Women 101—Wasps and Witches


Just a fly-by in a desperate attempt to keep to the twice-a-week schedule I’ve set myself for these Women’s History Month posts.

This post is basically a spin-off of my previous one on unsung female aviators. When I realized I had more pilots than I could discuss in one post and that a few of the women I was looking at took us well out of the pioneer days and into World War II, I decided to separate them out. Separate, but not exactly equal, as we will see.

One of the most impressive women I came across was Jacqueline Cochran, who, among other things, raced competitively against men in the 1930s, worked with Amelia Earhart to open the Bendix transcontinental race to women, and set multiple aviation records. In fact, at the time of her death, Cochran held more altitude, distance, and speed records than any other pilot (male or female) in history.

Vincent Bendix congratulates Jacqueline Cochran after she wins the Bendix Race in 1938.

Before the United States entered World War II, as part of the “Wings for Britain” organization, Cochran became the first woman to fly a bomber across the Atlantic. While in Great Britain, she volunteered her services to the war effort, working for the British Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA). Enlisting the help of Eleanor Roosevelt, Cochran was a key figure in establishing U.S. programs to train female pilots to undertake domestic aviation jobs and release more male pilots for combat, eventually leading to the formation of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program, which she led beginning in August 1943. These women did all sorts of dangerous tasks, including towing targets for live ammunition target practice, delivering military aircraft to bases, and flying engineering test flights. Amazingly, more than 25,000 women applied for this short-lived program, but the requirements for women were fairly strict and only 1,800 or so were selected for training. With washout rates roughly on par with men, ultimately 1,102 women flew for the WASP and U.S. Army Air Forces. These women flew every aircraft in the USAAF inventory, with overall accident and fatality rates similar to those of male pilots.

Pilots at Lockbourne Army Air Field, members of the Women Air Force Service Pilots program. Pictured from left to right are Frances Green, Peg Kirchner, Ann Waldner and Blanche Osborn.

Despite this service, and unlike the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC), the WASPs were not part of the military (although WASP pilots were retroactively granted service status in 1977). Still, Cochran received the Distinguished Service Medal in 1945 and joined the U.S. Air Force Reserve in 1948, retiring as a colonel in 1970. As such, she is likely the first female pilot in the USAF. Not one to be deterred in exploring new forms of aviation, she began flying jets after the war and was the first women to break the sound barrier. Other “female” firsts: Cochran was the first to take off and land on an aircraft carrier, the first to fly a jet on a transatlantic flight, the first to make a blind (instrument) landing, and the first (and only) woman to become president of the Fédération Aéronatique International. She even flew the Goodyear blimp in the early 1960s because why not.

I have found adventure in flying, in world travel, in business, and even close at hand… Adventure is a state of mind—and spirit.

—Jacqueline Cochran

As fascinating as Jacqueline Cochran is, she does represent the world of privilege in that she came to flying on the heels of meeting one of the richest men in the world, Floyd Odlum, who helped her found a cosmetics business in the mid-1930s and who she later married. Perhaps unsurprisingly, pilots accepted for WASP training were often women who had been able to afford to pay for their own flying lessons. (Additionally, due to segregation policies, no African Americans were accepted into the program, although there were two Chinese Americans who served). In the Soviet Union, the situation was somewhat different, although female pilots faced similar discrimination and disbelief from their countrymen.

During their bombing runs, the Night Witches used obsolete bi-planes without guns, radios, or parachutes.

And so we come to the Night Witches, an all-women Soviet bombing regiment and among the first women to ever fly in combat. While I didn’t know of their story prior to the excellent Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast episode on them, I feel like these women are better known than most of the other aviators I looked at (and maybe if I was more of a fan of military history I would have been familiar with them). Much like the WASP program, the creation of the Night Witches is primarily credited to a push by famed aviator and Soviet Air Force navigator Marina Raskova, who convinced Stalin to let her form and train three female aviation regiments, notably the 588th Fighter Aviation Regiment, which would gain fame under the name given to it by the Germans, die Nachthexen.

This regiment flew ridiculously obsolete biplanes made of canvas and wood that had open cockpits but neither radio nor guns. Because of this vulnerability, they only flew night missions, primarily to harass German troops although they also engaged in precision bombing of supply depots and other military targets. Pilots often made multiple bombing runs over the course of a night and each one would eventually fly over eight hundred missions before the war’s end. The most famous Night Witch, Nadia Popova, a Ukrainian who had been flying since the age of fifteen, made a record eighteen runs in one night. The nickname of die Nachthexen, or Night Witches, came from the rustling sound the canvas made as the planes swooped down low to drop their bombs (having previously cut their noisy engines for stealth purposes).

