Oscar Nominated Short Films

I thought maybe there was a thread for this in years past, but I couldn’t find one quickly. Probably named slightly differently than what I searched for. Anyway, maybe we could just bump this thread annually for the discussion of the nominees.

For several years now Shorts HD has done theatrical showings of all the nominated films—live action, documentary shorts, and animated shorts—and I usually watch them all. It’s probably too late to catch a showing in most locations, but maybe you could still find them via VOD.

The Shorts.tv site (the above link) has trailers for the films, and I’m going to include their synopses below.

If you have the chance to watch all the films, I recommend you go; every year I have a great time even when the nominees can be all over the spectrum as far as quality and my own taste. And if you’re going to see them all, skip the synopses—some of them tell almost the whole story. Here’s the roundup for this year, and I’ll follow up with some impressions in the next post.

Live Action

Enemies Intérieurs (France)
An interview at a local police station turns into an inquisition during which a French-Algerian born man sees himself accused of protecting the identities of possible terrorists. This close-up on France’s troubled history with its former colonies has one man controlling the fate of another with the stroke of a pen during a turbulent period in the 1990s.

La Femme Ethel TGV (Switzerland)
Elise Lafontaine has a secret routine. Every morning and evening for many years, she has been waving at the express train that passes her house. One fateful day, she finds a letter from the train conductor in her garden and her lonely life is turned upside down. She engages in a promising correspondence through poetic and thoughtful letters where the two anonymous writers share their world with each other until the day the train line gets cancelled… The story is inspired by true events and stars César Award nominee Jane Birkin.

Silent Nights (Denmark)
Inger volunteers at a homeless shelter and falls in love with the illegal immigrant Kwame. Both live a hard life. Kwame finds comfort in Inger’s arms, but says nothing about his family and children in Ghana. When his daughter becomes ill, he is forced to steal money from the homeless shelter to pay the hospital bill. Inger believe his lies about the theft and have compassion. Kwame moves in with Inger and they are happy for a while, until the day when Kwame’s mobile phone reveals everything about his life in Ghana. Inger painfully recognizes that Kwame’s love was genuine, and her own great love begs her to help Kwame home to Ghana again.

Sing (Mindenki) (Hungary)
Zsofi is struggling to fit in at her new school – singing in the school’s famous choir is her only consolation, but the choir director may not be the inspirational teacher everyone thinks she is. It will take Zsofi and her new friend Liza to uncover the cruel truth. “Sing” is a childhood drama with a lot of music set in 1990s post-socialist Budapest, Hungary. Based on a true story, it follows an award-winning school choir and the new girl in class facing a tough choice: to stand up against a corrupt system – or to fit quietly into it.

Timecode (Spain)
Luna and Diego are the parking lot security guards. Diego does the night shift, and Luna works by day.


Blind Vaysha (Canada)
Vasyha is not like other young girls; she was born with one green eye and one brown eye. But her odd eyes aren’t the only thing that’s special about her gaze. Her left eye sees only the past. Her right, only the future. Like a terrible curse, Vaysha’s split vision prevents her from living in the present. Blinded by what was and tormented by what will be, she remains trapped between two irreconcilable temporalities. “Blind Vaysha,” they called her. In this metaphoric tale of timeless wisdom and beauty, filmmaker Theodore Ushev reminds us of the importance of living in present moment. Designed in 3D and also available in 2D as well as in virtual reality (VR). Based on the short story “Blind Vaysha” by Georgi Gospodinov. © Georgi Gospodinov, 2001

Borrowed Time (USA)
A weathered Sheriff returns to the remains of an accident he has spent a lifetime trying to forget. With each step forward, the memories come flooding back. Faced with his mistake once again, he must find the strength to carry on.

Pear Cider and Cigarettes (Canada & UK)
Drink and smoke…that’s what Techno Stypes really like to do, and fight. He was in no condition to fight. He was sick, really sick. His disease had whittled him down to a shadow of his former self. He was crippled from a car accident when he was 17 but that’s not how he lost his big toe. He lost that in a motorbike accident, yeah he was broken alright… what the hell was he fighting for anyway and what was he still doing in China? His father had given me two clear instructions: 1. Get Techno to stop drinking long enough to receive the liver transplant, and 2. Get him back home to Vancouver. This was not going to be easy.

Pearl (USA)
Set inside their home, a beloved hatchback, PEARL follows a girl and her dad as they crisscross the country chasing their dreams. It’s a story about the gifts we hand down, their power to carry love…and finding grace in the unlikeliest of places.

Piper (USA)
Directed by Alan Barillaro and produced by Marc Sondheimer, “Piper,” the new short from Pixar Animation Studios, tells the story of a hungry sandpiper hatchling who ventures from her nest for the first time to dig for food by the shoreline. The only problem is, the food is buried beneath the sand where scary waves roll up onto the shore. “Piper” debuted in theaters worldwide with “Finding Dory” in 2016.


4.1 Miles (USA & Greece)

In 2001, 20 Afghan refugees arrived on the Greek island of Lesbos. It was that year’s biggest news event, recalls Kyriakos, the coast guard captain. Back then, his job mostly entailed carrying out routine checks in the 4.1-mile-wide strait separating the island from the Turkish mainland. Those tranquil days are long gone. Kyriakos and his 10 colleagues are now called out hourly to save hundreds of people risking the crossing. Greek journalist Daphne Matziaraki joined the heroic captain for a single day: October 28, 2015. You can’t get any closer to this living nightmare. Matziaraki crawls with her camera among the drenched and drowning castaways searching for a safe-haven on a flimsy boat. Some of them don’t make it. There are shocking images – who can ever get used to seeing men, women and children drowning? The scenes shot back on dry land form an effective counterpoint: from a static position, the camera films a sun-drenched table laden with food, while a coast guard boat speeds past and an approaching ambulance wails in the distance.

