The Best Oscars Short Films of 1986: And the Nominees Are…

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Written By Kelsey Waddell

Kelsey Waddell is a freelance writer living in Virginia. She's a fan of science fiction, Iron Chef, and anything with a musical number and a happy ending.

The 58th Academy Awards held in 1986 showcased a remarkable lineup of Short Film nominees that demonstrated the power of storytelling in its most concise form.

From captivating animations to thought-provoking documentaries and gripping live-action dramas, the 1986 Oscars Short Film category celebrated the best and brightest emerging voices in the film industry.

Each film offered a unique perspective on the world, showcasing exceptional creativity, technical expertise, and the ability to evoke profound emotions within a limited runtime.

In this article, we will delve into the Best Short Film nominees of the 58th Academy Awards and explore what made each of them stand out in their respective categories.

These extraordinary works exemplify the incredible potential of short films to captivate audiences, provoke thought, and leave a lasting impact. 

Animated Short Films

Anna & Bella

Anna & Bella is a charming animated short film directed by Cilia van Dijk.

The film follows the story of two sisters, Anna and Bella, who live together in a small house. Anna is organized and meticulous while Bella is carefree and messy, leading to occasional conflicts between the two. However, when Anna falls ill, Bella takes care of her sister and they rediscover the strong bond they share.

The animation style of Anna & Bella is reminiscent of classic European animation, featuring hand-drawn characters and backgrounds that are rich in detail. The characters’ movements and expressions are exaggerated, enhancing the humor and emotion of the film. 

The use of colors is also noteworthy, with warm and vibrant hues contrasting with cooler tones to create a sense of depth and atmosphere.

One of the most memorable scenes is when Anna and Bella dance together in their living room. The animation is fluid and expressive, capturing the joy and freedom of the moment. Another standout moment is when Bella takes care of Anna when she is ill, highlighting the love and care between the sisters.

A heartwarming and visually stunning film, Anna & Bella is sure to delight audiences of all ages. The film’s themes of family, love, and forgiveness make it a perfect choice for a cozy movie night. 

I highly recommend this short film to anyone looking for a heartwarming and visually captivating viewing experience.

The Big Snit

The Big Snit is a charming and quirky animated short film that was directed by Richard Condie and Michael Scott in 1985. The film received an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Short Film in the same year, and it’s easy to see why.

The plot revolves around an eccentric and lovable married couple who are playing a game of Scrabble in their living room when World War III breaks out.

As chaos ensues outside, the couple becomes increasingly engrossed in their game and oblivious to the world around them. The film uses this simple plot as a backdrop to explore themes of human connection and the absurdity of war.

The animation style of The Big Snit is one of the film’s strongest elements. The film uses a mix of hand-drawn animation and stop-motion techniques, which gives the film a unique and charming look. The animation style also contributes to the storytelling by creating a whimsical and surreal atmosphere that perfectly complements the film’s offbeat humor and quirky characters.

There are several standout scenes that are sure to stick with viewers long after the film is over. One of the most memorable scenes is when the couple imagines what life would be like if they were the only two people left in the world. The scene is both funny and poignant, and it perfectly captures the film’s themes of human connection and the absurdity of war.

The Big Snit is a delightful and charming animated short film that is well worth watching. The film’s unique animation style, quirky characters, and thoughtful themes make it a standout in the world of animated shorts. While the film’s humor may not be for everyone, it’s sure to appeal to audiences who enjoy offbeat and whimsical storytelling.

Second Class Mail

Second Class Mail is a charming and delightful animated short film directed by Alison Snowden. Nominated for an Academy Award in 1985, this film tells the story of two lovebirds who must navigate their way through the post office to be reunited.

The film begins with a letter being stamped and sorted in the post office. We are then introduced to the two main characters, a bluebird and a blackbird, who are separated by a cruel twist of fate – one is sent first class and the other is sent second class. The bluebird is devastated, but determined to find a way to be reunited with his beloved.

The animation style of Second Class Mail is simple yet effective. The characters are drawn with clean lines and bright colors, which give them a whimsical and cartoonish feel. The post office is depicted with great attention to detail, with each stamp and postmark adding to the authenticity and urgency of the setting.

