Skip to main content

Handicapping the Oscar Nominated Short Films - Live Action Category

So the other night I went to the local art house cinema to watch the "Oscar Shorts" -- something I've never done until this year. I saw the live action films and plan to go back to watch the animated shorts at some point soon. For once in my life it'll be nice to know what's going on when this category comes up on Oscar night.

Here below are the films, a brief synopsis, along with my own personal ranking and what I think the odds are of each one winning:

Image result for Sing Hungary short film
1.) Sing (Hungary)

Synopsis: A young girl attends a new school and eagerly joins the school choir, only to find out a dark truth about the choir teacher and her teaching methods. Touching, well-paced, emotional, and ultimately light-hearted.

My Ranking: Second place. Incredibly well shot and I love the way it takes seriously and dramatically the emotions and every day lives of children. Phenomenal acting. Great, simple, dead-ahead plot, and a nice rewarding twist at the end.

Will it Win: No. It was artfully done and emotionally powerful in its self-contained way, but its significance and "message" don't reach out far enough into the outside world. This is a very political time we're living in, and there are no politics anywhere in this film. Maybe that's a reason it will actually win...but I doubt it. Odds: 5-1

2.) Silent Nights (Denmark)

Synopsis: A Danish woman falls deeply in love with a desperate immigrant from Ghana but the cultural and personal circumstances of the lovers make the affair difficult. Beautiful, tragic, but hopeful.

My Ranking: Third place. I'm lukewarm on this one because I feel vaguely like I've heard this story before in a hundred different ways and different places. Granted, there are only so many "types" of stories out there. But...the plot points or "moments" of this film felt a little to expected. Well shot, well-paced, and emotional, but just fell flat ultimately and seemed too "acted."

Will it Win: Yes. If I could bet money on this film winning, I would. It's got all the ingredients: Politics, schmaltz, and a beautiful blonde woman shedding tears. It's a shoe-in. Seriously, the key here is that it touches on a popular politcal/social issue (immigration) but does so in a way that the message is muddled and inconclusive, and thus non-offensive. Odds: 1 1/2 to 1

Image result for Enemies Within film
Scene from Ennemis Interieurs
3.) Ennemis Interieurs (Enemies Within - France)

Synopsis: An Algerian Muslim man (with an astonishing resemblance to a young Kevin Spacey) seeks French citizenship but must first undergo a rigorous examination from a French immigration official.

My Ranking: First place. I love films and movies that are all or mostly dialogue. This film takes place almost completely as a conversation between two men. During the course of his questioning, the main character is forced to undergo a moral quandary that shakes his sense of identity and makes him question where his loyalties lie and what is the true nature of loyalty. To me, this had the most tension and most character development of any of the five films. My favorite.

Will it Win: Maybe. We are living a Trump world now, and although this film took place in the mid-90s, it seems like something that could absolutely happen today anywhere in the Western world. Quite topical, and it draws attention to a serious political and cultural issue. This is the only other film I think besides Silent Nights with a real chance of winning. However, I think it's a little too "dead-ahead" and one-note to win the whole category. There is no schmaltz. No romance. And no blonde woman crying. Odds: 2-1

4.) Time Code (Spain)

Synopsis: Two parking garage security guards strike up an odd friendship based on a chance discovery caught on one of the garage's security cameras.

My Ranking: Fifth place. The funniest and most absurd, but oddly the most forgettable of the five films. With any work of art you have to wonder about the reason "why" someone made it. With this film, the reason seems to be that some filmmaker or writer just thought: "Hey, wouldn't it be funny if..." Sometimes that works. But, stacked up against these other films with actual substance and political relevance (and pretty blonde women crying), this one fails to make the grade.

Will it Win: No. Definitely not. In and of itself it's a chuckle-worthy piece, but not nearly powerful enough or well-developed enough to win a big award like an Oscar. Odds: 20-1

Image result for La Femme et la TGV
Jane Birkin
5.) La Femme et la TGV (The Woman and the High Speed Train - France)

Synopsis: A Swiss woman lives a simple life near the train tracks of the TGV train, and owns a small bakery, until an unlikely friendship with a train conductor awakens her to greater possibilities.

Image result for Jane Birkin
Also Jane Birkin
My Ranking: Fourth place. Undoubtedly the "cutest" film and the one most imbued with magic and whimsy, a sort of magic and whimsy left-over from a certain not-too-far-gone era of filmmaking, it seems. I loved the scenery and the plot and Jane Birkin's performance (you might know Jane Birkin as Serge Gainsbourg's lover in the 60s/70s and the mother of Charlotte Gainsbourg). But the self-conscious cuteness is what keeps this from being remarkable in my opinion. Though I imagine there are those who will adore this film. It is pretty adorable.

Will it Win: No. For the Academy, I think this film will share the problems inherent in the other three non-political films on this list. They're nice, tight packages of filmmaking and deserve recognition, but without the link to broader social and political significance, it's hard to see the Academy giving them the hard-ware. Unless, that is, the Academy is in a non-political mood this year. Odds: 10-1


Popular posts from this blog

New Yorker Fiction Review #151: "The Bog Girl" by Karen Russell

From the June 20 issue...

My loyal readers (if there are still any, which I doubt) will know I'm usually not a fan of Magical Realism, which, as you may also know, is Karen Russell's stock in trade. That said, there's nothing I love more than having my antipathy for magical realism shattered by an awesome story like "The Bog Girl."

Briefly, an Irish teenager discovers the body of a young woman who as been buried in a bog for over 2,000 years and begins to date her. What more do you need, right? If I'd read that one-line description somewhere else, and wasn't on a mission to review every New Yorker short story, I doubt I'd have read "The Bog Girl." But maybe I should start doing a George Costanza and do the opposite of everything I think I should do.

Where Russell succeeds here is in two main areas: 1.) Making us really love Cillian, the teenager who falls in love with the bog girl, and 2.) pulling the unbelievable trick making the characters…

Holiday Q&A, Volume 1

These questions come to us from Grace. Thanks for sending your questions!! Answers below:
What is the most thrilling mystery you have read and/or watched?
The Eiger Sanction (book and film) by Trevanian is what's coming to mind. International espionage. Mountain-climbing assassins. Evil albino masterminds. Sex. Not a bad combination. Warning, this is completely a "guy" movie, and the film (feat. Clint Eastwood) is priceless 70s action movie cheese. But in case that's your thing...
What's the deal with Narcos?
Narcos is a Netflix show about the rise and fall (but mostly the fall) of Columbian cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar. Thus far there are two seasons of 10 episodes each. RIYL: The film Blow, starring Johnny Depp; the book Zombie City, by Thomas Katz; the movie Goodfellas; true crime; anything involving the drug trade. My brief review: Season 1 started out a bit slow and I know a bunch of people who never made it past the first few episodes. Some of the acting is a…

A Piece of Advice I Learned From My Grandfather

My grandfather was one of the most learned men I know. He read widely and voraciously, and not just in the sciences (he was a doctor); he loved politics, philosophy, and great literature as well. Whenever he finished a book he would write his thoughts about the book in the front cover and then sign and date it. To this day every once in a while I will open a book from my bookshelf or my mother's bookshelf, or at one of my family members' homes, and there will be my grandfather's handwriting. He was also a great giver of his books; if you remarked that you liked a particular one or wanted to read it, you were almost sure to take it home with you.

Reading is a very solitary pursuit but my grandfather was not a solitary person. He relished having family and friends around him which is convenient because he was blessed with a lot of both. And he carried out his intellectual life in a very "public" way as well. He was, in some ways, an intellectual evangelist. If he r…