Before the Oscar’s settled on their top five Live Action Short Films of the year, I happened to track down two Oscar hopefuls and reviewed them. Those films were Aningaaq and RECORD/PLAY. After watching Oscar’s full ballot I have to say that I’m really upset that these two fine films were not included as nominees because they are both far better than three of these nominated films, and RECORD/PLAY is possibly better than all five of them (although there is one nominated film that is pretty amazing).
I just wanted to weigh in on my thoughts on the five Oscar hopefuls and which ones I feel have the best shot at Oscar. For $3 you can buy these on Amazon and watch them before the ceremony on Sunday. I highly suggest doing that.
Do I Have to Take Care of Everything? (Finland)
How did this get nominated? Pitaako mun Kaikki Hoitaa feels like a poorly conceived sitcom pilot with stereotypical humor throughout that never feels inspired or genuine but always feels completely and utterly false. The concept of a family struggling to get ready to attend a funeral could have been ripe for some fun, but instead this just falls into a hectic mess of stale jokes and an end result that is anticlimactic and unrewarding. This was just dumb.
Helium tells the story of a young boy on his deathbed who befriends a hospital janitor with a large heart and a large imagination. Fearing heaven, which looks boring to young Alfred, he is instantly captivated by Enzo’s tales of a magical world named Helium. Through these stories, Alfred’s fears begin to subside, but when his condition worsens and he is moved, out of reach of Enzo, the janitor finds himself struggling to tell Alfred the rest of the story before he is taken from this earth. As a narrative, it works, but I can’t help but feel detached from the film’s composition. While I can appreciate the direct nature of the subject, and some of the lingering shots were emotionally gratifying (especially the final shot of the balloon animals), for some reason the film kind of felt like an episode of Scrubs, lacking any real depth of emotion and feeling more stagey and superficial. The visual world of Helium is nicely constructed, it not a tad obvious.
Just Before Losing Everything (France)
My heart actually stopped for a few minutes towards the end of Avant Que de Tout Perdre. I honestly felt completely engrossed and found myself trying to catch my breath as I contemplated what the film’s title could be alluding to (or whom, to be more exact) and THAT is a true sign of great filmmaking. While it may have an unfair advantage, being 30 minutes long and thus having more time to build a story (and dealing with a ‘real time’ event, it felt tightly focused and streamlined perfectly) but really this is just a great film. Xavier Legrand’s filming style reminded me a lot of the Dardenne brothers; very gritty and honest. It didn’t hurt that the storyline, which centers on an abused woman trying to flee her husband while having her two children in tow, is topical, universal and heartbreaking. Lea Drucker and Denis Menochet are phenomenal here, building such backstory with their body language and facial expressions. Menochet in particular makes so much out of a singular scene (but anyone who’s seen Inglourious Basterds knows that that is nothing new for him).
That Wasn’t Me (Spain)
Well that was harsh. Aquel No Era Yo is certainly an aggressive and blunt film that does everything possible to get its point across, even if it isn’t entirely necessary. Dealing with the weightiest themes of the nominated five, that of child soldiers, Aquel No Era Yo throws a lot in your face at once, from murder to rape, but it never feels genuine. This is where a lack of running time really hurt the development of themes because the story winds up feeling rushed and underdeveloped. We get a lot of crazed chanting and obvious manipulation and fear induced brainwashing, but it all feels so cliché under the circumstances. The finale is also so convoluted and ridiculous in nature that it takes you out of the authentic devastation filmmaker Esteban Crespo was going for and turns this into a poorly realized action film. It’s hard to depict these atrocities without falling into some sort of garish visualization, but I wish they would have tried harder here. That said, the final moment packed a real emotional punch that is hard to shake.
The Voorman Problem (UK)
Mark Gill’s black comedy The Voorman Problem is short yet truly sweet, with slight comedic undertones that underscore the film’s more straightforward depiction of religious sanity. At only 13 minutes, the film pretty much consists of two conversations between two men, a psychiatrist, Dr. Williams, and an asylum inmate, Voorman. Voorman insists that he is God and that he created the world nine days prior and that he has created the idea of time and the passing of time by creating memories. The first conversation feels pretty much like your typical setup, but the second conversation is where the film sets its true tone and delivers an interesting message with regards to God, man and the abuse of the gift of life. Short, sure, but never lacking depth; The Voorman Problem is an excellent film. Tom Hollander is also beyond fantastic and the whole time I was watching I was wishing that this had been a feature length film for the mere fact that Hollander gives one of the best performances I’ve seen this (last) year.
Now we come to trying to determine who will win the Oscar. Statistics would tell you that it is between two films, That Wasn’t Me and Just Before Losing Everything. That Wasn’t Me won Best Short Film at the Goya Awards as well as three awards (for actor, director and short film) at the Malaga Spanish Film Festival. Just Before Losing Everything won Best Short Film at Angers European Film Festival, Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival, Grenoble Short Film Festival, Leeds International Film Festival and Uppsala International Short Film Festival. They carry with them the most wins and the heaviest thematic material.
That being said, we shouldn’t count out The Voorman Problem. While it has only won one award, it has a starry cast and has an acidic bite that may reel in voters.