Review: Oscar Nominated Shorts

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OSCAR_SHORTS_2014_Poster_1000px_highAfter months of speculation, we’re just one day away from discovering which films will have been considered worthy of the moniker “Academy Award winner.”  Countless articles have been written in countless publications and websites about the “big” categories, but there seems to be a shortage of insight into the lesser known, but just as valuable, short films.  Unlike the Best Picture category with a whopping nine nominees, there are only five for Best Animated Short Film, and five for Best Live-Action Short Film.  I try to watch all the short films every year, and while this isn’t the best batch I’ve ever seen, it’s an eclectic group of shorts, definitely worth seeking out.

I have to admit, some of the nominees this year seem significantly less than worthy.  That’s not to say there isn’t something worthwhile to discover in each film, but I was surprised at just how generic a few of them are.  That being said, there are some that are absolutely stupendous and have etched themselves a permanent place in my memory.  Let’s start with the animated short that everybody has seen, Get A Horse.  If you’re a regular reader of this site, than you’re probably very aware of this Mickey Mouse cartoon that was attached to Frozen.  On the off chance you’re one of the handful of people who haven’t yet seen this film, I won’t ruin any of the surprises.  I’ll just say that it is the best Mickey Mouse film in many years, with humor well beyond what’s on the surface.  It’s a return to form for Mickey, showcasing his sadistic side in a hilarious way, and playing with the conventions of animation in a way that is unlike anything seen before.  A masterpiece of animation and storytelling, this WILL be the winner in this category, and deservedly so.

It’s not that the other films aren’t good.  There is some stunning animation throughout the other films, but none of them truly captured my imagination or wowed me to the degree that the films in this category have in the past.  Strictly in terms of animation itself, Feral is a fantastic work of art.  A boy raised by wolves has to resolve the struggle between his humanity and the animal within.  It’s all very surreal, symbolic and not at all accessible.  However, it is beautiful and highly impressive on a technical level.

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The other shorts include Possessions, which is a very brief but entertaining film about inanimate objects coming to life, Mr Hublot, which is a computer animated steam-punk style look at a robotic and precise figure who obtains a giant robot-dog-creature thing that turns his carefully controlled life upside down, and Room on the Broom, which is a great adaption of the classic children’s story.  I was very impressed with Possessions and it’s creative depictions of what living versions of various inanimate objects would look like but found the story itself to be lacking and overall pointless.  Unfortunately, Mr. Hublot was my least favorite of the bunch.  While it had a sweet ending and an interesting visual style, the story felt a little generic and just didn’t have the same artistry of the other films.  Finally, Room on the Broom tells the story of a witch and her growing assortment of taggers-along as she’s flying with her pet cat.  As she picks up more and more animal passengers, the crowded nature of the broom begins to cause resentment from her beloved pet.  Simon Pegg proves a marvelous narrator, with notable voicework by the likes of Gillian Anderson as the witch and Sally Hawkins as the bird providing for a truly entertaining, if not slightly repetitive film.

As for the Live-Action films, it’s a little harder to identify a clear-cut frontrunner.  However, it’s far easier to completely eliminate one of them.  Do I Have to Take Care of Everything? is a complete mystery to me as to how it got nominated.  It’s practically a sitcom in it’s quest to tell a story about a family trying to get to a wedding on time.  The relationship between the family members is sweet and the escalating tension to get there is somewhat amusing, but this is far from an Academy worthy film.

I wouldn’t be surprised to find any of the other films winning the category.  That Wasn’t Me is a harrowing look at the relationship between an African child soldier and the medical volunteers kidnapped by his General.  The film is just under half an hour, but a lot happens in this one.  The evolution this child goes through is incredibly powerful, and the acting across the board is amongst the best in the bunch.

Helium was a very sweet story about the friendship that develops between a hospital janitor and a terminal child he encounters.  He ends up bringing hope to this boy’s life by telling him specifics about the transition to the other side through a mythical world he calls “Helium.”  As the boy’s conditions worsen, the janitor finds himself separated from the child, unable to complete the story.  It’s a moving film that develops the relationship between these characters in an extremely effective way, and a beautiful ending that will stay with me for a long time.  Of all the live-action short films, this is the most fanciful, with charming special effects depicting the world after our own.

Just Before Losing Everything is great, but I almost with one was longer.  I feel like there was more story to mine from this situation.  A woman and her two kids are heading on the run from her abusive husband.  They have to stop at the store she works in, only to be trapped as he goes to the store himself looking for her.  It’s intense, but simplistic.  Most notable about this film is the structure.  The filmmaker doesn’t explain what’s happening right away, treating the specifics of the story as a puzzle to be pieced together.  Without getting specific, it also seems like there were options for the lady that just weren’t even considered.  Overall, a solid entry, but probably not worthy of a win.

Wrapping up the short films is The Voorman Problem.  I really enjoyed this story of a psychiatrist sent to investigate the claims of a man claiming to be God.  Martin Freeman plays the psychiatrist, and does a great job as a man having to come to terms with the fact that he just might not have all the answers.  As the short goes on, Freeman’s character is forced to accept the fact that what the man says just might be true, and the world as he knows it might not be all it appears to be.  It’s a really fun film, but I expected a little more open-endedness.  Things are explicitly spelled out by the end, and I found that detrimental to the film as a whole.  Still, a great short, and definitely worth checking out

With all that being said, I’m very confident in Get A Horse’s chances.  If I had to pick a live-action winner, I would probably go with That Wasn’t Me.  However, it’s a very strong group of films in that category.  It’s a shame that the short films don’t get more attention.  Length is irrelevant if the content is there, and there are some true gems that will never be seen by the average audience.  I can’t wait to find out who takes home the top prize, and I hope that the exposure received as a result will bring more people to these great films.

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