This years Oscars are host to a variety of fantastically crafted stories in the short film category…but which one takes home the crown?
Early 2016 my girlfriend (Sonja) came across an event at an independent cinema in Johannesburg called the Bioscope. At this point we had been to the Bioscope once or twice and were looking forward to seeing whatever fantastic independent film they had on display this time. But unlike the usual films on show at the cinema, they had decided to show the nominations for that year’s Oscars in the short film category.
I’m a huge film nerd and the Oscars is a big time for me and my ilk. Not because it rewards my favourite films of the year, cause that barely happens.
But I usually get excited for the Oscars because it’s an opportunity to gauge the path of story-telling. Hollywood is the most influential filmmaking entity on the planet, and the films it chooses to reward become the stories that are regarded as great movies for years to come. (Except the times they mess up and give the award to something no one likes. Also I will discuss this more in later posts).
So I was pumped to see movies that would be recognised in the short film category because short films don’t really receive that much love. They aren’t usually shown in theaters, its pretty hard to get your hand on a DVD, and it’s the only segment of the awards not dominated by American films (this year doesn’t have a single one).
So it goes without saying that I enjoyed my time last year, and when Sonja informed me that the Bioscope would be doing it again, I leapt at the opportunity. So let’s take a look at what I saw.
The first film to come up was the sweet story of a new girl at a school renowned for its great choir, and the conflict with her teacher over her singing.
There’s this thing about child actors, they’re either great or really bad. There is no in-between. Ever. You either leave the cinema really impressed by the child’s abilities at their age, or you cringe every time their in a scene. (At least this has been my experience)
Fortunately these kids were pretty good (and they do most of the acting), and the story was a really pleasant insight into friendship, the joy of music, and the pressures of authority figures with their own agendas. Great watch.
Silent Nights (Denmark)
Ok so this one was a bit of a trip. It is to be expected of filmmakers to have stories centered on the refugee crisis currently underway in Europe, as the issue has grown to become a key challenge for the region. But the love story between what seems to be a Ghanaian economic migrant and a Danish woman working at a local soup kitchen is sure to draw a lot of ire and debate from both sides.
This film was my least favourite of the night. I’m no expert, but the acting seemed pretty weak at some points, and the story wasn’t really fleshed out by the time it ended. Sonja was noticeably perturbed by some of the decision-making from certain characters.
I suppose the purpose of this film was to garner debate over the state of migrants in the developed world, and I believe it achieved that. But I plead for a bit of tolerance on my side when I say: I just don’t get it.
Ok so this one was really fun. A story of the strange activities that two security guards get up to during their shift hours of watching an idle parking lot is sure to get a laugh in any cinema.
Without spoiling anything, this really is a story I think people will enjoy. Film is supposed to be a transporter for all of us, placing us in these wild worlds of fantasy and art. It’s always nice to see this idea placed on its head, and see that there just might be an artist in all of us.
Enemies Within (France)
Two people talking in a room is the basis for much of cinema, but when it’s done well it is a showcase for the artistic abilities of the films makers. This straightforward interrogation of an Algerian-French man seeking French citizenship in the 90’s brings you into the world of the migrant with a nuance and deft touch that is felt throughout.
A story on allegiance, brotherhood, religion, belonging, and the protection of oneself and their family over all is covered in what feels a short glimpse into the lives of these characters. Really enjoyed it.
The Woman and the TGV/The Railroad Lady (Switzerland)
Loneliness is a theme that we are all well-accustomed to seeing in cinema’s. But the pain of a world that you have drawn away from with the passage of time is one that we all relate to more as we age. This is the story on show in this film, as a woman stuck in her routine fights with the reality that she might be stuck in the fantasy of the past.
This film is a heartwarming look at the beauty of a second breath in one’s life, and an embrace of the idea that we might not receive the happiness we seek, but we are always given the opportunity to enjoy the happiness that finds us.
Also there’s a train and I like trains.
So those are this year’s Oscar nominations for best short film. If it were up to me the award would go to either Sing or Enemies Within, but a win for Timecode or The Woman and the TGV wouldn’t really upset me.
My expectation is that Sing or Silent Nights might win because both films would score as second best’s on most lists in the academy, placing them in that sweet spot for Oscar gold. Also, the director for Silent Nights has been nominated on multiple other occasions with no reward. So look to the academy to be playing catch-up again.
For those interested in how the Oscars work, and why I assume the film with the highest “averageness” will win, check this video out.