The Big Shorts Edition

Featuring: Awkward family gatherings, British mobsters, and yacht rock.

We’re in the awards season home stretch folks. With the Oscars just over a week away (Sunday, April 25), you might be thinking, how on EARTH am I ever gonna catch up on all the movies nominated? Well, here’s a handy guide to where to watch them if you can squeeze them in. If you’re short on time, don’t worry, there’s still a way to come out ahead on your Oscar bracket. That’s right, I’m talking about the Oscar-nominated SHORTS! These are often the hidden gems in the Oscar nominations, spanning from wildly inventive animation to sharp social commentary that benefits from a limited runtime. It’s a shame they often get ignored because of it. In fact, many of the biggest directors today got their start in shorts. This year’s batch is as eclectic as ever. There’s a charming Icelandic “day in the life” short where everyone communicates with one syllable, a doc on the scene of the Hong Kong protests, and a prescient twist on the time-loop plot device as a Black man played by Joey BadA$$ gets stuck in repeated encounters with a police officer. Many are available to stream now and just the right length—typically not more than about 30 minutes—for a lunch break. Just think of how many you could watch in the span of one Hillbilly Elegy (note: please don’t watch Hillbilly Elegy)! You got one week y’all. Good luck!

Anyway, here’s what’s new and noteworthy this week!

MOVIES: Shiva Baby

I have long suffered from vicarious embarrassment, aka absorbing the awkwardness of what I’m watching and squirming in pain. I thought this feeling had peaked at “The Dinner Party” episode of The Office, the most cringe thing ever filmed. But then I saw Shiva Baby, an anxiety-inducing but very sharp and funny 77 minutes of claustrophobia nearly all set during a Jewish funeral service. What really makes it work is the performance from comedian (and great Twitter follow) Rachel Sennott, who has to keep it together after her sugar daddy and ex-girlfriend show up and everyone wants to know why she’s still a babysitter. This movie is a whole mood, but if you like tense comedies that double as reminders of how uncomf crowded family gatherings can be, this one is for you! Available on VOD.

Other Notable Releases: In Concrete Cowboy (Netflix), a rebellious teen moves in with his estranged father (Idris Elba) for the summer and finds belonging in a tight-knit Philly community of Black cowboys. In the sci-fi horror Come True (VOD), a sleep study becomes a nightmarish descent into the depths of one teenager’s mind.

TV: Gangs of London

I have about five of you always hounding me about Peaky Blinders and I swear, I was getting close to firing it up, and then, would you look at that, another London gang series shows up, and damn if this isn’t the British follow up to Scorsese’s mafia masterpiece Gangs of New York I’ve been waiting for. Fair warning, this is a vicious, violent af show heavy on action (just wait till you see these knife fights), but has plenty of gripping drama to boot. Not too much new here. A kingpin dies. There’s a power vacuum. Rival gangs try to take advantage. Tale as old as crime, just this time with cockney accents. Count me in. Sorry Peaky, I’ll get to you eventually! Available on AMC+.

Other Notable Releases: In the latest sad detective HBO miniseries Mare of Eastown (premiering Sunday) Kate Winslet plays a small-town cop who investigates a murder even as her personal life is falling apart. In the four-part docuseries Exterminate All the Brutes (also HBO), Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck uses archival material as well as animated and dramatic scenes to explore the destructive history of European colonialism and its impact on today's world.

BOOKS: Broken Horses: A Memoir by Brandi Carlile

The biggest crowd I ever cried in was at the 2017 Boston Calling Brandi Carlile show. I’m already on an emotional high during live music, but then Brandi brought out her acoustic guitar and sang “The Mother,” a touching tribute to her baby daughter. It floored me and solidified her status as one of my favorite songwriters and storytellers. Makes sense that she can also write a knockout memoir that chronicles how she complicated upbringing reconciling her sexuality and her faith, her friendships with Joni Mitchell and the Obamas, and even the process of how she wrote her biggest hit, “The Story.” Few people inspire me as much as Brandi. Come join the fan club.

Other Notable Releases: Japanese master of magical realism Haruki Murakami is back with First Person Singular, a collection of eight short stories all told in, you guessed it, first-person, involving many of his favorite subjects—memory, jazz, and baseball all make an appearance—with a classic, surreal Murakami twist. In the young and prolific British author Helen Oyeyemi’s new novel Peaces, a couple is forever changed by on an unusual train voyage where they first appear to be the only people on board, until they receive a mysterious message and realize it’s no ordinary locomotive.

MUSIC: Benny Sings - Music

I really couldn’t tell you wtf “yacht rock” meant until I got absolutely hooked on this new Benny Sings album. These breezy and bubbly bops are exactly what you’d want as the soundtrack to your booze cruise. Benny, who’s actually the Dutch songwriter Tim van Berkestijn, has an ear for catchy melodies and a distinctive voice with a nostalgic quality most reminiscent of the Beegees. It’s a jazzy, soulful, funky record with an optimistic outlook on life and love, and like, c’mon isn’t that just what you could use rn?

Other Notable Releases: The English indie-pop group London Grammar led by singer Hannah Reid—who I should add has one of the most gorgeous voices in music today—are back with their third album California Soil. After a recording stint in the North Carolina mountains, reigning CMA Entertainer of the Year Eric Church is out with Heart & Soul, a genre-bending triptych of albums released over the next week totaling 24 songs. Now that’s how you keep your crown.

That's it for this week. If you have a friend who might like this, please forward it along, and if you got this from a friend, you can subscribe below!

Have a safe and culture-filled weekend,