Released: February 17, 2017
Runtime: 134 minutes
Program: Oscar Nominated Live Action Shorts for 2016
(Some material is not suitable for viewers under 17)
During every Oscars ceremony, there’s a stretch of categories with nominees that virtually no one has heard of, let alone seen: the shorts.
Divided into three competitive groups – Animated, Live Action, and Documentary – the Academy Award nominated shorts can make-or-break a person’s Oscar pool ballot.
This review looks at the Oscar nominees for Best Live Action Short Subject for 2016. They’re playing a full feature-length program in select theaters nationwide.
(To read my review of the 2016 Animated Short nominees click here, and for the 2016 Documentary Short nominees click here. They’re currently playing in select theaters, including Circle Cinema in my hometown of Tulsa, OK.)
These are my takes on the five films nominated as Best Live Action Short for 2016, ending with my prediction of Who Will Win.
Ennemis Intérieurs (France, 28 minutes)
dir. Selim Aazzazi
As topical pieces go, Ennemis Intérieurs (or Enemies Within) couldn’t be more relevant. It’s about Islamapobia in the government’s immigration system – except this is set in France, not Trump’s America. A long-time legal émigré wants to finally get his citizenship, but he runs into a brutal grilling by a xenophobic immigration officer. The film is well shot and acted, but the location makes the piece aesthetically static, and the issue is portrayed through a very obvious, one-sided, simplistic prism, laboring its point for a half-hour without nuance. Still, that could very well prove an award-winning recipe for sympathetic Academy voters looking to make a statement.
La Femme et la TGV (Switzerland, 30 minutes)
dir. Timo von Gunten
This is a tender, bittersweet tale of a bakery-owner spinster who, from her countryside home, waves to the people riding on a modern train as it passes by her home each morning. One day, she finds a note on her lawn from a man on the train, and she becomes obsessed with finding him. Beautifully told, this has a non-twee Wes Anderson vibe to it, with a central performance that’s as good as any in the current Best Actress race.
Silent Nights (Denmark, 30 minutes)
dir. Aske Bang
An absolutely preposterous meet-cute premise. A woman who volunteers at a homeless shelter falls in love with an illegal immigrant that visits there. The story tries to cover way too much territory, both dramatically and emotionally, during the course of its thirty minutes. It makes for something very schizophrenic and not remotely credible. Plus, it’s capped off by a completely false, too-easy ending. Silent Nights feels like it was written by a young college student who “has something to say!” but without a clue about real people or real relationships in the real world.
Sing (Hungary, 25 minutes)
dir. Kristof Deak
We go from a story that tries to do too much in Silent Nights to one that doesn’t do nearly enough in Sing. This is a half-hour tale of two girls in a school choir who form a friendship. There’s a lot of narrative padding here, with generic relationship-building moments. About halfway through it all turns on a silly contrivance (one that wouldn’t have been so silly had the concept and characters been better developed) and it all leads to a predictable conclusion.
Timecode (Spain, 15 minutes)
dir. Juanjo Gimenez Peña
Despite winning the Palm D’or for short films at the Cannes Film Festival, I found this clever concept – involving security camera people at a parking garage – to grow quickly redundant. Narratively thin, thematically thin, with leads that lack chemistry and individual charisma, Timecode is basically just a cutesy gimmick.
So, all-in-all, 2016’s Live Action slate is a mixed bag. Still, even when the storytelling comes up short, the filmmaking is generally solid across the program.
And with that, my prediction for who will win the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film:
La Vemme et la TGV
This one’s a tough call, as Ennemis Intérieurs is clearly the most relevant, striking the immigrant zeitgeist. But La Femme et la TGV touches the heart, is artfully made, and feels like the one voters will love the most. It certainly won me over.