Are you f*cking kidding me? Hollywood, where is my movie of this?

Nadia Popova eyes the camera surrounded by some glorious bad-asses.

To read more about these incredible women:

  • Molly Merryman, Clipped Wings: The Rise and Fall of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) of World War II
  • Anne Noggle, For God, Country and the Thrill of It: Women Airforce Service Pilots During WWII
  • Bruce Myles, Night Witches: The Amazing Story of Russia’s Women Pilots in WWII
  • Anne Noggle, A Dance with Death: Soviet Airwomen in World War II

Podcast episodes:
Stuff You Missed in History Class: Four Flights of Female Aviators
Stuff You Missed in History Class: WASP of WWII, Part 1
Stuff You Missed in History Class: WASP of WWII, Part 2
Stuff You Missed in History Class: The Night Witches

For previous posts in this Women 101 series, click below:
From Abigail Adams to Zenobia
Birds of the Air

For the next post in this series, see Soldiers and Spies in the Civil War.

Women 101—Birds of the Air


If you follow me on Twitter you have probably already seen this fierce photo of Bessie Coleman.

If you follow me on Twitter you have probably already seen this fierce photo of Bessie Coleman.

For this “pilot study” of my Women 101 series, we look at female flyers. Growing up, like many people, I was well aware of the exploits and mysterious disappearance of Amelia Earhart, who I presumed to be the aviatrix of the early twentieth century. What I didn’t realize is that there were plenty of female pilots and aviation pioneers to choose from. Unfortunately, in this age of experimentation and general lack of safety precautions, many of these women did not live beyond their piloting days.

Sophie Blanchard (1778–1819)
First, for a bit of pre-airplane history, look no further than Sophie Blanchard, wife of Jean-Pierre Blanchard, the world’s first professional balloonist. While not the first woman to ascend in a balloon, Blanchard was the first woman to pilot one as a professional. After her husband died in 1809 (he fell from his balloon after suffering a heart attack), Sophie continued her career—primarily to pay the debts her husband left behind—traveling throughout Europe and eventually making sixty-seven total ascents, many at night. If you are interested in learning more, check out this trailer for an upcoming animated documentary called The Fantastic Flights of Sophie Blanchard. Unfortunately, ballooning in the early 1800s was an extremely risky proposition, especially when you choose to launch fireworks from your hydrogen balloon. For that reason, Blanchard also has the misfortune to be the first woman to die in an aviation accident, when her balloon caught fire and crashed onto the roof of a house in Paris, whereupon she fell to her death. Damn, girl.

Katharine Wright (1874–1929)
Despite doing a report on the Wright brothers for my sixth-grade social studies class, I don’t think I ever knew that they had a sister until this Drunk History episode. Or maybe I just forgot. I blame The Man. In any case, Katharine was no slouch herself, graduating from Oberlin College in 1898 and becoming a teacher in her hometown of Dayton, Ohio. [Did you know that Oberlin is the oldest coeducational institution in the United States? I didn’t until just now!] Katharine was the only one of her siblings to go to college and was very close to her brothers, and she does eventually join the family business, but there seems to be some dispute over the exact nature of her work. While Drunk History argues for a pretty key role in their aviation experiments, Historian Cindy Wilkey disputes this. This is one case where I’d like to see more research; if you can recommend any books or other materials on Katharine Wright, I welcome suggestions.

Raymonde de Laroche (1882–1919)
Speaking of the Wright brothers, Parisian-born Elise Deroche (whose stage name was Raymonde de Laroche) was inspired to take up flying after seeing a demonstration by Wilbur Wright in Paris in 1908. She even got to take a ride in his plane—fancy! Having a number of aviator friends, including aeroplane builder Charles Voisin, she was able to take lessons and, in 1910, became the first woman in the world to earn a pilot’s license. However, later that same year, she suffered serious injuries after crashing during an airshow in Reims and didn’t return to flying for two years. With the arrival of WWI, Laroche was effectively grounded, but became a military driver, taking officers to the front under fire. If that wasn’t bad-ass enough, in 1919, after setting both altitude and distance records, she tried to become a professional test pilot, but crashed with her co-pilot while flying an experimental craft.

