‘The 2022 Oscar Nominated Short Films’ Review: Small Tales, Big Ideas

With three out of five nominees, Netflix is almost bigfooting this year’s documentary short category, but one of those three is a standout. “Audible,” directed by Matt Ogens, observes the high school football team at the Maryland School for the Deaf, zeroing in on one player, Amaree McKenstry. His senior year is eventful beyond the gridiron, as he navigates a tentative relationship and reconnects with the father who left him.

McKenstry says that while he cannot hear cheers, he is able to feel vibrations from running. The players approach football with a different perspective. (“A lot of the hearing teams don’t want to play us,” the coach says. “And most coaches don’t like to lose to deaf coaches.”) Ogens, without overdoing it, finds ways to appeal to viewers’ other senses, looking for tactile moments, like teenagers dancing to booming bass lines or team members slamming locker doors and flicking a light switch as they rev themselves to return to the field.

School memories also suffuse “When We Were Bullies.” In the early 1990s, the filmmaker, Jay Rosenblatt, had a random encounter with a former fifth-grade classmate from the 1965-6 school year. Both had remembered an incident when they and others had ganged up on an ostracized student. Years later, haunted that he had been a bully, Rosenblatt seeks out other classmates and their 92-year-old teacher. Not all remember the dust up, and Rosenblatt consciously leads the movie into a dead end. Still, “When We Were Bullies” plays with structure and animation in ways that leaven it.

Less successfully empathetic is “Lead Me Home,” a documentary on homelessness shot in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Seattle from 2017 to 2020. It is simply too diffuse at this length; few of its 15 featured subjects emerge with clarity, although it has heart-rending moments, like when a mother explains why she shops for groceries and makes dinner for her children instead of accepting meals. The many aerial shots of encampments inadvertently call attention to the distant perspective of the filmmakers, Pedro Kos and Jon Shenk, whose overuse of time-lapse photography and unfortunate deployment of Coldplay’s “Midnight” suggest it’s easier to lyricize poverty than explore it.

“Three Songs for Benazir,” from the directors Gulistan and Elizabeth Mirzaei, follows a father-to-be in a displaced-persons camp in Kabul who yearns to join the Afghan National Army, but others are convinced his place is in the poppy fields. A poignant epilogue set four years later confirms a downbeat fate, while also hinting at a great unrealized feature that might have been.

Finally, the New York Times Op-Doc “The Queen of Basketball,” directed by Ben Proudfoot, puts a spotlight on Lusia Harris, who died in January. In close-up, she recalls her career as a pathbreaking basketball player, the first woman to be officially drafted by an N.B.A. team. Released before Harris’s death, the movie now makes for a simple but moving memorial, interspersing Harris’s recollections with clips of key games and headlines. BEN KENIGSBERG

The 2022 Oscar Nominated Short Films: Live Action
Not rated. In English and several other languages, with subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 1 minute. In theaters.

The 2022 Oscar Nominated Short Films: Animated
Not rated. In English and several other languages, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 37 minutes. In theaters.

The 2022 Oscar Nominated Short Films: Documentary
Not rated. In English and several other languages, with subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 39 minutes. In theaters.

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