Short films are an interesting medium, because despite still being shot on cameras and requiring all the technology of feature-length film-making, they have an entirely different appeal and formula. The craft of turning ideas into short stories, and then producing them with most likely budget and time constraints is what makes these smaller projects feel almost more special than widely produced features. Shorts can feel more personal and more specific than most. So when the Academy of Arts and Sciences drums up its always controversial list of nominations, the short films tend to go unnoticed compared to the wide features, because shorts are also harder to access. I had never heard of the five nominated shorts prior to seeing them, other than their names on the nomination list. I had no knowledge of those involved, the plots, not even the countries they came from. So, with no expectations other than good quality, as is expected of all films, I sat in a theater, popcorn in my hand, drink in my cup-holder, and watched the five Oscar nominated shorts, to be able to present my thoughts in this review.
Mindenki (Sing): A Hungarian comedy about a girl at a new school wanting to join their famous choir.
This short, at 25 minutes long, displayed everything that a short is supposed to be. The lead actress – whose name I won’t pretend to know – carried the audience through this moving story that I genuinely found to be unpredictable. The relationship between the lead and her eventual friend felt real, as though I was a fly on the wall watching this bond develop between two children. When plot points are revealed, they come at exactly the right moment in terms of pacing. The skill in the direction is what ultimately gives this film the leg up among the five. It’s my personal favorite, but not my pick to win.
Noah’s rating: 8.0 out of 10
Silent Nights: A Danish drama about a volunteer worker falling for an immigrant.
I don’t use this description often, but this is a white people movie to make those that aren’t racist feel good about them being decent human beings. As someone hailing from outside Europe, I don’t understand the specifics about the immigration and refugee crisis in areas of the continent, but even I can tell when a film is trying to force an emotional response for something as stupid as what this movie tried to show. No spoilers, but does anyone remember how when ‘The Help’ came out, there was a little skirmish about how the movie was a white woman saving the African American women because of how helpless they were or whatever? Well, this film actually is entirely about a white woman helping the helpless African man because for whatever reason this character, someone capable of moving across continents and of a decent intelligence is unable to do simple living without the white woman stepping in.
There’s too much going on in this short. For only thirty minutes, if they had expanded the character development and given us reasons to care about these people other than the most obvious and superficial reason, then maybe it would’ve been better. The major plot points feel too sudden and not developed enough to invoke a response, so they come off as melodramatic and cheesy. I did not like this short. Ignoring my whole rant about the way this movie tried and failed to show race relations, there really isn’t anything special about this other than basic competence. Luckily, this was the only short that I found displeasing. “Oh Noah, you’re just nitpicking, it’s really a beautiful love story and they just love each other.” Cool.
Noah’s rating: 4.5 out of 10
Timecode: A Spanish comedy about two security guards in a parking garage.
A 15 minute runtime, which feels closer to 45 minutes. That said, I can’t fault the film for being slow, as that was its intention. The beginning is painfully slow, as it demonstrates the two characters slowly going through their day-by-day process. But once the film shows where its going and what starts happening, it is a fun blast until the end.
Noah’s rating: 7.0 out of 10
Enemies Within: A French drama about an Algerian man applying for citizenship and undergoing “extreme vetting”.
The main word I would use to describe this short is “aggressive.” From beginning to end, the story moves along at a breakneck pace and transforms its tone from physically uncomfortable to emotionally unforgiving. The two main performances are outstanding and the script that accompanies them even better. Simply arresting in terms of verbal brutality, this short is my pick to win, though I don’t think I ever want to see this again. Though parts of it seem unrealistically harsh, it’s aspects of harshness are what make it special.
Noah’s rating: 7.5 out of 10
La Femme et le TGV: A French drama about a woman who waves at the train passing her house everyday.
For a short film with a message, it really seems like they didn’t want the audience to know the message until the very end, where the filmmaker then decided to hammer it in as many times as possible. Quirky in its presentation, the major flaw here is a lack of fleshed-out, well developed characters to fill out the film around its well-acted lead. Another unfortunate aspect is how infuriatingly stupid our lead character can be. Every action she does throughout is with conviction, but it’s almost never logical from a human standpoint. But where the script falters, the direction and acting pick up. For most of the first half, I felt like I was watching the French Wes Anderson, and certain sequences were more unique than others. Overall, not bad, but could be so much more.
Noah’s rating: 6.0 out of 10
Well, there you have it; a nice, easy way to decide which (if any) of these Oscar-nominated live action shorts you should watch and which you should avoid. And, it looks like our judgement was spot on, with ‘Sing’ taking home the award on the big night.