2016 Oscar Nods

by Martin Hafer

From now until the Oscars are announced on February 28th, there will be showings of the various short films which were nominated.  Not every place and every market has them, but over the years these shows have become much more popular.  When I started going to these shows about eight years ago, only a tiny number of places showed any of the shorts–and then only the live-action and animated shorts.  But in the last few years, many more places are showing them…as well as the documentary shorts.  All three can be seen in separate shows and to find out when and where, there’s a website that will help you learn where they are nearest to you (www.shorts.tv/theoscarshorts).  And, if you cannot find a nearby theater, you can also download the shorts starting February 23rd…and the site also explains all about this as well.

Today my local theater showed its first Oscar-nominated block–the live-action shorts.  Overall, I think this is a very unusual year because all the films are of nearly the same quality.  I didn’t love any of them…but I also didn’t dislike any of them and they all were quite good.  However, three of the five nominees are awfully depressing…and you may want to avoid taking younger kids to see the shorts.  This is how they stack up to me and I am reviewing them in the same order in which they were shown:

Ave Maria

This film was made in the Palestinian territory and is a comedy about three Jewish people who become stranded there when they smash into a statue of the Virgin Mary at a small nunnery.  The problem is that the nuns have taken a vow of silence and the Jewish folks are very observant…so strict as Jews that they cannot use telephones to call for help!  What are they to do?

I enjoyed this film and it made me smile.  I found the ending a bit predictable but a finely acted and clever short.  While I don’t think it’s the very best of these shorts, it is unusual and sometimes happy films have an edge in winning simply because Academy voters seem to prefer nice shorts as opposed to down-beat ones…and three are very, very downbeat.


This movie is from Kosovo and  is set during their awful civil war that took place there in the late 1990s.  During this time, Serbian-backed forced clashed with ethnic Albanians and each group tried to expel the others from ‘their land’…and thousands were killed or displaced.

Two boys, one Serbian and one Albanian, are friends despite the war and you see about this portion of their lives through a flashback that involves a bicycle.  But it’s hard to remain friends when the Serbian kid is being pulled one way and the Albanian the other.  The climax comes like a brick against your skull and left many in the audience on the verge of tears.

I have seen quite a few films about the civil wars that tore Yugoslavia apart.  None of them are pleasant and really cannot be.  However, this one stands out because the acting by the kids is very nice and the story very well directed and paced.  It’s hard to pick the best of the five nominees and after a lot of thought, I think this one is best.  Will it win the Oscar, I have no idea.  As I already mentioned, there are three depressing films (including this one) and they might tend to take votes from each other.

Everything Will Be Okay

This German language film is shot mostly from the viewpoint of the young girl, a child of about 7.  Her parents are apparently divorced and her father has come to take her for the weekend.  She’s happy to see him and they seem to have a good relationship.  However, through the course of their time together, it slowly becomes apparent that he’s not telling her everything…and he appears to be abducting her to keep her mother from having custody of her.  It takes a while for the girl to understand this, though eventually the horror of her situation sets in.

This was the second depressing short of the show.  Considering it’s about kidnapping, it couldn’t help but be depressing and your heart really starts pounding towards the big finale.  I doubt if this one will win but it is well made.  The biggest strike against it is that a lot of viewers might be a bit disappointed because so much about the story seems missing and it leaves you wanting to know more.  But on the other hand, the little girl in the film was brilliant…absolutely amazing in her ability to act and act convincingly. I’d really love to see what this young lady is doing in films in the future.


This film is about a young man who stutters.  His stutter is not a minor stutter but debilitating.  He often has difficulty even talking out loud to others and has even pretended to be deaf in order to prevent him having to talk out loud.  However, he’s had an online relationship with a girl for many months and when she tells him that she’s coming to London and wants to see him, he’s in a panic.  What is he to do?  She has no idea that he’s a stutterer and he’s very apprehensive to writer her back at all.  What is he to do?

As a father of a deaf daughter, I found it fascinating watching the main character practicing British Sign Language–a system that is surprisingly very little like American Sign Language.  It appeared to be done well…which I appreciate.  My biggest reason for not being so enthusiastic about this film isn’t because the short is poorly made–it’s quite good. But I saw another short this year that was very, very similar except that instead of struggling with stuttering, the main character struggled with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder when going out on a blind date.

Day One

This film was definitely the most difficult to watch of all the nominees for Best Live-Action Short.  It’s quite timely and very well done but I noticed a lot of folks cringing and reacting viscerally to this film.  The fact that it made such a big impact is a good thing…but some will find this all a bit unpleasant.

The story is set in what you assume is Afghanistan–though I don’t recall the film even mentioning where the American soldiers were stationed in that general area.  A new female interpreter has just arrived and is about to go on her first assignment.  Unfortunately, this first encounter will clearly be among the most traumatic and difficult of her military career.  This is because not only is one of the men killed by some sort of explosion but subsequently they come upon a family and the wife is dying because of a very, very complicated pregnancy.  So not only will the interpreter have to interpret but because of the Muslim culture, the men in the group are not allowed to see the woman in labor.  But it’s a very, very bad labor and the interpreter cannot imagine anything good coming out of this…and she’s probably right.  It’s going to be a horrible day.

As I said above, this is a very traumatic film and one I would not want younger viewers to see.  I could say more but you’d just have to see it for yourself to know what I mean.  The film is not gratuitous in its violence but it’s a situation that is bleak and depressing…but also exceptionally well made and one of the most unusual shorts I’ve ever seen.

So there you have them…all five of the nominees.  The Oscars for the shorts often get overlooked by the media but I’ll make sure to give you an update on the winner after it’s announced.  As always, I’d love to hear from you if you saw the films.