juxtaposition between the strict dress code of her home country and the colourful styles of those seen in Western culture. Moghaddam shrewdly uses varying garments as her literal animation canvas with buttons, zippers, and fabrics telling this meditation on how identity and fashion often fuse together. It’s a touch too light and lacks the real depth you’d expect from such subject matter, but it’s stunningly crafted in a way we’ve never seen before.


A young woman remembers the summer she spent with her grandparents at their small cottage: how she feared the monsters in the knot holes, how her grandfather would cut the blooms off the vining roses, would take her with him when he went fishing, and how he died. But those imaginary monsters prove to be something far more sinister.

Crafted in a stunning hand-painted, children’s storybook-style animation, the evocative visuals of Pachyderme ultimately hide something rather menacing. Such animated comforts are ultimately hugely disarming, as the wistful narration slowly reveals the true intentions of this short’s quietly deceiving narrative. It’s a clever portrait of childhood trauma and how our memories often attempt to romanticise what our mind is attempting to bury. It’s quiet in its execution of a tale with revelations you can likely see coming from a mile away, but ones that are no less shattering when they arrive.

WAR IS OVER! Inspired by the Music of John and Yoko

For almost three-quarters of the deceptively named WAR IS OVER! Inspired by the Music of John and Yoko, you’ll be wondering what on earth this short film has to do with John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Then the titular song bursts into this film from absolutely nowhere in one of the most jarring (and unintentionally hilarious) needle drops you’ll ever hear. This is a slickly-produced work, but the entire tone feels like something akin to a department store Christmas commercial. Its message of peace is naturally pertinent, but it’s delivered in such a ham-fisted fashion that it loses its intended impact. With so much sap, it’s sadly sure to win the Oscar.


The After

After experiencing a shocking crime that robs him of everything he holds dear, Dayo (David Oyelowo) avoids dealing with his grief by spending his days as a rideshare driver. After collecting a family at Heathrow Airport, Dayo is struck by how strongly one of his young passengers resembles his own daughter. It’s a chance encounter that will finally allow the grieving father to confront his pain.

It’s clear the surprisingly violent opening scene of The After is meant to stun its audience. However, the action is so cartoonish and unconvincing that it’s nowhere near as horrific as intended. To be honest, it’s all so improbable and bizarre that I thought perhaps it was a dream sequence. From there, it’s very little more than a highly manipulative portrait of grief that lacks the nuance to feel authentic.  Oyelowo gives it his all and he’s typically terrific, but even he can’t save such a contrived script that falls apart with a finale that’s far too simplistic and easy. It’s spoon-feeding a conclusion that doesn’t trust its audience to ascertain certain plot points without assistance.


You’d be hard-pressed to find a more beautifully shot short film this year than Ivalu. It’s just a shame it doesn’t quite have the narrative backbone to match its gorgeous visuals. A pertinent tale told in a mute fashion, this story of familial secrets and sexual abuse is admirable but far too heavy-handed to work effectively.

Set in Greenland, Ivalu introduces us to young Pipaluk, who awakens to find her beloved older sister, Ivalu has gone missing and her father is suspiciously stating that she’s simply run away. Desperate to locate her sister, Pipaluk begins to search all their favourite hangout spots while reminiscing on their past interactions. What begins as a hunt to discover her missing sibling soon turns into something far more sinister, as the truth behind Ivalu’s vanishing begins to come to the forefront.

While it’s clearly all been shot by the use of drones, it’s hard not to be taken by the breathtaking cinematography of the beautiful landscapes of Greenland. The visuals are truly stunning and that’s probably enough to validate its Oscar nom. But its overuse of narration doesn’t help the story of Pipaluk and Ivalu come to life and damages the potential raw power of such a mournful story. There’s a masterpiece hiding here somewhere, but it’s not what we’re offered in the end.

Knight of Fortune

With the might of Oscar-winner Alfonso Cuarón behind the producer’s chair and Disney+ coming on board as a streaming partner, there’s every chance Le pupille will take home the prize this year. It’s also the longest of the live-action nominees, which will either work for or against it. A playfully mischievous look at the lives of a group of young girls at a strict Italian Catholic boarding school during World War II, it’s a sweet charmer that’s not exactly groundbreaking but terribly adorable all the same.

Set during Christmas time, the short focuses on little Serafina (Melissa Falasconi), a precocious youngster who is shunned by the other girls in her class and treated unsympathetically by the nuns for her penchant for being “bad.” As the film unfolds, we bear witness to the lives of these young girls as they prepare for Christmas Day and attempt to reject the temptations of the season and remain focused on the real spirit of the season.

Warmly shot on 16mm film, its aesthetic perfectly matches the tone and time period of this charming and surprisingly humourous tale of desires, freedom, and devotion. The wide-eyed Falasconi is a terrific find and leads this short with infectious sweetness and naivete. It plods along at a purposely slow pace, which makes you question its rather lengthy runtime. Once its true intentions are revealed, there’s wicked fun to be had, but it relies a touch too heavily on the cuteness of Serafina to keep you hooked.

Red, White and Blue

A curious and initially unassuming Norwegian piece, Night Ride could have been nothing more than the quirky, humourous tale of a woman experiencing an unintended evening of mild adventure. And, frankly, it may have been better to just leave it there. While it valiantly attempts something deeper by tackling the issue of transphobia and violence against trans women, it lacks the gravitas or acumen to truly make it work.

On a cold snowy evening, Ebba waits patiently for her tram to arrive. When the tram arrives, the dismissive conductor leaves to use the bathroom and refuses to let Ebba on board to wait for him out of the cold. Shivering and annoyed, Ebba takes matters into her own hands. After sneaking onboard, Ebba attempts to close the tram’s doors but inadvertently sets it into motion. Fearful of reprisal from the furious conductor, Ebba makes the rash decision to carry on driving the tram all the way home. But when a group of passengers join her at the next stop, her evening is about to become much more complicated.

There comes a point in Night Ride where the entire tone and intent of the piece completely shifts. And, sadly, it all somewhat falls apart. It’s honourable it’s attempting to portray the very real and very scary reality of being a trans woman riding public transport at night, it’s hard not to cringe at the “cisgender saviour” narrative that ensues. It all just feels rather reductive and trite when it’s trying so hard to be powerful and pertinent.

The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar

In less than 20 minutes, The Red Suitcase offers more tension than you will find in most subpar thrillers. It’s a stunning achievement from such a simple short film, but this is nothing less than one of the most unexpectedly gripping experiences I’ve had in some time. Harrowing and painfully pertinent, it’s ingeniously crafted, impressively constructed, and handles an important subject matter with a delicate yet powerful touch.

Ariane, a shy Muslim teenager with a love of painting, has arrived alone at Luxembourg airport from Iran but is seemingly terrified to leave the customs area. On the other side of the automatic doors waits a much older Middle Eastern man holding a bouquet of flowers. Terrified at the prospect of meeting the man Ariane’s father has arranged to be her new husband, she removes her hijab in the customs bathroom in the hopes she can sneak by the man and make defy the life she clearly never wanted.

To call The Red Suitcase tense is almost an understatement. It’s an old cliche but this is truly edge-of-your-seat cinema, as we witness Ariane’s desperate attempts to evade being spotted by the man her father has essentially sold her to. The terror on her face. The fear in her eyes. The panic at every close encounter. The anguish of missed opportunity to escape. It’s an anxiety-inducing piece that works so well because you immediately connect with Ariane from the moment we meet her. The power in watching her defiantly abandon her hijab out of sheer desperation is stunning stuff. And the final shot (I won’t spoil it) is genuinely masterful.

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