Almost two months later than last year’s ceremony and encompassing two venues, 2021’s Academy Awards will cap the cinematic year that couldn’t get started and never seemed to end. On Sunday, April 25, it’ll be Oscar night on ABC with hopeful nominees appropriately distanced inside Hollywood’s Dolby Theater and Los Angeles’ Union Station.
Speaking of those nominees, a total of 56 movies will compete in 23 categories for statues. And if you don’t know by now, almost all of them you can see at home via a half-dozen streaming services, Video on Demand or virtual theaters. CU Boulder’s International Film Series’ virtual theater is where you’ll find the 15 nominees for the Animated, Live Action and Documentary Short Subjects.
Of the three categories, Live Action stands tallest. All five shorts are solid, from Feeling Through’s gentle portrait of humanity to the professionally acted The Letter Room, while the remaining three, The Present, Two Distant Strangers and White Eye, explore divisions of class, nationality and race with cinematic flair. Especially Two Distant Strangers, which takes the all-too-familiar interaction and outcome of white cop/black civilian and gives it a Groundhog Day twist. It’s a clever distillation of 2020 that is at once funny and frustrating.
Two Distant Strangers is one of the many nominees from black filmmakers — a considerable improvement from Oscar nominations past. Before this year, only two short documentaries from black filmmakers had been nominated, which doubles with this year alone: A Concerto is a Conversation and A Love Song for Latasha. Both are good, but Concerto — which bridges the gap between a grandfather, entrepreneur Horace Bowers Sr., born in the Jim Crow South, and grandson, composer Kris Bowers — really sings. Both men found success, and both share their stories with intimacy and insight thanks to a piece of camera equipment that allows them to talk directly to each other and the viewer simultaneously.
It’s that direct address that makes Concerto more than just the story of two people. Ditto for Two Distant Strangers. These shorts have specificity, but not in a limiting sense. The same goes for the animated If Anything Happens I Love You, which depicts grief in the aftermath of a mass shooting. It’s beautiful, powerful and heartbreaking, and finds hope, even in the absence of answers. Some monsters we will never be free from. But as Two Distant Strangers reminds us: That’s just the way it is; some things will never change.
All 15 nominees — plus three bonus “Highly Commended” shorts in the Animation category — are available at internationalfilmseries.com, starting April 2. Then on April 25, the Dairy Arts Center will host its annual Oscar watch party. Tickets are $25 and include food and a glass of bubbly. There’ll be a contest to predict the winners and trivia breaks hosted by master of ceremonies Stephanie Rudy. And for those of you who don’t yet feel comfortable congregating, the Dairy will livestream the festivities — info at thedairy.org.