A shorter list, simply because many of the shortlisted films I watched pretty much sucked. This quartet, including a short from Japan that flew under the radar this past season, represents the best of a subpar year (in my humble opinion):
AND SO WE PUT GOLDFISH IN THE POOL Directed by Makoto Nagahisa
Teenage hijinks and ennui are at the core of many Japanese films, intimating that this first-world country is hamstrung by a populace that is more repressed than we could ever hope to imagine. Thus, Makoto Nagahisa’s characteristically nihilistic story of four four schoolgirls and one huge prank signals that there is hope for Japanese society. Ahh, we can dream…
FACING MECCA Directed by Jan-Eric Mack
This deeply-moving drama foregrounds the struggles between religious freedom and government bureaucracy, and similarly foreground stories is Syrians in a foreign country. Personalizing stories of dispossessed peoples is pertinent and vital these days, and FACING MECCA is high on my list of films seeking to put a face on otherwise vilified communities.
MY NEPHEW EMMETT Directed by Kevin Wilson, Jr.
This short period piece is Oscar bait through and through — the title alone should tip off people as to what is bound to happen in the film —but is nevertheless well-told and performed. In a year in which disturbing images of Black degradation at the hands of white authority figures rule (uhh, DETROIT, anyone?), MY NEPHEW EMMETT is powerful, infuriating, and attention-getting.
WATU WOTE/ALL OF US Directed by Katja Benrath
The possibility of finding compassion and humanity in dire situations inform my last recommendation, again tied to themes of genocide and religious persecution. Solidly acted and cut from the same cloth as feature-length tales of crime and intolerance (MISSISSIPPI BURNING; SICARIO; and even THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI) WATU WOTE is a standout.
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