Oscar Marathon 2017: Live-action and animated shorts
By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
Amarillo audiences can enjoy a masterclass in world cinema in a marathon screening of all 10 Oscar-nominated live-action and animated shorts this weekend.
The shorts will screen in blocks compiled by Shorts HD at 2 and 7 p.m. Friday, 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at Cinemark Hollywood 16, 9100 Canyon Drive.
Runtime is approximately 100 minutes for the animated shorts and 130 minutes for the live-action shorts, with a brief intermission between the blocks. I’ve attended the marathon faithfully over the past few years, and it’s a truly joyful, diverse experience. This year, you'll see films from Switzerland, France, Denmark, Canada, Hungary and Spain, in addition to the U.S.
If you can't make it to the theater, the package (excluding Piper, which is available individually) is available now for purchase from several digital outlets.
Animated Short Film
Blind Vaysha: A young girl is born with a bizarre curse: Through her left eye, she can only see the past, and through her right eye, only the future. Instead of seeing a butterfly alighting on a leaf, she either sees the cocoon being formed or the insect being eaten. Her village is either nonexistent or some sprawling metropolis. The medicine women try to cure her, placing the gall bladder of a buzzard and the heart of a rooster over her eyes. Nothing works. Caroline Dhavernas (Hannibal) narrates nicely, and it’s not her fault that her script becomes so heavy-handed at the end. But visually, the film is a real treat. The animation looks like a woodcut print come to life, moving and shifting in unexpected ways.
Borrowed Time: Pixar animators Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj made this moody, expressionistic Western on their own time, and though the film feels nothing like a Pixar movie, their company-honed skills are readily apparent. In the short, a sheriff rides up on a deadly cliff, flashing back to a frightening incident from his past. Quite concisely, we see how the man’s father died years before, and my goodness, is it traumatic. The short packs a punch, but it’s perhaps not as ambitious as the other competitors in the category.
Pear Cider and Cigarettes: The longest, and by far the most adult, nominee in the category, this stylishly animated film is an autobiographical tale about filmmaker and graphic artist Robert Valley (known for his work with Gorillaz and on Tron: Uprising) — rather, about his hard-living childhood buddy Techno Stypes. You know the kind: The guy who took every risk, fascinating you at every turn but totally exhausted you with every new adventure. Valley, who provides the grizzled narration as well, flies to China to stop Techno from drinking himself to death before he can get a liver transplant, recounting their relationship and Techno’s many misadventures along the way. It’s utterly compelling and fascinating to look at.
Pearl: There are several ways to watch this film, produced by Google. It’ll screen in 2D at the shorts marathon, and you can watch it online as a Google 360 video; moving your mouse around lets you change the perspective. But if you download the Google Spotlight Story app on a compatible device, you can watch it in fully immersive virtual reality, with or without the headset. I recommend it any way, but the VR version — even without the headset — is a particularly fascinating way to experience the film. You’re placed directly inside the car in and around which the whole film takes place. We’re tagging along with a traveling musician and his daughter as he traverses the country until finally settling down when the girl is a teenager. The story continues from there as she takes up his guitar and wandering ways. It’s all set to the charming song “No Way Home” by Alexis Harte and JJ Wiesler. The film, essentially, is a great music video, but the animation and the technical achievements really make it one of note.
Piper: Easily the most widely-seen of the nominees, this wordless but adorable short, which was screened before Finding Dory, tells the story of a young sandpiper who has to conquer his fear of the water in order to survive. It’s a simple, universal story that’s told with astonishingly realistic animation.
Live-Action Short Film
Ennemis Intérieurs: Set in 1990s France, but quite relevant to today’s America, this intense but talky drama is mostly a two-man show between an Algerian-born man seeking naturalization in France after living there for decades and an immigration official skeptical of his association with other Algerians. There’s great tension throughout as the interrogation becomes more heated, with strong performances from both actors and assured direction from first-timer Selim Azzizi.
La Femme et le TGV: Jane Birkin (Blow-up) stars as a Swiss baker who wakes early every morning to wave a little Swiss flag at the high-speed train (the TGV) that has rocketed by her house for 32 years. She’s surprised one day by a letter that has floated into her garden from the train, sent by an appreciative man on the train as a thank-you for her cheerful daily greeting. They strike up an unlikely correspondence, giving her a new lease on life and the strength to defy her son’s wish to put her in an old-folks’ home. Quite charming, but perhaps not as deep as many of the other nominees.
Silent Nights: A Danish woman falls for a Ghanian man and client of the homeless shelter where she volunteers in this polished short. Their romance seems predestined for failure, not only because of the ties the man has back home but also because of the woman’s racist, infirm mother. It ends up being a bit of a white-savior message — disappointing enough, certainly, but made worse by the eliding of much internal struggle over her generous decision in the end. Not my favorite of the batch, to be sure.
Sing (Mindenki): A young Hungarian girl asks to join the award-winning choir at her school and, like anyone who asks, she’s accepted, even though she’s not a great singer. But her bullying choirmaster, more intent on winning awards than on actually educating her young charges, tells young Zsofi to lip-sync with the choir instead of singing. The ending of director Kristóf Deák’s film is predictable but nonetheless effective and sweet.
Timecode: Another film about the development of an unexpected relationship between a man and a woman, this Spanish film is unexpectedly fun. The woman has the day shift as a parking-garage security guard, with the man working nights. They only have passing contact between shifts, then she discovers his secret hobby: Goofily and blissfully dancing around the garage in performances captured on security cameras. It’s a real charmer.