Check out ‘Free Solo’ and other Oscar winners

Rock climbing can be a fun activity while spending a few hours at the local climbing gym. On the opposite end of the spectrum is free solo climbing.

This involves no ropes or safety equipment of any kind. Even the most experienced climbers in the world shy away from free soloing. Alex Hannold does not.

The Oscar-winning documentary “Free Solo” follows Hannold, an early 30s introvert, on his quest to be the first person to free solo El Capitan. Filmmaker Jimmy Chin and his associates spend a lot of camera time (sometimes too much) debating just how to best capture Hannold’s climb. What if their presence causes Hannold to second guess himself during a critical time? Does Hannold really want them there? What are the most dangerous parts of the climb? These questions and more are all vital to the quest.

The cinematography is stunning. Various cameramen expertly capture the scope of the mountains, all while often precariously dangling from ropes thousands of feet off the ground.

Getting inside Hannold’s head is important to understand what drives a person to desire such an undertaking. In the end, I wish more time had been spent with Hannold and the mountain. The film gives ample time to his girlfriend and other climbers, yet Hannold and his “white whale” should be the focus. B+

Meanwhile, the five Oscar nominees for Best Live Action Short are a dreary bunch. Four of them focus on children in some form of danger, while “Marguerite” is about a woman contemplating how to spend the end of her life. The winner was “Skin,” about a racist father who gets his comeuppance. A tough watch, it likely won for its topical relevance and its alternative “solution” to the race issue.

My favorite, however, is the Irish film “Detainment.” Its story comes from interview tapes recorded in 1993 from the interrogations of two 10-year-old boys who kidnapped and brutally murdered a 2-year-old boy. The actors are fantastic throughout. The boys’ situation is harrowing, making it all the more disturbing that everything really happened.

The shorts are worth seeking out; just try not to watch them all in a row.

On the animated side, Pixar’s “Bao” won the Oscar for Best Animated Short. It is a fantastic look at a mother who cannot let her son grow up. Pixar makes some wonderful shorts, yet I found some of the others as good, or better, than “Bao.”

“Animal Behavior” is a delightful comedy about various animals in a group psychology session, with a dog as the doctor. “Late Afternoon” and “Weekends” are exquisitely drawn looks into somber parts of life: growing old and divorce, respectively.

My favorite short is “One Small Step,” about a little girl who dreams of being an astronaut. Her father, a shoe repairman, helps her along her quest as she gets older and learns about life. It made me teary, but it’s a beautiful tale of achievement through love and perseverance.

Jeff Mellinger is a screen writer and film buff. He holds a BA in Film Studies and an MFA in film production. He lives in Concord. Email comments to

Jeff Mellinger

Jeff Mellinger is a screen writer and film buff. He holds a BA in Film Studies and an MFA in film production. He lives in Concord.