Harriet Quimby (1875–1912)
Harriet Quimby began her professional life as a journalist in San Francisco (California, represent!) and then moved to New York City in 1903 to become a theater critic and eventually a screenwriter for D.W. Griffith. She became interested in aviation after seeing an airshow in 1910 and, in 1911, earned her pilot’s license from the Aero Club of America, becoming the first American woman to do so (and the second woman in the world after Raymonde de Laroche). She was also the first woman to undertake a night flight. Like many early flyers, she performed on the exhibition circuit and was apparently known for her purple satin flight suit. In 1912, she became the first woman to fly solo across the English Channel; however, this accomplishment received little attention since it occurred just one day after the sinking of the RMS Titanic. Way to get your thunder stolen, Quimby! Later that same year, while flying at an airshow in Boston, her new Blériot monoplane pitched forward for unknown reasons and ejected Quimby and her passenger William Willard, who both fell to their deaths. Yikes.

I thought I had never heard of Harriet Quimby but I totally remember this airmail stamp so I guess I just wasn't paying attention.

I thought I had never heard of Harriet Quimby but I totally remember this airmail stamp so I guess I just wasn’t paying attention.

Lilian Bland (1878–1971)
I think I might have a bit of a girl crush on Lilian Bland, an unconventional Anglo-Irish journalist and photographer who, among other things, smoked, swore, and shamelessly wore trousers. Bland was an avid hunter and horsewoman, who, despite earning a jockey’s license, was denied entry in the Grand National because of her gender. Her photography was at such a level that her 1908 exhibit at the Royal Photographic Society in London is believed to include the first color plates of flying birds ever captured. Her studies of bird flight and interest in aviation eventually led her to design, build, and fly her own biplane, humorously named Mayfly, in 1910. In a pinch, while waiting for a fuel tank, she used an empty whiskey bottle. [Have I mentioned I love this woman?] Unlike many of the women in this post, Bland was able to live a long life, probably due to the fact that her concerned father convinced her to give up the Mayfly in exchange for a new Model T.

Bessie Coleman (1892–1926)
And so we come to the woman that inspired it all. I first learned of Bessie Coleman while editing a U.S. History textbook and realizing that the images in the chapter on the 1920s were incredibly white and incredibly male. A reviewer tipped me to the story of Coleman, which is truly incredible. The daughter of a Texas sharecropper of both African American and Cherokee descent, she had an early interest in flying but her financial circumstances along with her race and gender meant that flight school in the United States was denied to her. Not one to give up easily, she saved her money to take French lessons, got a passport, and then traveled to France where she took lessons and became a licensed pilot in 1921. She was the first black woman, and the first person of Native American descent, to obtain a pilot’s license. Eventually, she returned to the United States and achieved success and fame on the airshow circuit, although she experienced a terrible crash in 1923 in Oakland, California. She consistently promoted equality for African Americans and fought for her audiences to be desegregated. She even hoped to start a school for African American pilots. Unfortunately, she died before she could achieve this dream. While scouting parachute landing sites as a passenger during a practice flight in a recently purchased biplane in Jacksonville, Florida, she was thrown from her plane when it inexplicably went into a tailspin and flipped. Pilots still fly over her grave in Chicago to drop flowers in her honor.

The sky is the only place there is no prejudice. Up there, everyone is equal, everyone is free.

—Bessie Coleman

Beryl Markham (1902–1986)
Like Lilian Bland, Beryl Markham (née Clutterbuck) was an avid British-born horsewoman, though she grew up in Kenya, not Kent. She was reputed to be wild and fearless. As a child, she learned to hunt with a both a spear and bow and arrow and once, along with a cousin, killed a deadly black mamba with sticks. Following in her father’s footsteps, she was an excellent rider and trainer of wild horses. She was friends with Danish writer Karen Blixen, even living with her for a time when Markham’s first marriage was breaking down. In 1929, she discovered flying, going up for the first time with Denys Finch Hatton, Blixen’s lover (with whom Markham would eventually be involved). She earned her pilot’s license in 1931 and her B license in 1933, which allowed her to become a commercial pilot. As one of the first bush pilots, she acted as an air taxi for passengers and those with medical emergencies, delivered mail and supplies, and spotted game for those on safari. Her most notable achievement was being the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west (aka “the hard way”). It was hard in more ways than one. She almost immediately lost her chart of the Atlantic out the cockpit window, low visibility meant that she essentially flew blind most of the way, and she had no radio. Finally, she experienced fuel starvation during the flight, knew she was well short of New York, but managed to crash land in Nova Scotia. Respect.

