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2017’s Oscar-nominated short films long on variety

"Sing" is the standout among the live-action short Oscar nominees.

They don’t typically get the buzz of feature films, but the short films nominated for Academy Awards offer a vast breadth of subject matter and storytelling styles.

The nominees for best live-action and animated short will play this weekend at several Chicago area theaters, and if you love movies — and the diversity you can fit into a film in 40 minutes or less (the Oscars requirement) — it’s a great chance to see a lot of movie in a small package.

Here’s a look at the nominees:

LIVE ACTION

“Enemies Within” ★★★

A timely film that’s set in 1998. An Algerian man who has lived most of his life in France and spent time in prison seeks French citizenship, and the film consists mostly of his interview with a French government worker, also of Algerian descent. What starts as an interview turns into an interrogation, complete with possible racial profiling and paranoia. Selim Azzazi directs.

“La Femme et le TGV” ★★1⁄2

Inspired by real events, Timo von Gunten’s film is about a widow (Jane Birkin) who sets her alarm daily to wave a flag at a train that passes by (and waves again on the return trip). She’s bitter, holding on to the past, whiling away her days in her failing bakery — until the driver starts tossing her notes, and then packages. She writes back, and life starts looking up. Cute, if slight.

“Silent Nights” ★★★

A refugee from Ghana lives as a homeless man, facing brutal racism, and strikes up a relationship with a Danish woman working in a shelter where he sometimes stays. They develop an attraction, but complications arise — he steals from the shelter, and there’s more about him than he lets his new girlfriend know. Directed by Aske Bang and Kim Magnusson.

“Sing” ★★★1⁄2

What a terrific little movie. A Hungarian girl moves to a new school, in part because she wants to sing in the award-winning choir. She finds that the choir director is not necessarily the enthusiastic champion of inclusion she seems. This is all good, but it leads to a conclusion that’s so great I practically jumped up and cheered.

“Timecode” ★★1⁄2

Juanjo Gimenez Peña’s film follows security guards (Lali Ayguadé, Nicolas Ricchini) who alternate shift after boring shift at a parking garage. Through happy accident, they discover a way to make the monotony more bearable. It leads to a pretty funny punch line, but there’s not much to it.

ANIMATED

“Blind Vaysha” ★★★

Creatively animated film about a girl, Vaysha, who isn’t really blind — at least in the traditional sense. Her left eye sees only the past and her right eye only the future; she can’t see the present at all. An intriguing idea, though the animation takes getting used to. Theodore Ushev directs.

“Borrowed Time” ★★★

Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj’s film looks like most animated features that entertain kids any weekend morning. But man, the story, about an Old West sheriff revisiting the site of great personal tragedy, is pitch-black.

“Pear Cider and Cigarettes” ★★★

Speaking of dark: Robert Valley brings to film his autobiographical graphic novels about a friendship with a doomed man. The friend, Techno, has a massive self-destructive streak and winds up in China for a liver transplant. He wants Valley to help him get home. Starkly animated, it tells the fullest story of the bunch.

The fullest of the animated stories is in "Pear Cider and Cigarettes."

The fullest of the animated stories is in “Pear Cider and Cigarettes.”

“Pearl” ★★★

It’s more or less a well-made music video, about a father and daughter and the car they rode around in when she was growing up (he’s a musician and she becomes one). But Patrick Osborne’s film, a Google Spotlight Story, is the first virtual-reality nominee. That doesn’t make it good, of course — it’s the song, and the affection between father and daughter, that carries the film.

“Piper” ★★★

You’ve probably seen this one — it played before “Finding Dory.” And you probably oohed and ahhed and said, “Adorable.” That pretty much describes Alan Barillaro and Marc Sondheimer’s film, about a baby sandpiper who wants to hunt for food in the surf but is afraid of the waves. The story’s kind of gooey, but the animation is incredible.

Bill Goodykoontz, USA TODAY Network