Review: 2017 Oscar Nominated Short Films - Live Action
For nearly 40 years, the Best Live Action Short Film category has existed in it’s current form, an oddball category allowing Academy recognition for filmmakers up and down the totem of industry experience and knowledge. Nominees include underseen international directors, industry veterans making their first foray into filmmaking, and exceptional student creators taking their first steps in their careers. This year's batch is heavy on international recognition, and also centers around the ‘Whys?’ of the human experience. But who will emerge the winner on Oscar night? Read my predictions after these reviews below:
Ennemis interieurs (Enemies Within) (Director: Selim Azzazi)
At a time when extreme vetting and Muslim ban are trending news topic, Enemies Within is a dramatized look at the possibilities of police mechanizations amongst heightened security concerns. It tells the story of an Algerian national (Hassam Ghancy) with ties to France who is interviewing with a French police officer (Najib Oudghiri) with Algerian heritage. It’s a tense back and forth, revealing much more of the intentions of the state than the individual. The police officer, eager to crack down on possible terrorist infiltration, badgers the man about his intentions, who in turn alludes many questions due to his long mistreatment by a system that finds him to be a second class citizen. Less on the nose than other stories of it’s type, it is still an effective reminder of the sources of distrust amongst the Muslim community with Western cultures in the time since the second World War.
La Femme et le TGV (The Railroad Lady) (Director: Timo von Gunten)
It’s inevitable that La Femme et le TGV will be compared, justly or not, to Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amelie. After all, Elise (Jane Birkin) is as quirky and sweet as Amelie, but much more grounded as opposed to embued with magical realism. Elise is old fashioned, running her own bakery in the world of big box stores. She eschews the internet, and keeps up old rituals from when her son was a child like waving at the Zurich bound train everyday. One day, she finds a note from a conductor, and begins a pen pal relationship that opens her up to new experiences. But changes in the world mean changes to the conductors path and schedule, and Elise will have to choose how far outside of her new found comfort bubble she will go to continue the relationship with her new friend.
Silent Nights (Director: Aske Bang)
A lush portrait of devotion set in a Denmark winter, Silent Nights tells the story of migrant, Kwame, facing oppression and hatred while striving to help his family back in Ghana. He depends on shelters for housing while scavenging for recyclables and working odd jobs. At a shelter, he meets Inger, a volunteer with a hard life and an alcoholic mother. Inger helps Kwame after an attack that leaves him beaten and without his phone, and this kindness leads to a romance as Christmas turns into the New Year. But their romance is met with disapproval, Kwame’s ability to help his family back home is cast in further jeopardy after a crime, and other secrets threaten their future together.
Sing (Director: Kristof Deak)
Upon changing schools, Zsóf joins the school choir, a group famous for their talent and amassing wins across European competitions. Enthusiastic after attending her first rehearsal, Zsófi is pulled aside by the choir director who is concerned about her current skill level and how she might negatively affect the choirs chances to win. The director instructs Zsófi to mime her performances, which Zsófi’s friend Liza realizes at their next practice. The director, called on her gambit, informs the choir that their options are to win via deceit, or lose via the truth. The choir puts their best face forward, but has a surprise waiting for the director at the time of their competition.
Timecode (Director: Juanjo Gimenez)
Luna works the 12 hour day shift at a parking garage, taking over for Diego after 12 hours on his own every night. One day, their manager calls Luna asking to review some damage to a residents car via the security camera system in the parking garage. Luna is surprised to learn the culprit is Diego, who inflicted the damage while dancing recklessly, and covers up his crime. Surprised to learn about Diego’s passion, Luna leaves him a note of a timecode for him to review the following day.
Predicting The Winner
Reading the tea leaves of past winners in this category can only get you so far. No studio dominates the category like Animated Short, and politics rarely play out in Live Action Short. Big stars in a film tend to make a splash, but Jane Birkin may not have the cultural penetration in the changing demographics of the Academy. Much like last year, where heady material was present in the Best Picture and Documentary Short Subject categories, I expect that the shortest screeners may lead to the most Academy recognition. In that case, I do think the sweet and crowd pleasing Timecode will likely rise to the top of a solid year of dramatic fare.