Elinor Smith (1911–2010)
I came across New Yorker Elinor Smith while researching some of the other pilots on this list. Mostly, I love the fact that she was known as the “Flying Flapper of Freeport” and that on a dare in 1928 she flew under all four East River bridges. I guess that’s the kind of thing you do when you are the youngest licensed pilot in the world at age 16. By 1929, she had established multiple endurance records and Bellanca Aircraft had hired her as a demonstration pilot. She later worked as a high altitude test pilot for them. Along with Bobbi Trout, in November 1929, she set a new women’s endurance record and the team became the first women to accomplish a mid-air refueling. She was the first woman to be pictured on a Wheaties box. She doesn’t seem to have had any major crashes and continued to work in the industry as a radio commentator, magazine contributor, and aviation policy adviser before marrying and settling down to raise her family. I can’t believe this amazing woman was still alive less than ten years ago, but she was. In fact, she eventually returned to the air after the death of her husband in the 1950s and, in March 2000, she took on NASA’s space shuttle simulator with an all-woman crew and became the oldest pilot to succeed in a simulated shuttle landing. Truly inspirational.

Ads featuring Beryl Markham (left) and Elinor Smith (right)

Ads featuring Beryl Markham (left) and Elinor Smith (right)

To read more about these incredible women:

  • Eileen Lebow, Before Amelia: Women Pilots in the Early Days of Aviation
  • Jacqueline McLean, Women with Wings
  • Mary Lovell, Straight on Till Morning: the Biography of Beryl Markham
  • Beryl Markham, West with the Night

Podcast episodes:
Stuff You Missed in History Class: Sophie Blanchard and Balloonomania
The History Chicks: Sophie Blanchard
Stuff You Missed in History Class: Four Flights of Female Aviators
Stuff You Missed in History Class: Aviatrix Lilian Bland
Stuff You Missed in History Class: Bessie Coleman: Daredevil Aviatrix
The History Chicks: Bessie Coleman
The History Chicks: Amelia Earhart
Stuff You Missed in History Class: Westward Bound: Beryl Markham’s Transatlantic Flight

For the announcement of this Women 101 series, see From Abigail Adams to Zenobia.

For the next post in this series, see Wasps and Witches.

Women 101—From Abigail Adams to Zenobia


Abigail Adams, second First Lady of the United States

Abigail Adams, second First Lady of the United States

For a few years I’ve wanted to do special posts for Women’s History Month, but I had never been able to get my act together enough for such an undertaking. Until now.

Posts on Mondays and Thursdays throughout the month will highlight women who should have a bigger place in our history books, from ancient warrior queens to little-known adventurers and explorers to scientists and mathematicians overshadowed by their male colleagues.

It goes without saying that many of these overlooked women are not saints, and often benefitted from systemic racism and/or white privilege to undertake what they did. My brief capsule introductions to these women generally won’t have room for real discussion of these complex issues and I highly encourage you to seek out more detailed information on these women to get the full picture. I will try to list or link to sources whenever I can.

Where did I come across these stories? Sometimes it was while researching for an editing gig, sometimes it was via the many history podcasts I listen to (Footnoting History, The History Chicks, and Stuff You Missed in History Class, among others), sometimes—quite often in fact—it was via Drunk History. I will link to these episodes in my posts when possible.

So, tune in tomorrow when we kick things off with some fierce flyers, including my beloved Bessie Coleman, who inspired this project.

Queen Zenobia Addressing Her Soldiers (1725) by Giambattista Tiepolo

Queen Zenobia Addressing Her Soldiers (1725) by Giambattista Tiepolo

Oscar Blitz: Wish List



And the Oscar goes to…


After seeing six of the nine films nominated for Best Picture as well as a few other nominees,* I hereby present my wish list for tonight’s awards. Even though I liked many of the nominated films, I’m not really rooting for anything in particular; mostly I’m just hoping for one or two surprises and that La La Land doesn’t sweep. My personal favorite of the Best Picture nominees is Arrival, but if I had to vote for one, I might pick Hell or High Water, since, of everything I saw, it had the fewest flaws. I just can’t think of anything I would have changed in that film, either technically or in its structure or performances.

