Once again The Screen answers the question, "How the hell do I see the shorts that are nominated for Academy Awards"? Starting Feb. 7, the Oscar-nominated shorts in animation, live action and documentary will be playing there. Each film is worth seeing in one way or another—and it's amazing how many of them are better than the features nominated for Best Picture.
Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?
This Finnish film is the shortest of the live action nominees and is also the only straight-up comedy. The Ketonen family oversleeps and has to hastily throw itself together for a wedding. Spilled coffee, missing gifts and Halloween costumes work their way into this delightful and smart film.
Just Before Losing Everything
Ever wondered how difficult is it to leave an abusive spouse? Just Before Losing Everything attempts to answer that question. This live action drama by Xavier Legrand is tense from its first frame and somehow, when it's over, it's just as tense. Léa Drucker is excellent as the woman who's trying to leave her husband and take her kids with her. This one is difficult but worthwhile.
The Voorman Problem
This short has a problem of its own: It's too short. Dr. Williams (Martin Freeman—you know, Bilbo Baggins) is a psychiatrist sent to interview an inmate, Voorman (Tom Hollander), who has convinced an entire prison population that he's God. The tone is perfect and the performances sharp. The only complaint is that there's much more to be said than what's here. Yeah, it's that good. The Voorman Problem is based, in part, on a novel by David Mitchell, who also wrote the novel Cloud Atlas. Here's hoping this is a test run.
Enzo, a hospital custodian, takes a liking to Alfred (Pelle Falk Krusbæk), a terminally ill boy. They share a love of balloons and soon Enzo is telling Alfred about Helium, a beautiful paradise in the sky for sick children. The description sounds a little maudlin and saccharine, but somehow it's touching, real, and heartfelt. The ending, which could have been a tragedy, is perfect.
That Wasn't Me
It's hard to imagine, but someone has made a movie that may be more harrowing than 12 Years a Slave. Good news, though: That Wasn't Me is only 26 minutes. It tells the story of a child soldier in Africa and what happens when he and a couple of European doctors cross paths. That Wasn't Me is violent, tense and scary as hell.
This animated short about a robot man and his adopted robot dog is charming. Mr. Hublot suffers from something like obsessive-compulsive disorder, but when he takes in an orphaned puppy, his life changes. And the dog changes, too, forcing Mr. Hublot to make adjustments. This simple story is beautifully animated and whoever did the dog's voice deserves his own award.
A samurai, a rainstorm and a shelter filled with discarded umbrellas and silks is the setting here. The colors in this animated film are bright, swirling and pop off the screen, and a tale about respect weaves its way into your consciousness without being pushy or too over the top. Why can't feature length animated films be this clever?
Room on the Broom
The one dog in the bunch is cute enough and it looks fine, but this animated short is so decidedly for children that it makes all the other shorts here (save Disney's Get a Horse!, which I haven't seen) seem really out of place. Or maybe Room on the Broom is out of place with its forced rhymes and a mean dragon (whose wings couldn't possibly support his weight). Still, it has its moments. The frog and the bird in particular are delightful.
The scariest of the animated shorts is not, in any way, for kids. The animation is stark but fastidious, and the feral boy at its center is no one to be trifled with. Feral also does very much with little dialogue. It's amazing what a growl and some snarling teeth can do.
Directed by many, many people