Oscar season is upon us, that time of year when we get to ponder the questionable business of making impossible comparisons. Is Women Talking a better movie than Avatar: The Way of Water? If the largest number of blue creatures was the key criterion we’d have a clear winner. How exactly does one compare the relative artistic value of Top Gun: Maverick to that of The Banshees of Inisherin? In the latter’s favor, it sports a nuanced performance by a miniature donkey named Jenny. Also, of the two, it’s the one that tells a stunning, challenging story, both wildly unusual and terribly heartfelt. But moving on…
With so much focus on the race for Best Picture, one group of nominees often gets overlooked: Short Films. But well ahead of the March 12th awards ceremony, these remarkable movies will get their moment in the sun: all 15 of the 2023 Oscar-nominated shorts will be screened locally. And along with an array of other top-notch feature films, documentaries, and special presentations, Hudson Valley’s indie moviehouses are offering a month full of must-see movies.
2023 Oscar Nominated Shorts
There is one group of Oscar-nominated films, maybe the only one, that is genuinely merit-based: Short Films. No big-money studio campaigns. No consideration of box office. Every one of the movies nominated in the three Short Film categories—Live Action, Documentary, Animated—is truly worthy of consideration.
It’s hard to explain just how good these 15 films are. Maybe it’s simply that one does not make money producing a short film. At best, they can act as a calling card, a way for a director or producer to get noticed. But mainly they are works of passion, stories real or fictional that have simply captured a filmmaker’s imagination. As such, it’s a pleasure to see them on the big screen, where they belong.
Though it’s unnecessary to single out any of them (as will happen on Oscar night) these three are particularly memorable. In Live-Action, Night Ride: a brief late-night journey on a trolley that takes a number of unexpected emotional turns. In Animated, Ice Merchants: a gorgeous, wordless father-son story set in a wonderfully dangerous home. And in Documentary, Haul Out: a scientist on the isolated coast of the Siberian Arctic, entirely alone...except for the walruses.
See the full set of 2023 Oscar-Nominated Shorts on February 17 at The Moviehouse in Millerton, The Story Screen Theater in Beacon, The Crandell Theatre in Chatham, and Upstate Films in both Saugerties and Rhinebeck.
All the Beauty and the Bloodshed
Deservedly nominated for the Best Documentary Oscar, All the Beauty and the Bloodshed opens in the insidiously harrowing childhood of photographer and activist Nan Goldin. In a startling and poignant sequence, she reveals how those early experiences silenced her...and how her photographs came to be her voice. Award-winning director Laura Poitras (Citizen Four) uses Goldin’s photography stills, as well as Goldin’s own narration, to tell the tale of a remarkably passionate life, both personal and political.
After a near-fatal OxyContin overdose, Goldin founded an advocacy organization to hold Purdue Pharma, and in particular the billionaire Sackler Family, accountable for their central role in the deadly opioid epidemic. Goldin’s provocative work and personal courage hold center stage in this mesmerizing, intimate story of a single artist’s life and of art as a powerful political force.
All the Beauty and the Bloodshed is currently playing at Time & Space in Hudson; opening on February 9 at The Crandell Theatre in Chatham; and on February 24 at The Story Screen Theater in Beacon.
NB: Bracketing the Oscars ceremony, over the next month, the Crandell Theater is screening a slate of other award contenders as well including Aftersun, Women Talking, Everything Everywhere All At Once, All That Breathes, Tar, and The Quiet Girl.
In 2016, documentary filmmaker Alice Diop was drawn to the French town of Saint-Omer to witness the murder trial of a Senegalese woman accused of abandoning her infant child on a beach. That journey, and the trail’s echoes of Diop’s own life story (she was pregnant at the time), led to the making of Saint Omer, Diop's first narrative feature, and the winner of the Grand Jury Prize at last year’s Venice Film Festival.
On the surface, it’s a taut, disturbing courtroom drama based on a tragic true-life story, but Diop's skills as a documentary filmmaker lead her to tell a more nuanced tale, peering into the shadowed corners of the immigrant experience. And our being another silent witness to this story comes to challenge our basic understanding of what it means to be a foreigner, and beyond that, our ability to reconcile culturally determined beliefs in science and spirituality.
Saint Omer did not get an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary. It should have. Maybe it just leaves too many of the questions it asks unanswered. But that’s also at the heart of its power.
Saint Omer opens at The Moviehouse in Millerton on February 10 alongside fellow Oscar contender Women Talking.
Family Films of the ’80s
Through February, at both the Orpheum Theater in Saugerties and the Starr Cinema in Rhinebeck, Upstate Films is presenting three classic family films from long long ago: the 1980s.
Raiders of the Lost Ark, The NeverEnding Story, and The Karate Kid have become classics because each fulfills that timeless movie formula: a good story well told. Only Raiders was feted on Oscar night, with nine nominations and five wins. The NeverEnding Story was entirely overlooked. And Karate Kid garnered a single nomination, for Pat Morita in a supporting role. On the other hand, Karate Kid gave us “Wax on, wax off”—reason alone to go to the movies.
At Upstate Films: Raiders: February 11/12; The NeverEnding Story: February 18/19; The Karate Kid: February 25-26.
Robin & Batman...& Pasta!
Why not round out your month at The Story Screen Theater in Beacon for another in their series of Tuesday Night Pasta movies—an ongoing celebration of cult and retro cinema. And with Batman & Robin (1997) sporting a stellar cast including George Clooney, Val Kilmer, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Alicia Silverstone, and Uma Thurman you know you’re in for an Oscar-level evening of cinema! Okay, no. But...
These special Story Screen presentations make for a fabulous evening. For $15, give or take, you get a hearty meal at the theater’s Wonderbar lounge, plus a ticket to a technologically unique screening experience through the miracle of an image up-converted directly from the movie’s original VHS release. And as a badge of honor in the so-bad-it’s-good universe, Batman & Robin swept that year’s worst-of-cinema Razzie Awards with a mind-boggling 11 nominations!
Batman & Robin screens at The Story Screen Theater in Beacon, one night only: Tuesday, February 28. Story Screen is also showing When Harry Met Sally in a special-event presentation on Valentine's Day, February 14.