I thought Hidden Figures was wonderful—because it’s a great story, not because it was especially hard to tell. It’s almost like a glorified Movie of the Week. Moonlight and Hacksaw Ridge were really very good, but I don’t think of them as a best picture. La La Land was tremendously enjoyable, but not all that deep or memorable. That left me with Manchester by the Sea and Hell or High Water, two compassionate movies that were incredibly well written, directed and acted. Hell or High Water isn’t going to win, but it was my favorite, and it will be remembered as a true American classic.

—Quote from Brutally Honest Oscar Ballot No. 1

With that said, and based on what I’ve seen, here is what or who the oddsmakers think will win tonight, what or who I would like to see win, and, in some categories, those I feel should (or shouldn’t) have been nominated. As always, if I propose a “new” nomination, I take a current nominee off the list: This doesn’t necessarily mean the person or film is undeserving (though it can), but it’s easy to say that so-and-so should have been nominated when the reality is that there are only five slots to fill.

I normally don’t like musicals, but because everything’s so f*cking miserable in the world, La La Land—even though it doesn’t end on a positive note—took me out of the moment and found a place in my heart. It was a good distraction.

—Quote from Brutally Honest Oscar Ballot No. 3

Best Picture
Will win: La La Land
Should win: Arrival
Should have been nominated: American Honey, The Handmaiden
Shouldn’t have been nominated: Hacksaw Ridge

Ah-ga-ssi (The Handmaiden) is one of the most entertaining movies I saw last year while still maintaining a real personal (and gorgeous) style. It also was a fantastic example of resetting an excellent novel in a completely different time and place and having it work just as well. As for American Honey, I’m sorry I didn’t see this road movie in the theater because it was gorgeously filmed and as relevant to today’s America as anything else nominated. Plus, any movie that is relatively plotless for well over two hours and still keeps my attention deserves some sort of award.

Sasha Lane in Andrea Arnold's American Honey

Sasha Lane in Andrea Arnold’s American Honey

Will win: Damien Chazelle for La La Land
Should win: Denis Villeneuve for Arrival
Should have been nominated: Andrea Arnold for American Honey, Park Chan-wook for The Handmaiden
Shouldn’t have been nominated: Mel Gibson for Hacksaw Ridge, Kenneth Lonergan for Manchester by the Sea

Adapted Screenplay
Will win: Moonlight
Should win: Arrival
Should have been nominated: The Handmaiden, Love & Friendship
Shouldn’t have been nominated: Fences, Moonlight (see below)

Original Screenplay
Will win: Manchester by the Sea
Should win: Hell or High Water
Should have been nominated: Moonlight
Shouldn’t have been nominated: La La Land

Let me tell you, I did not understand The Lobster—it made me nuts. 20th Century Women is a terrific screenplay—very unconventional in its structure and storytelling—and it really worked for me. I didn’t think La La Land’s screenplay was that great, it was just serviceable. It was very close for me between Manchester, because Lonergan is so great at creating complex characters and layered stories, and Hell or High Water, which I loved even more, largely because of the artful but not arty writing.

—Quote from Brutally Honest Oscar Ballot No. 2

The Handmaiden, an adaptation of Sarah Water's Fingersmith

The Handmaiden, an adaptation of Sarah Water’s Fingersmith

Actor in a Leading Role
Will win: Casey Affleck for Manchester by the Sea
Should win: Viggo Mortensen for Captain Fantastic
Should have been nominated: Colin Farrell for The Lobster
Shouldn’t have been nominated: Ryan Gosling for La La Land

I loved, loved, loved Viggo Mortensen’s performance. He is an actors’ actor, and I voted for him. Unfortunately, it’s probably the only vote he’ll get.

—Quote from Brutally Honest Oscar Ballot No. 1

Actress in a Leading Role
Will win: Emma Stone for La La Land
Should win: Ruth Negga for Loving
Should have been nominated: Amy Adams for Arrival
Shouldn’t have been nominated: Meryl Streep for Florence Foster Jenkins

I love French films, but Isabelle Huppert was just doing what she often does, playing a sophisticated Frenchwoman with a secret.