One of the standout moments in the film is when the bluebird tries to sneak onto a first-class letter by hiding in a stamp. This scene is both humorous and heartwarming, as we see the lengths that the bluebird is willing to go to be reunited with his love.

Second Class Mail is a delightful and charming film that is sure to put a smile on your face. It is a must-see for anyone who loves animation or romantic comedies. While it may not be suitable for very young children, it is a film that can be enjoyed by audiences of all ages.

Live Action Short Films

Molly’s Pilgrim

Molly’s Pilgrim is a 1985 live-action film directed by Jeffrey D. Brown and Chris Pelzer.

Based on the short story by Barbara Cohen, the film follows the story of Molly, a young Jewish girl who moves to America with her family. Struggling to fit in at school, Molly is tasked with creating a Thanksgiving project that represents her family’s heritage.

With the help of her mother and a Pilgrim doll, Molly creates a unique project that teaches her classmates and herself the importance of acceptance and understanding.

Molly is played by actress Yelena Shmulenson, who gives a heartfelt performance as a young girl trying to navigate a new country and culture. Her mother, played by Eve Gordon, is a strong and supportive figure who helps Molly embrace her heritage and identity. The classmates are played by a diverse cast of child actors who bring authenticity and sincerity to their roles.

The visual style of the film is simple yet effective. The use of animation to tell the story of the Pilgrims and their journey to America adds depth and context to Molly’s project. The animation style is reminiscent of children’s picture books, which enhances the film’s message of inclusivity and education.

One of the standout scenes in the film is when Molly’s mother tells her the story of the Pilgrims and their struggles. The use of animation in this scene adds a magical quality to the story and helps the audience understand the significance of the Pilgrims in American history.

Another memorable moment is when Molly presents her project to her classmates, and they begin to understand the value of diversity and acceptance.

A heartwarming film that teaches valuable lessons about identity, acceptance, and understanding, Molly’s Pilgrim‘s message is especially relevant today, making it a must-watch for audiences of all ages.

I would recommend this film to families, educators, and anyone interested in learning about the importance of diversity and inclusion.


Graffiti is a 1985 live-action film directed by Dianna Costello that takes place in the 1960s. The film follows a group of teenagers who are caught up in the world of street art and rebellion against the establishment.

The main character, David, is a talented graffiti artist who is constantly at odds with his conservative father. He meets a group of like-minded individuals who share his passion for graffiti and they team up to create a masterpiece that will leave a lasting impression on their city.

The film features a cast of talented actors, including John Lurie, Richard Edson, and Charlie Ahearn. Their performances bring a sense of authenticity to the film and make the characters feel real and relatable.

The visual style of the film is also impressive, with animation used to showcase the graffiti art.
This allows the audience to see the world through David’s eyes and understand the passion and dedication he has for his art. The animation also adds an extra layer of visual interest to the film, making it stand out from other coming-of-age films.

There are several scenes and moments in Graffiti that stand out, but one that particularly resonates is when David and his friends are working on their graffiti masterpiece. The scene is shot in slow motion and accompanied by a hauntingly beautiful score that adds to the emotional impact of the moment.

Another standout moment is when David and his father finally reconcile after a long period of estrangement. The scene is emotionally charged and expertly acted by both John Lurie and Patti Astor.

Graffiti is a film that is definitely worth watching. It offers a unique take on the coming-of-age genre and showcases the power of art to bring people together.

The film is recommended for anyone who enjoys stories about rebellion, street art, and the power of self-expression.

Rainbow War

Rainbow War is a unique and visually stunning live-action film directed by Bob Rogers, released in 1985. The movie is a masterpiece that combines live-action footage with animation to tell the story of a group of children who embark on an adventure to save the world from a villainous group.

The plot revolves around a group of children who are given a magical rainbow that has the power to save the world from an evil group that is trying to take over. The children, along with their rainbow, embark on an epic journey to save the world and restore peace.

The main characters are a group of children, each with a distinct personality and backstory. The lead character is a young girl named Rachel, who is brave and determined. The other characters are equally charming, and the audience quickly becomes invested in their journey.

