Thursday, February 6, 2014

2013 Oscar-Nominated Shorts: Live-Action

Yesterday I wrote about the nominees for the Best Animated Short Film Oscar category. Today's the live-action shorts, which I had also seen yesterday by myself in the theater (the animated shorts had a few other attendees). I honestly can't remember the last time that I was completely alone in a theater; it may have actually been 2005, when I went to an early afternoon, weekday showing of Batman Begins really late in the film's run. It's an odd experience, but kind of cool too.

Anyway, the nominees are (after the jump):

Helium (Anders Walter and Kim Magnusson)

Helium focuses on Alfred (Pelle Falk Krusbæk), a terminally-ill child who befriends Enzo (Caspar Crump) after Enzo begins telling him about the mystical land of Helium. The film functions as a surprisingly quiet and effective rumination on death, with Alfred accepting his unfortunate lot in this life with the promise of a better one in the next, and Enzo having the opportunity to touch a life in need. The fantasy sequences are particularly beautiful, visually exciting while integrated into the themes of the film. It's a warm, heart-tugging work. (Trailer can be found here)

The Voorman Problem (Mark Gill and Baldwin Li)

The Voorman Problem is certainly the flashiest of the five nominated shorts. The film concerns a psychiatrist (Martin Freeman) who is brought in to interview a prisoner (Tom Hollander) who believes he is a god. There's a twist here that you can probably guess, and at 13 minutes, it jumps to it pretty quickly. The problem is that the premise isn't given much room to breathe here, jumping almost immediately from set-up to twist that it blunts the impact of its cleverness. Not to mention that after the first few minutes of their confrontation, it's fairly obvious where things are going to go. It certainly could have used the benefit of some extra length. (Trailer can be found here)

Avant Que De Tout Perdre [Just Before Losing Everything] (Xavier Legrand and Alexandre Gravas)

Avant Que De Tout Perdre begins with a bit of a mystery, as Miriam (Léa Drucker) picks up her young son Julien (Miljan Chatelain) and older daughter Josephine (Mathilde Auneveux) on her way to the big-box store where she works. It's revealed that Miriam is in the process of leaving her abusive husband (Denis Ménochet, best known as the farmer in the opening act of Inglourious Basterds), and the film's tone quickly switches from urgent mystery to high-stakes thriller. It's a remarkable work, fully insinuating the history of abuse and importance of escape with just a few sparse details. The filmmaking is remarkable too; Legrand is certainly a filmmaker worth keeping an eye on. It'll be exciting to see what he does next. (Trailer can be found here)

Aquel No Era Yo [That Wasn't Me] (Estaban Crespo)

Aquel No Era Yo tells the story of a former child soldier (Mariano Nguema) as he recounts an incident with a group of doctors (Gustavo Salmerón and Alejandra Lorenta), one of which (Lorenta) took him away from that life. The story unfolds rather unexpectedly, but with an emotional veracity that makes it all the more remarkable. The film moves from one beat to the next, and if there isn't much characterization beyond the characters' roles in the story (survivor, victim, etc.), then it makes up for it in riveting tension and brutal realism. (Trailer can be found here)

Pitääkö Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? [Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?] (Selma Vilhunun and Kirsikka Saari)

The shortest of the five nominated films (clocking in at only seven minutes), Pitääkö Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? is also the only pure comedy. A family (Joanna Haartti is the mother, Santtu Karvonen the father) panics in the rush for a wedding they are late for, with everything that could possibly go wrong doing just that. It's a very amusing, often laugh-out-loud comedy, with the length ensuring the perfect amount of comic escalation without overstaying its welcome. The punchline is somewhat expected, but nonetheless excellently delivered. And as a trivia note: this is only the second Finnish film to ever be nominated for an Oscar, following 2002 Best Foreign Language Film nominee The Man Without a Past. (Trailer can be found here)

My ballot would be as follows:

1. Avant Que De Tout Perdre [Just Before Losing Everything]
2. Aquel No Era Yo [That Wasn't Me]
3. Helium
4. Pitääkö Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? [Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?]
5. The Voorman Problem

"Just tell us who's going to win the Oscar, Jason, god." This is one of the hardest categories to predict, because there's just no real way of knowing how voters will respond to these films. I suspect that Helium, being the most heartwarming, might be the frontrunner here, but I can also see them rallying around Aquel No Era Yo, given the important subject matter of that one.

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