The Academy Awards are fast approaching—the big night is Feb. 9! Catching up on all of the nominated films may seem like a hefty undertaking, but those recognized in Best Live Action Short Film and Best Animated Short Film categories show that you don’t need a lot of time to tell a great story. 

The live action nominees are diverse, spotlighting unique filmmaking and moving narratives. Beautifully shot with wonderful performances, the impactful Brotherhood, a co-production from Canada, Tunisia, Qatar and Sweden, explores tense familial relationships when the eldest son of a Tunisian family returns home with a Syrian wife. Inspired by a true story, Saria, from American filmmaker Bryan Buckley, is about two sisters who plot an escape from the daily abuses of a Guatemalan orphanage. 

In the Belgian short A Sister, an emergency services operator answers a cryptic call and attempts to help the woman on the other end. It’s a tense, effective thriller that feels especially relevant with its exploration of violence against women. The Neighbors’ Window (USA) follows a frustrated, New York City mother who becomes obsessed with her free-spirited, 20-something neighbors. The set-up is nothing new nor is its ‘the grass is always greener’ message, but the film manages to turn the well-worn material into an interesting character study. 

The fraught, often tragic nature of the other nominees makes the lone comedic entry standout. The French/Tunisian Nefta Football Club centers on two brothers who stumble across something unexpected on the border between Tunisia and Algeria. It’s a charming, anti-drug parable that isn’t afraid to lean into absurdity—a donkey trained to respond to the music of Adele is crucial to the plot.

The animated category features three stop-motion shorts, and all are inventive and moving. The most visually striking is perhaps Mémorable (France), which renders the mental deterioration of an aging painter in post-impressionist brush strokes. Using black and white felt figures, Sister follows a man’s reflections on his childhood in China in the 1990s, but everything is not as it initially seems. The eventual reveal may not come as a surprise, but that doesn’t make it any less effective. Misunderstandings and a fraught father-daughter relationship are at the center of the Czechian Daughter. 

The other two nominees are three-dimensional animation, and both offer a lot of charm and heart. The winsome Kitbull is about an unlikely bond between a stray cat and a pitbull. While undeniably cute, this Pixar short also touches on the uncomfortable subject of animal abuse. In Hair Love, an African American father does his daughter’s hair for the first time in preparation for an important day. Funded by a record-breaking Kickstarter campaign, it’s a tender exploration of identity and pride.  

You can check out the nominated shorts at Landmark Tivoli Theatre starting Jan. 31.

Pictured at top: Hair Love