The animation style in Rainbow War is unique and adds to the overall storytelling. The film uses a combination of live-action footage and animation to create a magical and fantastical world. It is reminiscent of classic animated movies, and it is evident that a lot of effort went into creating the visual style of the film.

Some of the standout scenes in the movie include the opening sequence, where the audience is introduced to the magical world of Rainbow War, and the final battle between the children and the villainous group. The animation during these scenes is exceptional, and the audience is left on the edge of their seats.

Rainbow War is an exceptional movie that will appeal to both children and adults. The film’s unique animation style, engaging characters, and exciting plot make it a must-watch for anyone who loves adventure and fantasy movies.

I highly recommend this movie to anyone looking for a fun and engaging movie experience.

Documentary Short Films

Witness to War: Dr. Charlie Clements

Witness to War: Dr. Charlie Clements is a captivating documentary directed by David Goodman. It tells the story of Dr. Charlie Clements, a former Air Force pilot turned human rights activist.

The film is a powerful exploration of the Vietnam War, the Salvadoran Civil War, and the impact they had on Clements’ life.

The film uses a mix of archival footage and interviews to tell the story of Clements’ journey from a young Air Force pilot to a human rights activist. The film’s style and cinematography are incredibly effective in conveying the emotions and experiences of the subjects. The use of archival footage is particularly striking, as it provides a visceral glimpse into the horrors of war.

One of the most powerful scenes in the film is when Clements recounts his experience of witnessing a massacre of civilians in Vietnam. The scene is incredibly emotional and highlights the devastating impact that war can have on both soldiers and civilians.

Another standout moment is when Clements discusses his decision to become a human rights activist. The scene is incredibly inspiring and highlights the importance of standing up for what you believe in, even in the face of adversity.

Witness to War: Dr. Charlie Clements is a must-see documentary for anyone interested in the Vietnam War, the Salvadoran Civil War, or human rights activism. The film is incredibly well-made, and the subject matter is both important and timely. 

This film would be particularly interesting to history buffs and those interested in social justice issues. However, I believe that anyone who enjoys thought-provoking documentaries will find Witness to War: Dr. Charlie Clements to be a compelling and engaging film.

The Courage to Care

The Courage to Care is a 1985 documentary directed by Robert Gardner. It showcases the heroic efforts of non-Jewish individuals during the Holocaust who risked their lives to save Jews from persecution and extermination.

This film is a heartfelt tribute to the brave souls who stood up against the atrocities of the Nazi regime and highlights the importance of compassion and empathy in times of crisis.

The film’s style and cinematography are simple yet effective in conveying the emotional weight of the subject matter. The use of black-and-white archival footage and interviews with survivors and rescuers creates a sense of authenticity and intimacy. The film’s use of close-ups and slow-motion shots further enhances the emotional impact of the stories being told.

One of the standout moments in the film is the story of a Dutch family who hid a Jewish family in their home for two years, risking their own lives in the process. The film also highlights the efforts of a French priest who helped smuggle Jewish children out of occupied France to safety in Switzerland.

A moving and powerful tribute to the unsung heroes of the Holocaust, The Courage to Care serves as a reminder of the importance of standing up against injustice and persecution.

This film is recommended for anyone interested in World War II history, human rights, and stories of heroism. It is particularly suitable for high school and college-level students studying the Holocaust and human rights issues.

Keats and His Nightingale: A Blind Date

Keats and His Nightingale: A Blind Date is a captivating documentary directed by Michael Crowley and James Wolpaw. It delves into the life of the famous Romantic poet, John Keats, and his inspiration for one of his most beloved poems, “Ode to a Nightingale.”

The film takes us on a journey through Keats’ life, exploring his relationships, his struggles with illness and poverty, and his creative process.

The main characters in the film are John Keats and Fanny Brawne, the woman who inspired his love poetry. The film explores their relationship, which was cut short by Keats’ untimely death at the age of 25. The actors who portray Keats and Brawne give moving performances, bringing their characters to life with nuance and sensitivity.

