Oscar-Nominated Live Action Short Films 2014

OscarShortFilms 75The finalists for the 2014 Oscar in the live short film category do not disappoint in this regard, and in fact, I had a hard time picking a winner. 

 

Live action short films present directors with a specific challenge—tell a complete and satisfying story in 40 minutes or less—while for audiences, they’re a great way to get acquainted with talented actors and directors whose work you might not otherwise see. The finalists for the 2014 Oscar in the live short film category do not disappoint in this regard, and in fact, I had a hard time picking a winner. Three of the finalists—“Helium,” “Just Before Losing Everything,” and “It Wasn’t Me”—are all excellent in different ways, while the remaining two—“The Voorman Problem” and “Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?”—are not quite as strong, but are still are well worth seeing. Since the Oscars tend to like sentiment, I predict they’ll go for “Helium,” and if I were held at gunpoint and forced to name a favorite, that’s the one I would go with also.

The Danish film “Helium” (23 min.), directed by Anders Walter, packs a lot of heart into its short length. A young boy (Pelle Falk Krusbaek) is confined to a hospital where he is dying of some unspecified disease. A hospital janitor (Casper Crump), abetted by a sympathetic nurse (Marijana Jankovic), notes the boy’s interest in airships and begins telling him about the wonderful land of Helium, way up in the sky above the clouds, where sick children go to regain their health and meet with their dead relatives. If that sounds like the children’s version of the Christian heaven, it is, although thankfully it comes without the hateful baggage that sometimes accompanies Christianity. “Helium” is a beautiful little film, and it’s exactly the length it needs to be—let’s hope no one decides to cash in by turning it into a feature.

The French film “Just Before Losing Everything” (30 min.) written and directed by Xavier Legrand, creates a strong impact through naturalistic acting and expert visual storytelling. The story, about a woman (Léa Drucker) and her children fleeing an abusive husband, unfolds almost in real time. This, plus the combination of ordinary details (paperwork, sibling squabbles, discussions about the traffic) and locations (most of the action takes place in a supermarket) give the film an almost documentary feel, which contributes to the heightening tension as the time of the planned escape approaches.

Worlds collide in Spanish screenwriter/director Esteban Crepo’s “That Wasn’t Me” (24 min.) as two Spanish aid workers in an unnamed African country run afoul of a rebel militia consisting largely of child soldiers. The action is intense and realistic, but Crepo has a larger purpose: to examine the circumstances faced by child soldiers and those who try to help them. As one former child soldier said: “Being a soldier is not that difficult: either you get used to it or they kill you. The most difficult thing is to get used to living with your own memories and to being yourself again after doing the things you have done.”

The British film “The Voorman Problem” (13 min.) offers more a philosophical puzzle than a narrative, as it seeks to bring into question how we know what we know, and whether we can be sure what we think we know is true. A psychiatrist (Martin Freeman) is brought into a prison to determine whether a prisoner, Voorman (Tom Hollander), truly believes he is a God (in which case he is insane and belongs in an asylum) or is just faking it (in which case he stays in the prison). There is a third possibility, of course: maybe he really is the one and only God, really did create the world nine days ago (as he claims), and our memories of earlier times were also created by him, as some claim fossils were created by God to test our faith in the Biblical version of creation. A too-clever conclusion lets the viewer down, but “The Voorman Problem” is still worth seeing, particularly for Freeman and Hollander’s performances.

The lone comedy among the live action finalists, and also the shortest among them, the Finnish film “Do I have to Take Care of Everything?” (7 min.) looks at a chaotic morning in a middle-class Finnish household, as a harried mother (Joanna Haartti) struggles to get her family ready for a wedding. Selma Vilhumen’s sweet-natured film is enjoyable enough while you’re watching it, but it feels quite insubstantial in comparison to the more serious subject matter treated by the other finalists. | Sarah Boslaugh

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