Your Guide To The Oscar Nominees For Best Live Action Short Film
Although the Academy Awards feature many technical awards that the general public usually couldn't care less for and foreign film nominees that don't get a stateside release until after the awards ceremony, the most obscure part of the ceremony is almost always the awards for the short films. With the exception of Disney and Pixar animated shorts that play before some of their summer blockbusters, almost none of these films get a regular release or even draw a larger public interest.
However, there are always bound to be a few gems, and a few major names have been awarded the Live Action Short Oscar before they made it big, including An Officer And A Gentleman and Ray director Taylor Hackford ("Teenage Father"), current Dr. Who Peter Capaldi ("Franz Kafka's It's A Wonderful Life"), The Devil Wears Prada director David Frankel ("Dear Diary"), and the British director of Fish Tank Andrea Arnold ("Wasp"). With the shorts programs hitting theaters ahead of the awards ceremony, now is your chance to see who might be the next big thing. Here's your guide to the five nominated for Best Live Action Short Film, in the order of presentation.
"Helium" | Director: Anders Walter
The Live Action Shorts program kicks off with a wallop of sentimental slop in this Danish offering where a dying, bedridden boy named Alfred finds comfort in the fantastical tales of the postmortem world of Helium, as told to him by Enzo the hospital janitor. Utilizing visuals that seem borrowed from television commercials and James Cameron's Avatar. Not really looking forward to dying, Alfred borrows a line from the David Byrne songbook and expresses that, "Heaven looks like a boring place to me." "Helium", only aiming to tug at your heartstrings, isn't that much more exciting or creative.
"The Voorman Problem" | Director: Mark Gill
Based on an excerpt from David Mitchell's number9dream, "The Voorman Problem" is a mano-a-mano battle of wits between a psychiatrist (Martin Freeman) and a prisoner (Tom Hollander) who has convinced his fellow prisoners that he is God. The film is very economical, essentially being a set up for pulling out the rug from underneath the audience and Freeman's Dr. Williams, though I did quite enjoy the punchline of "Walloon Lagoon."
"Just Before Losing Everything (Avant que de tout perdre)" | Director: Xavier Legrand
This French entry is the strongest of the bunch, an impressive juggling act of the motivations of individual characters coupled with a strong sense of visual and spatial grammar in the service of taut suspense. "Just Before Losing Everything" is a high-strung getaway plot that plays out almost in real time as Mariam (Léa Drucker) and her two children hide in the supermarket where she works as they look to escape her abusive husband (Denis Menochet, recognizable to American audiences as the dairy farmer from the first segment of Inglourious Basterds). The stakes are continuously raised as obstacle after obstacle is thrown at Mariam and her family, though it never feels like gratuitous piling on. Within the space of 30 minutes and the claustrophobic backrooms and hallways of a Costco-sized supermarket, just enough of the individual inner lives of Mariam and her two children are revealed to add a touch of humanity to its unstoppable, almost machine-like momentum.
"That Wasn't Me (Aquel no era yo)" | Director: Esteban Crespo
This Spanish submission unfortunately peddles in awful Eurocentric superiority over ugly African savagery. Told in flashback by former child-soldier Kaney before a captivated audience of Westerners safe from the brutalities of his war-torn nation, the meat of the story is the intersection of his life with that of Paula, his European savior. "That Wasn't Me" puts goes in-your-face with the human atrocities of war, execution, and rape in the unnamed country, but it falls into the fatal trap of channeling these tragedies towards Our White Hero. In "That Wasn't Me", it's not Kaney that is the victim of Europe's ugly imperialistic legacy in Africa, but Paula. Goodness gracious.
"Do I Have To Take Care Of Everything? (Pitääkö mun kaikki hoitaa?)" | Director Selma Vilhunen
The program closes out with the shortest and most light-hearted of the bunch (a perfect palate cleanser after the previous offering), a quick Finnish familial farce where Mom has to regain control of the situation when all of her family sleeps in on the day of a wedding they must attend. Much like the slightly similarly titled French short from the middle of the program, "Do I Have To Care Of Everything?" is also a tribute the hardnosed, never-say-die resiliency of mothers; but with less gravitas.
The Oscar-nominated Live Action Short Film program opens tonight at the Nuart Theatre (West L.A.) and the Regency South Coast Village 3 (Santa Ana). The films will become available on iTunes/Amazon and pay-per-view/video-on-demand on Feb. 25.