One of the most striking aspects of the film is its visual style. The cinematography is stunning, with beautiful shots of the English countryside and intimate close-ups of the actors portraying Keats and his friends and family. The filmmakers also incorporate archival footage and photographs, which adds depth and context to the story.

One scene that stood out to me was when Keats and his friend, Charles Brown, discuss the meaning behind “Ode to a Nightingale.” The way the scene is shot, with the two men sitting in a lush garden surrounded by flowers and trees, creates a sense of intimacy and intellectual curiosity.

Overall, I was deeply impressed by Keats and His Nightingale: A Blind Date. The filmmakers did an excellent job of weaving together Keats’ personal story with his poetry, creating a rich and engaging portrait of this legendary poet.

I would highly recommend this film to anyone who loves poetry or history or simply enjoys a well-crafted documentary.

Making Overtures: The Story of a Community Orchestra

Making Overtures: The Story of a Community Orchestra is a 1985 documentary directed by Barbara Willis Sweete. It follows the journey of a group of amateur musicians as they prepare for their upcoming concert.

This film provides an intimate look at the lives of the orchestra members, their passion for music, and the challenges they face in bringing their performance to life.

The documentary’s main subjects are the members of the orchestra, each with their own unique story and relationship to music. From the retired schoolteacher who plays the violin to the young boy who dreams of becoming a professional cellist, the film showcases the diversity and dedication of the group.

One of the most striking aspects of Making Overtures is its visual style. The film uses a combination of close-ups and wide shots to capture the emotions and energy of the musicians. The camera work is steady and unobtrusive, allowing the audience to feel like they are right there in the rehearsal room with the orchestra.

The film’s style and cinematography contribute to the storytelling by emphasizing the emotional and personal nature of music-making. The close-ups of the musicians’ faces show the intense concentration and joy they experience while playing, while the wide shots highlight the collaborative nature of the orchestra.

One of the most memorable scenes in the film is when the orchestra struggles to play a particularly difficult piece. The tension and frustration in the room are palpable, but as they continue to practice and support each other, the music slowly comes together. It’s a powerful moment that illustrates the dedication and perseverance required to create something beautiful.

A heartwarming and inspiring documentary, Making Overtures celebrates the power of music and the human spirit. It’s a film that will appeal to anyone who loves music or is interested in the creative process. I highly recommend it.

The Wizard of the Strings

The Wizard of the Strings is a 1985 documentary directed by Alan Edelstein that explores the life and legacy of guitar virtuoso and inventor Les Paul.

The film takes a deep dive into the musical genius of Paul, who revolutionized the sound of popular music in the 1940s and 50s with his innovative techniques and pioneering use of multi-track recording.

Through interviews with Paul himself, as well as musicians and industry professionals who knew him well, the film paints a vivid picture of a true icon in the world of music.

One of the standout features of The Wizard of the Strings is its visual style and cinematography. The film incorporates a wealth of archival footage and photographs, which are skillfully edited together to create a seamless and immersive experience.

The use of split-screen and other visual effects helps to illustrate Paul’s groundbreaking recording techniques, while also showcasing his incredible talent as a performer.

The film’s use of lighting and color also adds to its overall aesthetic, creating a sense of warmth and nostalgia that perfectly captures the spirit of Paul’s music.

Throughout the film, viewers are treated to a series of intimate and revealing interviews with Paul, who comes across as both humble and passionate about his craft. We also hear from a number of other musicians, including Chet Atkins, B.B. King, and Steve Miller, who share their own insights into Paul’s influence on the world of music.

One of the most poignant moments in the film comes when Paul reflects on his long and storied career, saying, “I’ve lived my life trying to make a contribution. I hope I have.”

 A fascinating and engaging documentary The Wizard of the Strings will appeal to anyone interested in music history or the art of guitar playing. Its expertly crafted visuals and insightful interviews make for a compelling viewing experience, and its subject matter is sure to inspire and entertain.

I highly recommend this film to anyone looking for an inspiring and informative look at one of the true legends of American music.

1986 Oscar Short Film Winners

Animated – Anna & Bella

Live Action – Molly’s Pilgrim

Documentary – Witness to War: Dr. Charlie Clements