—Quote from Brutally Honest Oscar Ballot No. 2

Actor in a Supporting Role
Will win: Mahershala Ali for Moonlight
Should win: Mahershala Ali for Moonlight
Should have been nominated: Sunny Pawar for Lion
Shouldn’t have been nominated: Dev Patel for Lion

Actress in a Supporting Role
Will win: Viola Davis for Fences
Should win: Michelle Williams for Manchester by the Sea
Should have been nominated: Greta Gerwig for 20th Century Women
Shouldn’t have been nominated: Nicole Kidman for Lion

The adorable (and incredible) Sunny Pawar in Lion

The adorable (and incredible) Sunny Pawar in Lion

Will win: La La Land
Should win: Lion
Should have been nominated: The Innocents, The Light Between Oceans
Shouldn’t have been nominated: Arrival, Silence

I hated Silence—there were 85 really good minutes in a three hour movie. He [Scorsese] is so wonderful, but he has got to get over his Catholic guilt. I know it’s not the cinematographer’s fault, but damn.

—Quote from Brutally Honest Oscar Ballot No. 3

Film Editing
Will win: La La Land
Should win: Arrival
Should have been nominated: Green Room
Shouldn’t have been nominated: La La Land

Production Design
Will win: La La Land
Should win: Passengers
Should have been nominated: The Handmaiden
Shouldn’t have been nominated: Hail, Caesar!

Fantastic Beasts looked great, but not as great as Passengers. The movie sucks, but it looked f*cking cool—I mean, that’s the cruise I want to go on, without the hell they had to experience. I want to be able to get off at some point.

—Quote from Brutally Honest Oscar Ballot No. 3

Costume Design
Will win: La La Land
Should win: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Should have been nominated: The Dressmaker, Handmaiden, Love & Friendship, The Love Witch
Shouldn’t have been nominated: Allied, Florence Foster Jenkins, Jackie, La La Land

The four above categories are really where La La Land wins by default based on the weaknesses of the other nominees. After seeing it pointed out on Twitter how poorly lit the opening scene was (compared to Jacques Demy’s Les Demoiselles de Rochefort), I just can’t get behind it for cinematography, and a nomination for costume design is simply ludicrous. Furthermore, I would never in a million years pick it for editing. A nomination for production design is fine I suppose, but there are plenty of films I would rather have seen nominated and win there.

Some of the fabulous costumes in The Dressmaker

Some of the fabulous costumes in The Dressmaker

Original Score
Will win: La La Land
Should win: Jackie
Should have been nominated: Arrival
Shouldn’t have been nominated: Passengers

Original Song
Will win: “City of Stars” from La La Land
Should win: “City of Stars” from La La Land
Should have been nominated: “I’m So Humble” from Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, “Drive It Like You Stole It” from Sing Street
Shouldn’t have been nominated: “Audition (The Fools Who Dream)” from La La Land, “The Empty Chair” from Jim: The James Foley Story

As I’ve stated before, it’s b*llshit that Arrival wasn’t eligible for its score. And Passengers was only nominated because it’s Thomas Newman. That said, I think that Best Score is one nomination that La La Land can rightfully lay claim to, so I’m fine with it winning. It almost certainly will win for “City of Stars” which I think is at least a legitimate nomination in a category that I maintain is due for elimination.

And with that, I think I’ve exhausted the categories I really care about, so I will just leave you with this beauty from one of the anonymous Oscar voters interviewed by The Hollywood Reporter.

I’m not big on animation or animators. I know a girl who only has sex with animators—she works over at Disney. In any event, my least favorite was Moana—just typical Disney fare. I really, really liked Kubo and the Two Strings, My Life As a Zucchini and Zootopia. But I loved The Red Turtle—it was so simple and it spoke about life and it looked like a watercolor painting to me. Plus I have a fetish for turtles—I’ve just written a project about a turtle.

—Quote from Brutally Honest Oscar Ballot No. 3

Oscar Statues

Who would you like to see take home one of these golden boys?

*Oscar-nominated features I’ve seen to date: Allied, Arrival, Captain Fantastic, Elle, Florence Foster Jenkins, Hail Caesar!, Hell or High Water, Hidden Figures, Jackie, La La Land, Lion, The Lobster, Loving, Moonlight, O.J.: Made in America, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, 13th, 20th Century Women, Zootopia

Oscar Blitz: Short and Sweet



Since I’m not really doing an Oscar blitz this year (having already seen most of the films I wanted to see when they came out) and because I’m finding it hard to gin up enthusiasm for debating the merits of nominees in specific categories, I won’t be doing an Oscar Blitz series this year.* However, I did want to highlight the stellar line-up of Oscar shorts I saw this past weekend.

