Oscar Spotlight: Live-Action Shorts

My favourite thing about sitting down to watch a short film is having no idea what to expect. I rarely watch a feature film without having seen a trailer or at least having read something about it. When I watch a collection of shorts, I am pretty much ready for anything.

 

mindenki_behindthecurtainMindenki (Sing). Everyone who wants to is welcome to sing in choir, promises the principal at Zsófi’s new school. The truth, she will soon discover, is more complicated. Zsófi is an enthusiastic student until her spirit is crushed when Miss Erika, who thinks they may have a real shot at the championship this year, takes her aside and asks her to stop singing out loud.

Mindenki has a lot going on in just 25 minutes. Watching a 10 or 11 year-old being told by her favourite teacher that she simply isn’t good enough and that she should just “mouth the words” while the others sing is pretty much as heartbreaking as it sounds. It says a lot about the ways some students can get left behind and the ways that a careless teacher can demoralize a child and stifle creativity.

silent-nightsLikeable actors, terrific editing, and a timely story go a long way in elevating the imperfect but nonetheless effective Silent Nights. Mostly a love story set against the backdrop of the immigration and refugee controversy in Western Europe, Silent Nights follows a brief affair between a Danish girl volunteering in a shelter and a homeless man from Ghana.

Silent Nights packs a lot of story into 30 minutes and it features a much clearer beginning, middle, and end than I’m used to seeing in short films. It’s actually structured like a min feature film complete with subplots that lead nowhere. The script is ocassionally a little too sentimental but it earns big points for introducing us to two complex characters that we can care about.

 

With just 15 minutes, Timecode is the shortest of the five nominated shorts. It’s also potentially the most confusing. Luna is a parking lot attendant who discovers that her colleague Diego has left a surpritimecodese for her. He has danced his heart out in front of the security cameras for her amusement. I have to admit though that it took me awhile to recognize it as dancing. I thought at first that he was fighting off an invisible assailant. So begins their unusual shift exchange ritual.

Timecode has already picked up several awards including the Palmes d’Or at Cannes and more importantly Best International Shortfilm at the Whistler Film Festival so its got a serious shot at the Oscar. It’s cute, well-made (even if not always well-danced but hey we forgave La La Land), and is probably the least pretentious of the five nominees. I just simply didn’t enjoy it as much as I enjoyed the others.

 


Ennemis Interieurs (Enemies Within)
is the more disciplined of the two Europeans Can Be Racist shorts (see Silent Nights above). Enemies Within is mostly just two people in a room talking but holy shit is itennemis-interieurs3 tense. A citizenship interview slowly morphs into a full-on national security interrogation.

Ennemis Interieurs can sort of feel like just a really good scene from the glory days of Homeland but the acting and directing are superb and it says a lot in a short time about institutional racism and self-fulfilling prophecies.

 


La Femme et le TGV
is my favourite of the five. And not just because it has trains. An aging woman discovers that her daily ritual of waving at passing trains hasn’t gotten unnoticed or unappreciated. The train’s conductor decides to write her a thank you note and their pen palling reignites her passion for litgvfe.

I’ve read one reviewer accuse La Femme et le TGV of stealing its tone from Amelie. While I agree that Amelie would give you a pretty good idea of what you can expect, I would argue that my favourite live-action short of 2016 takes some of what worked best from Amelie to deliver something funny, touching, and lovely.

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19 thoughts on “Oscar Spotlight: Live-Action Shorts

  1. Sean

    La femme et le TGV was my favourite too. Amelie is a good comparison but to say it stole its tone from Amelie is a bit over the top. They were all quite good and interestingly, all foreign (only Silent Nights is partially English language and the rest are 100% subtitled).

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    1. Matt Post author

      I know, it was really cool that they were from all over the world. I had no idea that they would all be subtitled and was very glad that I had decided to sit in the front row or else I would have been lost.

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  2. Lloyd Marken

    I loved your first sentence about how rare it is to go into a film with no knowledge about it. Then I realised it made your post a bit ironic. 🙂 However I enjoyed your post a great deal, it’s actually like a film festival brochure. It gives you a little idea about what the film is about so you can decide if you want to see it and any championing of little seen short films is a plus. Keep up the great work Matt.

    Liked by 2 people

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  3. Jay

    I liked Timecode the least and the last one the best. I think the first one, Sing, would be my runner up.
    I thought all of these were pretty consistent, and on the whole I liked them better than the animated ones which I thought were more variable in quality.

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  4. Liz A.

    Sounds like some good choices. I seem to recall one year the nominees were on one of the pay channels so we ordinary folk could see them. I wonder if that’s happening again this year.

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    1. Matt Post author

      I hope you get the chance to see them. I’d recommend seeing all five as a set if you can because they compliment each other quite nicely.

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      Reply
    1. Matt Post author

      Well, I haven’t had much luck at our Oscar pools lately but I think it’ll win, yeah. I read one article that made a really good case for La Femme et le TGV though which of course I’d be happy about.

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  5. Brittani

    I wish all of these were on youtube. It’s so rare that I get to see any of the shorts before the Oscars. Aside from animated ones in front of Pixar movies, I think the only ones I ever saw ahead of time were World of Tomorrow and Wasp.

    Liked by 1 person

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