With most Oscar nominations, you know what to expect. The best picture category will have at least one period drama, one based-on-real-life story (ideally about a person with a disability) and a movie with at least one scene featuring a sobbing woman. Best actress? At least one real-life character, one woman who sobs in at least one scene, one Meryl Streep. You know the drill.
Then there are the short films. Because the only major rule for the Oscars’ shorts categories — animated, live action and documentary — is that the films have to be 40 minutes or less, almost anything goes.
This year’s live-action nominees are especially worth your (short) time. (You can see them, along with the animated short nominees, now at the E Street Cinema; screenings of the short-subject documentary nominees begin next week at the West End Cinema). There’s a movie about the murder of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955; one about a man who bursts into an elementary school intent on violence and the woman who tries to stop him; a German film based on the 2015 al-Shabab terrorist attack on a bus near the Kenya-Somalia border; an Australian comedy that ends up being a “who’s on first?” routine in a psychiatrist’s office; and a British film about a deaf girl being failed by her family.
Leaving aside the (excellent) Aussie comedy “The Eleven O’Clock,” the remaining four films deal with threats. Three of them (“DeKalb Elementary,” about the school shooter; “My Nephew Emmett,” about Till; and “Watu Wote: All of Us,” about the bus attack) are based on real-life events. But it’s the one about the deaf girl that’s the scariest.
In “The Silent Child,” Joanne, a social worker, comes to the house to teach 4-year-old Libby to sign. Up until this point, Libby has been almost wholly unable to communicate with anyone (she has some hearing in one ear, so her parents assumed she was simply slow to talk, so they didn’t even know about her deafness). They emphasize that they want her to lip-read and speak. Joanne — you know, the EXPERT — thinks signing is the way to go, at least for now, Under her tutelage, Libby blossoms. She’s 4, and for the first time she can say that she likes orange juice.
But Sue, her mother (a somewhat broadly drawn villain), doesn’t want Libby to be different. Besides, Sue has two other, older children who are quite busy and her husband has a demanding career, so she doesn’t think the family will really have time to learn how to sign. Getting Libby unlocked from her silent box will take just a bit too much work, really.
In the three other films, the threat is obvious: They’re all guys with guns, driven by hate. Sue is defined by indifference, which is almost impossible to fight. It’s like punching a wall — the wall doesn’t care, so you just end up bruising your fists.
I don’t think “The Silent Child” should win the Oscar (I’m pulling for “Emmett”), but it does illustrate that, while evil and violence are very real threats, not caring about another person can do an immense amount of damage. This time, the threat is coming from inside the house.
More Reelists from Kristen Page-Kirby