Thursday, February 16, 2017

A Reel Review: The Oscar Nominated Live-Action Short Films

With much less time, money, and resources to work with, Short Films often rely on new ideas and imagination to shine, and they often burn brighter than their big brothers and sisters in the Best Feature category. The nominees in this year’s Best Live Action Short category are a far cry from the innovation we’ve seen in the past, as for the most part they are grounded in reality and swimming in social issues. The five nominees have a lot in common with each other; very serious, very few laughs, and all non-English speaking.

Here are the nominees and their reviews.

SING – At a primary school in Hungary, a choir teacher instructs less talented students to lip-sync during performances to improve their chances in an upcoming competition.

We’ve all seen and heard stories about adults behaving badly in the worlds of childhood competition such as little league or pee-wee football, and this is a look at what can happen when a children’s choir teacher gets too greedy. Besides its unique storyline, what really makes this one (ahem) sing is that its shown through the eyes of a child; specifically, a new student and her new best friend. The filmmakers do a great job in letting us in on the pain a little girl can feel when she is told she is not good enough to sing, and the little scheme the students come up with in an act of defiance is wonderfully executed.  

TIMECODE – Luna and Diego are parking lot security guards, with one taking the night shift and the other day. When they discover a common interest in dance, they leave messages for each other through the security cameras and recordings.

Quirky and light, TIMECODE is the one film in this year’s nominees which doesn’t take itself too seriously. Luna and Diego never speak to each other on camera, and their only communication in the film is done through their dancing, which we only see through the security recordings. It’s a straight-lined, A to Z story with very little surprises or twists, and could have used a bit more drama, but it’s easy to digest (despite some weird dancing), and offers a few light laughs.

SILENT NIGHTS – Inger, a Danish volunteer at a homeless shelter, falls in love with Kwame, an illegal Ghaniaan immigrant…who is hiding a few secrets.

This is an odd one which sends many mixed messages about race and immigration. The film goes out of its way to show us how cruel society can be to the homeless, especially ones of different color and from another country, but then has Kwame pull a few despicable acts which makes us wonder what exactly the film is trying to say. The love story between the two moves in a big damn hurry, even for a short film, and the conclusion leaves Inger in a very awkward place which she oddly seems content with. There are some strong ideas at work here; all of which are presented in a jumbled jar of nut and bolts.

ENNEMIS INTERIEURS (or ENEMIES WITHIN) – An interview at a local police station gets ugly when a French-Algerian man, who is applying for citizenship, suddenly feels like he is being interrogated.

Heavily political, 90% of this slow-burner takes place in one room, with a French investigator relentlessly firing off questions to a man who just wants to call France home. It’s a dry talkie, and only pumps up the tension when the investigator uncovers the man’s ties to an Arab community, and perhaps unfairly digs to discover if there are any terrorist connections. After all the banter, the ending is somewhat unsatisfying, and the film overall feels like one small piece to an incomplete puzzle.

LA FEMME ET LE TGV (or THE RAILROAD LADY) – Elise, a lonely old Swiss-French woman who has been waving at the same train as it passed by for many years, suddenly receives a letter from the conductor which changes her life.

Based on a true story, this is less of a love story and more of a look at how we cling to our daily routines, and what can happen when they suddenly change. Elise has been waving at the same train for decades and that has become a huge part of her life. When the first letter arrives, it changes things and offers opportunity…and then when the train suddenly stops coming, that change turns her life upside down. Routines are wonderful, the film is telling us, and losing them can present heartbreak or a chance for something new…or even both. It’s the most philosophical film of the bunch, and despite being firmly grounded in today’s world is the most feel-good film of this year’s nominees.


The Oscars will be awarded February 26th.

Read Reel Speak’s review on the nominees for the Animated Shorts HERE.

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