For the eighth year in a row, La Maratonista and I took in both the Animated and Live Action Short Film programs at our local Landmark cinema. I’m sad to report this is likely our last such annual outing as she will soon be moving on to bigger and better things. And I don’t mean feature films—she and her husband are literally moving. Farewell, opera buddy, I wish you all the success in the world with your new baby, new degree program, and your new home! I just hope San Francisco will lure you back one day soon.


At least we are going out on a high. Upon leaving the theater, La Maratonista and I agreed that this was the most solid field we’ve ever seen in our years of watching these collections. Both categories were very strong and, while we didn’t love everything, there was nothing we hated. Of course, that makes predictions a little more difficult, but let’s give it a try, shall we?

The nominees are…

Animated Short Film
Blind Vaysha
Borrowed Time
Pear Cider and Cigarettes

While all the animated films had something in their favor, I’d guess that Piper has this one locked up. As I wrote last summer, the stellar animation in Piper, which played before Finding Dory, only highlighted the weaknesses of the animation in that film. Plus, it has an incredibly sweet story of overcoming your fears and triumphing over adversity.

The only film that comes even close to it in the odds is Blind Vaysha. This film is based on a short story by Georgi Gospodinov and has the look and feel of an Eastern European fairy tale. I didn’t love the animation, but it certainly fit the mood of the piece. The last few lines are incredibly poetic and provoked a strong positive reaction from the crowd in the theater. [Side note for Wonderfalls fans: Caroline Dhavernas does the narration in both the French and English versions.]

As for the other three nominated films, we loved the look of Borrowed Time, but wanted a bit more from it. Pearl was just sort of meh from a story perspective (and I really didn’t love the animation). Pear Cider and Cigarettes earned a strong content warning and played last on the bill, even after the “highly commended” extras, but didn’t really live up to the expectation that such a warning seemed to promise. Frankly, it was a bit boring, although that might be due to the fact that all of the other films in this program ran 6-8 minutes while Pear Cider was a full 35. The extra films added to round out the bill (Asteria, Happy End, La Tête disparaît) were all solid, but didn’t make me feel the wrong films had been nominated.

The animation of Pixar's latest entry, Piper, is truly incredible.

The animation of Pixar’s latest entry, Piper, is truly incredible.

Live Action Short Film
Ennemis intérieurs
La Femme et le TGV
Silent Nights

The live action films revolved around the theme of connections, whether making or breaking them, and were mostly of the sweet or bittersweet variety. I definitely recommend this program over the animated shorts if you are choosing just one, especially since these films are considerably longer than the animated selections, with almost all of them being 30 minutes or so.

As we felt might be the case on leaving the theater—given the current political climate—Ennemis intérieurs (Enemies Within) is apparently the odds-on favorite with bookmakers. In any other year, this film might be too specifically French to play well with a general audience; however, given that it concerns a long-time Algerian resident applying for French citizenship and being coerced by his beur interviewer into naming names, it may be a chance for the Academy to make a strong statement on the Muslim Ban.

The brilliantly acted Ennemis intérieurs, a front-runner in the Oscar race.

Ennemis intérieurs is brilliantly acted and a strong contender.

Ennemis intérieurs is followed fairly closely in the odds by Timecode and Sing, both of which I really liked. I won’t spoil either, but suffice it to say that the ending of each is very rewarding. Speaking of rewarding endings, I’m surprised that La Femme et le TGV is not more in the mix, since it stars Jane Birkin and has a very Amélie vibe, but it is well behind the others in the odds, along with Silent Nights. La Maratonista both agreed that Silent Nights is probably the least likely to win. Of course, in the past, this would almost guarantee an Oscar. Really I could see any of these snagging an award and would be fine with the selection. I’m not even sure which one I would vote for if I had the chance. It would probably depend on the day.

As always, I highly encourage you to support these short films by seeking them out at your local theater.

Timecode: Sometimes you only need an audience of one.

Timecode is proof that sometimes you only need an audience of one.

*Never fear, I will be posting an Oscar Wish List later this week as we get closer to the big night.