They may not be blockbusters, their moment in the awards show may be when many take a bathroom break, but the short films nominated for Oscars every year inevitably offer arresting, often impassioned and technically deft proof that a film doesn’t have to drone on for an hour and a half to qualify as art.
The Detroit Film Theatre, as it it does every year, will screen the Oscar-nominated live-action and animated short films over the next four weekends, and as always the program is diverse and at times dazzling. In terms of depth, this year’s live-action entries — most of which run nearly half an hour — offer the most return, but the animated entries — four out of five are about six minutes or so — are still polished and (mostly) inviting.
The first animated entry is “Borrowed Time,” a literal cliffhanger in which a western lawman revisits a tragedy from his past. Then comes “Pearl,” a breezy story about a father and daughter that watch their lives pass and change from a car’s perspective.
More heady stuff can be found in the abstract-looking “Blind Vaysha,” a fable about a girl born with one eye that sees only the future and another that sees only the past; she is blind to the present. Things lighten and brighten up considerably with this year’s entry from Pixar, “Piper,” which follows the education of a sand piper chick with wondrous visual detail.
The audience will be given a warning about the final animated entry, “Pear Brandy and Cigarettes,” which some may not feel suitable for children. The longest entry, this animation noir story of a rebel turned self-destructive alcoholic, makes good use of long, angular lines, but tends to drag in contrast to the previous works.
The live-action shorts are a diverse group that seem timely and timeless. “Sing” is sort of a downer “Glee,” in which a new girl at school joins the choir, but is told to just mime singing lest she interfere with better voices. It’s a wonderful look at the cruelty of competition in the arts that is itself in an arts competition.
Just as moving and oh-so-relevant is “Silent Nights,” in which a refugee from Ghana finds love, bigotry, frustration and complications in Denmark. Also painfully now is “Enemies Within,” in which an application for French citizenship turns into a deportation interrogation; it takes place in 1996, but looks a lot like 2017.
And then there’s the whimsical. In “La Femme et la TGV” in older woman waves a flag from her window at the train that passes her house twice a day, which leads to a long-distance friendship and some personal revelations. But the delight of the live-action shorts — indeed of the entire shorts program — may be the 15-minute “Timecode.”
Told with a minimum of dialogue, “Timecode” follows two parking garage attendants who communicate through dance movements performed on the garage’s security cameras. It’s a lovely build to an ecstatic end, a tight ode to inspiration, and completely fitting among so much other inspiring fare.
Tom Long is a longtime culture critic.
‘2017 Academy Award Nominated Short Films’
Running time: 196 minutes
At the Detroit Film Theatre