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Ranking the 2022 Oscar-Nominated Documentary Shorts

Film

Ranking the 2022 Oscar-Nominated Documentary Shorts

Ranking the 2022 Oscar-Nominated Shorts Part 2

Five films are nominated this year for the Academy Award for Best Documentary Short Subject, although that is one of several categories that, due to the controversial recent decision, will not be part of the main broadcasts. 

This year’s nominated docs are in theaters as part of Shorts TV’s release of the complete shorts program in indie theaters, although three of the five are available on Netflix and a fourth can be watched on the New York Times’ YouTube channel. 

A ranking of this year’s animated documentary shorts: 

1. The Queen of Basketball 

Queen of Basketball short film | Oscar-Nominated Documentary Shorts
Image: Shorts TV

This 22-minute doc tells the very compelling story of Lusia Harris, a major figure in the history of women’s basketball and the first woman ever drafted by an NBA team. 

Harris, who sadly passed away in January, is interviewed almost entirely in close-up, as she tells the story of her life and career, interspersed with video and archival footage. 

The Queen of Basketball was directed by the 31-year-old Ben Proudfoot, who also directed last year’s Oscar-nominated short A Concerto Is a Conversation. Those and several other standout docs are part of the New York Times’ Op-Docs series, which consistently tell amazing stories in not very much time. Shaquille O’Neal executive-produced the film and the NBA has gotten behind it; The Queen of Basketball can be watched here

2. Lead Me Home

Lead Me Home short film documetnary
Image: Shorts TV

One of the biggest divides in America is about what “the homeless problem” is. Is it that a population of people who are suffering and troubled has tragically fallen through the cracks of society? Or is that the homeless are blights on cities, representing an inconvenience for the non-homeless who have to look at them? 

Fox News, over the last few years, has made “American cities are disgusting hellscapes full of dirty homeless people” a big part of their messaging, but Lead Me Home argues instead for the humanity of the unhoused. 

Lead Me Home, a 40-minute film directed by Pedro Kos and Jon Shenk, shines the spotlight on homelessness in major cities, including Los Angeles and San Francisco. The filmmakers use the powerful trick of showing the gleaming skylines of cities that have access to hundreds of millions of dollars in capital while contrasting that with tent cities and other areas with homeless populations. 

We meet the unhoused people, who are treated sympathetically but not angelically, and we also see some community meetings, in which the loudest voices are loudly opposed to homeless shelters in their backyards or anywhere near them. 

Lead Me Home is available to stream on Netflix. 

3. Audible 

Audible | Oscar-Nominated Documentary Shorts
Image: Shorts TV

This documentary’s name is a pun, for both the football term and the ability to hear. The film, directed by Matt Ogens, follows the football team at Maryland School for the Deaf, focuses on one particular player and two cheerleaders. 

That subject is compelling enough, but the film also focuses on the recent death by suicide of a friend of the subjects, and how they have dealt with it. 

Audible, too, is streaming on Netflix. 

4. Three Songs For Benazir

4. Three Songs For Benazir
Image: Shorts TV

Also on Netflix is this, another film that zeroes in on a topic often dealt with in the abstract by the news. Directed by Elizabeth Mirzaei and Gulistan Mirzaei, who have made several films about Afghanistan, Three Songs for Benazir is set in a displaced persons camp in Afghanistan, and specifically a pair of newlyweds named Shaista and Benazir. 

It’s a compelling film, covering years in its 22 minutes, but of course, hanging over all of it is that we know what happened in Afghanistan. 

5. When We Were Bullies 

When We Were Bullies short film | Oscar-Nominated Documentary Shorts
Image: Shorts TV

Here’s something of an odd duck, a 36-minute film that’s simultaneously too long and too short. Director Jay Rosenblatt looks back on a bullying incident that took place in his elementary school when he was in fifth grade and deals with his guilt and shame for the part he played in it. 

The film has Rosenblatt interviewing classmates and teachers about the incident and trying to jog their memories of what happened over 50 years ago. It’s an interesting exercise, but one gets the sense that the director should have dealt with his guilt simply by reaching out and apologizing to the victim directly, rather than making a film about it.  

Part 1: 2022 Oscar-Nominated Animated Shorts
Part 2: 2022 Oscar-Nominated Documentary Shorts
Part 3: 2022 Oscar-Nominated Live-Action Shorts 

Written By

Stephen Silver is a journalist and film critic based in the Philadelphia area. He is the co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle and a Rotten Tomatoes-listed critic since 2008, and his work has appeared in New York Press, Philly Voice, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Tablet, The Times of Israel, and RogerEbert.com. In 2009, he became the first American journalist to interview both a sitting FCC chairman and a sitting host of "Jeopardy" on the same day.

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