Among the most iconic of film directors, Sir Alfred Hitchcock was meticulous and clear about his aesthetic and technical choices. In 1962, Hitchcock granted noted French director Francois Truffaut a week of interviews at L.A.'s Universal Studios. "Hitchcock/Truffaut," the title of the subsequent 1966 book and a new documentary featuring those interviews, proves as insightful and revealing today as then.
Each year the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominates five short documentaries for an Oscar. Organized into two programs, these films represent Liberia, Pakistan, Vietnam and the United States. In content, they document the death penalty, Agent Orange's lasting effects, "honor killings" in Pakistan, a Liberian Body Team collecting Ebola dead, and Claude Lanzmann reflecting on "Shoah."
Each year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominates short films for Oscar contention in animation, live action and documentary categories. The nominees for each category are assembled into separate programs for theatrical release. Compilations offer diversity, though different as they are, all the selections available for preview merit this Oscar contention recognition.
Two horseback riders in 1835 Walachia, now the northern part of Romania, hunt for the escaped Gypsy slave Carfin who allegedly stole money from his master. On a literal and metaphorical hunt for this fugitive, constable Costandin and his son Ionita encounter people of various ethnic groups and religious affiliations, contemptuously insulting and cavalierly dismissing all of them.
Kate and Geoff have been married for, as the title states, "45 Years." After establishing the northeast English locale and Kate's daily routine, a devastating telegram arrives for Geoff. The thaw of a glacier in Switzerland has unearthed the body of Katya, his girlfriend who died in a fall before Geoff met Kate. Shock waves radiate from this disorienting news.
Qualifying as an unnerving slow burn, "Lamb" puts 47-year-old David Lamb in the company of precocious eleven-year-old Tommie. She endures an unhappy home life, her hard-working parents so exhausted they collapse each evening in front of the TV. The psychologically damaged David entices Tommie to take a road trip with him, hoping to heal their emotional wounds.
Information on "13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi" asserts this film is "not about politics but the on-the-ground situation of the battle and sacrifices" of the Global Response Services, security contractors involved in the 2012 Benghazi battle. Indeed, that tragic situation's contested politics enter only obliquely into this film's myopic focus on those tragic 13 hours.
In "The Assassin," Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien has crafted an exquisite, mesmerizing cinematic poem merged with a swordplay action drama. Called wuxia cinema, this Chinese term suggests a story foregrounding chivalry and martial arts expertise infused with a touch of sorcery. Ang Lee's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and Zhang Yimou's "House of Flying Daggers" helped popularize the genre here.
Animation has a distinct advantage over live action. Because the characters, human or otherwise, aren't actual people, it adds at least a minimal distance from the reality portrayed in the emotional and psychological elements, possibly lowering our defenses while still dramatizing profound truths. Enter "Anomalisa," puppet animation that entertains and amazes as it profiles instantly recognizable disenchantment and loneliness.
The Carter and the Cash families stand tall in folk music history, both for their exceptionally engaging songs, their superb musicianship, and their fascinating individual stories. Director Beth Harrington's rollicking documentary "The Winding Stream: The Carters, the Cashes, and the Course of Country Music" does justice to both the personal and the professional chapters of these legendary artists' lives.