Extremis (USA)
EXTREMIS is a verité documentary exploring the harrowing decisions that doctors, families and patients face in urgent end-of-life cases. Oscar®-nominated filmmaker, Dan Krauss, gained exclusive access to the intensive care unit of a public hospital to take an intimate look at the intersection of science, faith and humanity.

Joe’s Violin (USA)
In Joe’s Violin, a donated musical instrument forges an improbable friendship between 91-year-old Holocaust survivor Joe Feingold and 12-year-old Bronx school girl Brianna Perez, showing how the power of music can bring light in the darkest of times and how a small act can have a great impact.

The White Helmets (USA)
Brought to you by the team behind the Oscar®-nominated film VIRUNGA, “The White Helmets” is set is Aleppo, Syria in early 2016 as the violence intensifies and follows three volunteer rescue workers as they put everything on the line to save civilians affected by the war, all while wracked with worry about the safety of their own loved ones.

Watani: My Homeland (UK)
“My Homeland” tells the story of the Syrian Civil War through one family’s experience and follows the lives of three young girls and their brother over 3 years. We initially witness the trials of Hala and Ali and their four children Helen, Farah, Sara and Mohammed as they coped with the day to day hardships of life on the frontline in the city of Aleppo. The film continues to chronicle
the life of the family as they face the double threat of almost daily bombardment by the Syrian regime and the growing influence and menace of ISIS as Islamic State fighters pour into the chaos of northern Syria. After surviving the conflict for nearly three years Hala and her four children make the fateful decision to join the millions of Syrian refugees who fled to neighbouring Turkey – abandoning their homeland and hoping for a better life in Europe. The journey of Sara, Farah, Helen and Mohammed and their mother Hala, from war-torn Aleppo to the sleepy German town of Goslar is captured with intimacy and honesty and offers a true insight into the psychological and physical hardship of leaving your home for good.

The whole tragic story of the Syrian Civil war from the initial uprising against the Assad regime, the emergence of Islamic State and the ensuing refugee crisis is captured through this portrayal of four young children and their parents – it’s a deeply personal account of life turned upside down by the Syrian conflict Watani: My Homeland: is a remarkable film about the wide reaching impact of war, exploring the resilience of young children and their capacity to find hope and new beginnings in desperate situations. With the refugee crisis unfolding across Europe there has never been a more relevant time to explore this gruelling journey.

I’ll just tackle the live action right now, and come back with impressions on the others later.

These were almost all great! The dud for me was Silent Nights. I struggled with what the message was supposed to be, and it mostly just made me angry. I think it was supposed to be an “everyone’s got their reasons, life is messy, things aren’t black and white (metaphorically)” sort of tale about immigrants and poverty and different cultures, but it just left me angry at all the characters.

But the rest were solid. La Femme et le TGV was charming. Sing was a cute, feel-good, satisfying little story. Ennemis Intérieurs was powerful, and accidentally timely for American audiences under our new terrifying administration. It’s definitely a standout, and the best “serious” film out of any category in my opinion. But my personal favorite of the shorts was Timecode. It was funny and sweet and clever; didn’t overstay its welcome. It was a perfect short film.

So if you’re just checking these out online somewhere, you should definitely seek out Ennemis Intérieurs and Timecode, but probably just watch them all and make your own opinions.

On the animation front, Piper is my pick. It’s cute and simple; it won’t really tug at your heartstrings or give you “the feels”, but Pixar’s work is simply a treat to watch. Best looking short by far.

Meanwhile, Borrowed Time is like, whoa, where’d that come from? The character design is slightly more stylized than Pixar usually gets, but mostly this looks like it could’ve been a Pixar short from a few years ago, but the subject is soul crushingly dark. A bad thing happened which reveals itself to be even more horrific than you realized, and then things get worse. The little bit of light and hope at the end is probably just there so audiences don’t throw themselves into traffic as they leave the theater. I didn’t feel like the despair was lifted, just resisted for the moment.

Pearl a little cat’s in the cradle-y, but pretty upbeat and pleasant enough. I’m sure there were some fathers or daughters in the audience that might’ve shed a tear, but it wasn’t that memorable overall.

Pear Cider and Cigarettes is an odd one for this category. It’s long for a short at 35 minutes, and it’s just the artist providing illustrations as he’s narrating a story about his friend “Techno”—a hard living free spirit type—from the beginning of their friendship through his failing health and the surreal experience of trying to keep an alcoholic together long enough to get a liver transplant while overseas in China. It’s a crazy story, enjoyable, maybe a little longer than it needed to be. It’s “adult”, they gave a little warning at the theater and showed it last so parents could shoe their young ones out of the theater who just came for the Pixar fare, but mostly that just means the narrator says “fuck” and talks freely about Techno’s life of sex and booze and rock and roll. My second favorite of the bunch.

Blind Vaysha is some kind of moralizing parable bullshit with no point. I’m probably totally wrong, but that’s how it landed for me. I was really hoping there’d be someone else who watched these, because I’d love to hear if this worked for someone else.