Oscar 2022 Nominations: Documentary Shorts Ranked and Where to Watch

The Oscar 2022 nominations were announced in early February. And this year I made an effort to watch all of the shorts. This year's documentary shorts range from sports biopics to day in the life narratives to a confession of shorts for past wrongs. The ranking of this lot was much more challenging than the animated shorts. How do you rank such a range. Each story hit me in a different way. How do you choose between something that resonates with your experience vs. something that helps you see something in a different light? In the end, I have to go with my gut. 

Below find my take on all the 2022 nominated animated shorts, ranked from my least to most favorite. As part of the list, I include a link to watch, if available. Alternatively, you can find a theater showing all the shorts here. The Oscars will air on March 27, 2022 on ABC.

[L-R] AMAREE, LERA, and JALEN in a still from AUDIBLE

Audible, directed by Matt Ogens, produced by Geoff McLean

The beautifully filmed Audible feels like multiple stories smashed into one, which keeps it from being effective. It introduces us to the football team of the Maryland School for the Deaf, a championship team that hasn't lost a game in 16 seasons. When the loss comes, the team tries its best to cope and take things in stride. The students are used to being underestimated by others because of their deafness, a difference they use to their advantage when playing on the field. They interview Amaree, Jalen, and other team members, interspersed with generous shots of gameplay, filmed with the same intensity as a music video or sleek commercial. They let the teens speak for themselves about what it's like to be deaf and what football means to them. That would have been a compelling narrative by itself, but the director veers off to explain that Amaree and his friends are dealing with the loss of Teddy, their classmate who committed suicide after transferring to a new school. Amaree's estranged father has also entered the picture after being gone awhile, and the story widens to show this father and son getting to know each other again. As someone who has a heart for teens, I enjoyed the topic and the opportunity to learn about this amazing school, but Audible felt like a smattering of ideas, rather than a coherent film. With short documentaries, sticking with one overarching theme seems wise. It was hard to understand what the filmmaker wanted to say. Watch on Netflix.

A still from TAKE ME HOME

Lead Me Home, directed by Pedro Kos and Jon Shenk

Lead Me Home attempts to reinvigorate the public's awareness of the epidemic of homelessness on the West Coast. Shot over the course of three years in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle, the filmmakers try paint a picture that is both broad and intimate. Long overhead tracking shots of the tent cities that serve as dwelling center for the population overwhelm the viewer with their scope. At the same time, they interview individuals about their situation, their story, and their hopes and dreams. In between intense moments, they show the people enjoying TV, dancing, and sharing special moments with their loved ones. Despite the supposed message of empathy for the marginalized, the overall effect is troubling. A faceless person behind the camera asks questions in a clinical tone. The question grow increasingly invasive. At times, the homeless people break down in tears due to extenuating circumstances. No comfort is offered. I'm reminded of the Sarah McLachlan SPCA commercials. Also, the topic of homelessness is a problem in our culture, but one with no easy answers. I'm not sure how this documentary adds anything new to the subject besides a feeling of hopelessness. And what are we to do with what we have seen? Lead Me Home introduces a problem and doesn't come close to offering solutions or next steps. Watch on Netflix.


Three Songs for Benazir, directed by Elizabeth Mirzaei and Gulistan Mirzaei

This compelling documentary with a strong sense of place follows one man as he tries to improve his station and follow his dreams in Afghanistan. Shaista lives with his wife in a camp for people displaced by the war in Kabul. The story bridges the gap between fiction and fact. Shaista and his countryman take no interest in the camera. The story plays out as if no one is watching. Shaista tries to balance his responsibilities as a husband and father-to-be with his dreams of being the first man from his tribe to join the National Army. His father expects him to put duty to the family first, but Shaista truly has the heart of a troubadour. He flirts with his wife through song and imagines a life outside of making bricks that no one wants to buy. The compact story paints a brief but effective story that hope springs eternal, even in a place that seems forsaken at first glance. The camera captures both parts that make up the look of Afghanistan's landscape -- the fierce beauty and the scarred, neglected slums. A wistful peek into one man's hopes that resonates with humanity. Watch on Netflix.


The Queen of Basketball, directed by Ben Proudfoot 

Last year, Ben Proudfoot was nominated for A Concerto is a Conversation, an up close and personal interview with composer Kris Bowers and his grandfather. This year, Proudfoot gets nominated once again -- and rightly so -- for The Queen of Basketball, a quick hit biography about Lusia Harris Stewart, a pioneer in Black female athletics. Lusia, the first Black female inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, speaks on her own behalf in an engaging, exuberant monologue, supported by a dizzying array of photos, newspaper headlines, and video clips. I am the last person to get excited about sports, but Lusia's enjoyment of the memories captured my attention. As she remembers her time of fame, she peppers the conversation with frequent bursts of infectious laughter. Though her demeanor off and on the court remained humble, everyone saw her as a star. This joyful addition to short documentary filmmaking proves Proudfoot's talent for the format. I predict Queen of Basketball will win the Oscar. 


When We Were Bullies, directed by Jay Rosenblatt

This emotionally compelling and personally relatable story of childhood and bullying kept me enraptured. After Jay connects with a childhood friend, their reminiscing reminds Jay of an incident seared deep into his memory. He and his classmates all participated in an act of bullying towards Dick, the most vulnerable boy in his class. He decides to track down his former classmates to see what they remember. He revisits the scene of the crime and attends a reunion, armed with a desire to delve down memory lane and right some wrongs. Jay's narration and his classmates recorded testimonies are paired with archived video footage of school days gone by. Jay also cleverly uses his the yearbook photos as placeholders for the kids in setting the scene. Even though Jay's story is different than my own, it felt familiar of times I was bullied and when I participated in bullying -- something I regret still today. This honest piece of filmmaking rings true to our capacity for carrying regret. Often, we think that offering weak apologies will eradicate the guilt or somehow help the victim of our poor choices. When, in fact, the search for forgiveness is usually a selfish act, fueled by our desire to purge the guilt we feel as we come face-to-face with the realization that we haven't always been "a good person." I have seen some critics point the finger at Jay and call this documentary narcissistic, but as Jay comes to his own realization about that day, we learn along with him that he may not get the catharsis he desires. When We Were Bullies isn't pretty; but it's honest.