*The Oscar Nominated Animated and Live-Action Short Film Programs are now playing throughout Northern California. Read my 2016 Oscar-nominated shorts coverage HERE.
ANIMATED SHORT NOMINEES (arranged from best to worst)
- Piper (Alan Barillaro; USA)
2.Pear Cider and Cigarettes (Robert Valley; Canada)
These are the only two films in either program that rise above the squishy middle, and they couldn’t be more different. Pixar’s wordless, 6-minute Piper is a model of visual and narrative economy, while still tantalizing your eyeballs with a stunning level of sumptuous detail. And it’s Pixar, so naturally they know how to wring a tear from this simple coming-of-age tale about a baby sandpiper without squeezing too hard. Canadian artist Robert Valley’s 35-minute Pear Cider and Cigarettes, on the other hand, is a full-blown graphic novel come to life, a jittery yet elastic story about the narrator’s childhood hero facing his end while waiting for a Chinese kidney.
3. Pearl (Patrick Osborne; USA)
Another wordless six minutes of smart visual storytelling, but goddamn if this decades-spanning tale that views a father-daughter relationship from the inside of their automobile doesn’t feel like a long-form domestic car commercial. Although beautifully executed, it’s an ode to innocence that feels too cynical to succeed; in other words, it’s boomer porn, so obviously it has the best chance to upset Piper, especially if the never-Pixars get out the vote.
4. Borrowed Time (Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj; USA)
5. Blind Vaysha (Theodore Ushev; Canada)
Hard to know what to make of either of these; in the same way that some films feel created for the sole purpose of winning awards, these two and Pearl feel like miniature versions of the same strategy. Borrowed Time has some impressively vivid visuals, but the story of a cowboy reliving a painful incident from his youth is filled with a dark, empty portent worthy of Villenueve at his worst. Meanwhile, Blind Vaysha smooshes our noses into drippy allegory – the title character lives with one eye that sees only the past, and one eye that sees only the future, and the film ends by asking, “How many of us see the world like Blind Vaysha?” Derp!
LIVE-ACTION SHORT NOMINEES (arranged from best to worst)
- TIMECODE (Petra Lottje; Germany)
Hoo-boy, we’re in for a slog when this pleasant trifle is the belle of the ball. Two parking lot security guards who never speak trade modern dance moves during the late shift, directing each other to the camera and timecode that captured their gyrations. It builds to an entertaining finale where the now-fired workers perform for their bastard boss and his off-the-books new-hire, and it closes on the most obvious punchline. Like I said, it’s not a great group.
2. Enemies Within (Selim Azzazi; France)
3. Sing (Kristóf Deák; Hungary)
A couple of decent and heartfelt films undermined by their anonymous aesthetics and annoying self-righteousness. Enemies Within feels eerily ripped from the headlines, as an Algerian-born Muslim living in France applies for citizenship, and promptly finds himself slated for interrogation and possible deportation. It’s a Stanley Kramer sort of short, if you know what I mean. The Hungarian entry Sing also carries a certain topical relevance – it’s about bullying and peer pressure, to an extent, but it’s largely about children rejecting the ethical laxity of their elders, as a choir teacher pressures weak singers to pantomime. Sing ends on a perfect albeit smug note of silent protest, but I wish there was more rhythm and soul to the piece.
4. Silent Nights (Aske Bang; Denmark)
5. The Railroad Lady (Timo von Gunten; Switzerland)
Ugh. The process of winnowing down the world of 2016 short films into five nominees is long and filled with checks and balances…and you end up nominating these two stinkers? Silent Nights is the Dardennes Brothers sellout movie of my nightmares, a nauseatingly pious and pseudo-inspirational love story between a huge-hearted Danish volunteer and an African-born homeless man. Even if it lands in an icky place, at least Silent Nights feels somewhat edgy and relevant – starring Blow-Up blonde Jane Birkin as a cranky widow crushing on the train driver who whizzes by her window every day, The Railroad Lady is nothing more than The Shortest Exotic Marigold Hotel. It’s actually pretty appalling that this film is nominated…I wish I knew the short film scene well enough to suggest several dozen alternatives, but I’m fairly certain that they’re out there. Obviously, The Railroad Lady is the best bet to win the Oscar.