Thursday, March 1, 2018

Oscar Winner Predictions: Best Documentary Short

The nominees:
Edith + Eddie (B)
This love story about two people with similar names who got married at age 95 and 96 starts out as the sweetest, most endearing tale of unexpected affection discovered later in life but quickly turns sour thanks to the real-life events that tore them apart. Watching Eddie hand Edith her teeth before putting in his own shows how much they care for each other, but Edith’s declining mental health and a disagreement between her daughters over how best to care for her leads to a court-appointed guardian bringing Edith to Florida while Eddie waits at home not knowing when he’ll see her next. This profile of a form of elder abuse spotlights this situation but doesn’t share any answers other than sadness, making it heartbreaking but not quite as influential as perhaps it could have been or might still be. Available on

Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405 (B)
There’s no denying how incredibly interesting this film is, spotlighting a fifty-six-year-old artist who has struggled with mental illness throughout her life. Beginning with a nod to the title and how a typically agonizing daily occurrence for many provides rare solace for Mindy Alper, who is frequently overwhelmed by overstimulation from other people in places like the supermarket. Her own understanding of her childhood and the relationships with her parents that led her to improve her speech and ability to communicate through her art is truly intriguing, and the actual product she creates is astonishing, especially considering the limitations she describes overcoming and continuing to live with presently. Available on YouTube.

Heroin(e) (B)
This look at Huntington, West Virginia is not an optimistic one, since it boasts a heroin overdose rate ten times the national average. What is cause for celebration is the way in which a number of women in the community seek to change that statistic and help those who suffer, including the fire chief who gets many calls in which she can help save a life and the judge who runs drug court, where she scolds those who have lapsed in their mandated efforts to stay clean and warmly congratulates those who have reached anniversaries and resisted the temptation to fall back into old habits. One resident hears the horrifying numbers of overdoses in the past year and is proud that, for the first time, he isn’t a part of that count. It’s a worthwhile spotlight and an inspiring showcase of what those in this town are trying to do to combat it, even if it’s not an extraordinary film. Available on Netflix.

Knife Skills (B+)
It’s rare to see an affirming story like this one which doesn’t involve much negativity. I had heard about Edwin’s, the French restaurant in Cleveland that employs only people who have been recently released from prison, from one of its founding members, and this energizing film does a great job of sharing its story. The positive outlook doesn’t ignore the reality that many ex-convicts are rearrested within the first year and that even the most committed members of the program aren’t immune to temptations and circumstances that threaten their livelihood. The innovative nature of this particular opportunity for rehabilitation is truly inspiring, and the need to learn how to prepare all twenty-five dishes for this fancy French establishment shows that it’s not just a charity organization but a place where serious cuisine happens. The opening night of the restaurant, which gets its own spotlight, involves lots of excitement and nerves, but also some great-looking food. Quotes like “I would take the rush of what I’m doing now over the rush of getting high any day” show just how successful that program has truly been. Available on iTunes.

Traffic Stop (B+)
This is a documentary built mainly from dash cam footage, showing the stop and arrest of twenty-six-year-old African-American schoolteacher Breaion King in 2016 in Austin. King is profiled as an upstanding member of society who couldn’t believe what was happening to her when a white police officer pulled her over for speeding in a fast food parking lot and then treated her as if she was the guilty perpetrator of some violent crime. Fortunately, this is one situation that didn’t have a deadly outcome, and the footage, which King didn’t know was being recorded, is difficult to dispute. King’s experience is nonetheless harrowing, especially for the speed with which it happened and escalated. King’s honest conversation with a backup officer while she was handcuffed in the back of the car on the way to jail offers a frank and effective analysis of how King views racism in society. Available on HBO.

Previous winners: The White Helmets, A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness, Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1, The Lady in Number 6, Inocente, Saving Face, Strangers No More

Who should win: Three of these films are worthy nominees but wouldn’t get my vote since they fail to rise above their material to become excellent in their own right. While “Traffic Stop” is captivating in its use of video footage and its stark arguments, my choice is the most positive one that captures its characters’ energy, “Knife Skills.”

Who will win: In some cases, it’s the sunnier film with a warm message that wins over more misery-centered fare, which leads me to think that “Knife Skills” will win. The safer choice is probably Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405 or “Edith + Eddie.”

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