Starting this Friday, February 10, the 2017 Oscar Nominated short films in animation and live-action will come to a Seattle theater near you. I had the esteemed privilege of viewing all and have ranked them here. In true sadist fashion, let’s start with the worst live-action films and work our way down to dessert.
5. La Femme et le TGV
The short film category usually highlights international cinema, and this year is no exception. All of the nominated films in 2017 were made outside of America, and that’s fine. My dislike of director Timo Von Gunten‘s French-language, Switzerland based film about a mean, lonely woman who waves at trains every day has nothing to do with patriotism. Jane Birkin gives an admittedly solid performance as a widowed baker who laments a world filled with wi-fi and young people who know nothing of the old ways. Things turn around (as evidenced by an insistent, cloying score) when she begins an epistolary relationship with a train conductor who passes by her home every day. He throws cheese out the window that she doesn’t eat, but cherishes.
Perhaps I’m missing something. People seem to really like this film, and it’s my prediction to win this year’s award. Seriously, I’m not going out of my way to be iconoclastic and cranky. It’s just always the case that the film I like very least in this category wins.
4. Silent Nights
In the Danish film Silent Nights, directed by Aske Bang, we meet a young woman who volunteers at a homeless shelter, and the married Ghanese immigrant she falls in love with. This is a depressing movie with a script that feels like it was borrowed from an intro to fiction college class. Rule 1. Do not write about the homeless. Rule 2. See rule number one. In the female lead, we have a woman who really needs to stop putting others first. The guy has too much pride and should probably be more honest, but life’s not easy for immigrants.
If you’re starting to despair my attitude in this list, have heart! I like the rest of the films.
Here’s a film from Spain that knows it’s a short and doesn’t take itself too seriously. Directed by Juanjo Giménez Peña, Lali Ayguadé and Nicolas Ricchini star as parking lot security guards with opposite shifts who entertain each other with interpretive dance. Sticky notes with the dance number’s “timecode” alert each other when the dances begin.
Are they in love? If they are, when will they build their nest? They’re never off work at the same time! All will be revealed.
2. Mindenki (Sing)
Kids rule the day in Mindenki, a Hungarian import by Kristóf Deák. The film stars a little girl on her first day in a new school. She makes friends with the most popular girl in class, and she joins the school’s award-winning choir—what could go wrong? Well, it turns out the pretty choir teacher isn’t as cool as she seems. Most of the film’s 25 minute plot hinges on the teacher’s malevolent secret, so I’ll spare you the reveal here.
This is a sweet, simple story with a satisfying ending. There’s a lesson hidden somewhere about children, their inherent kindness and surprising cunning. If La Femme et le TGV doesn’t take home the win, this is my second best guess.
1. Ennemis Intérieurs (Enemies Within)
Finally, we get to director Sélim Azzazi’s French short, Ennemis Intérieurs. Set in the 1990s, the film stars Hassam Ghancy and Najib Oudghiri as an Algerian man trying to gain French citizenship and the bureaucrat who stands in his way. Splendidly acted and written, the film consists entirely of dialogue between two men who illustrate the political tensions of the day. The subject of immigration couldn’t be more timely, but beyond that, Enemies Within epitomizes what good short cinema is all about: The action in a single scene spreads beyond the margins of the present moment to paint a larger picture. Our characters begin the film one way, verbally spar with one another, and in the end, at least one of them is changed by the experience.
You might think that a timely political piece might be a shoe-in for this category, but history is not on this film’s side. Last year, several politically charged shorts of varying styles and tones lost out to the lame romance about a guy who stutters. There’s just no telling.