Oscar Nominated Shorts
When we lived in Hollywood some friends turned us on to one of the best reasons for living in the LA area. Every year when the Oscar nominated short films are announced, the Academy has a one-night-only showing of all ten at their headquarters on Wilshire Boulevard. It’s a great theater. You have to be on your toes to get inside. The tickets are five dollars (maybe the best bargain in Hollywood), but they sell out moments after they become available online.
Not only do you get to see the nominated shorts, live action and animated, the people who made them are all up there on the stage taking questions!
In recent years these shorts are being shown in some cities, in our case the Hollywood Theater on Sandy Boulevard in Portland. This year we attended showings of both sets of shorts … and paid more than we had in the real Hollywood. ($6, senior prices, $12 each total.) The animated ones were hosted by a CGI giraffe and ostrich, something I could have done without. They cracked lame jokes that might have been funny to people in the industry, though I doubt it. But to make up for it, the program included four runner-up animated shorts. One of them, “The Missing Scarf,” narrated by George Takei and having very little to do with a scarf, was about as good as any that made the cut.
So here they are, including the ones the Academy chose to honor, and the ones Lee and I favored … which, in this case, were the same two! Way to go, Academy. You got it right!
“Feral.” (2012, USA, 13 minutes) (Some of these films were produced before 2013. I guess it depends on the year they are released for Academy consideration.) Our least favorite; in fact, we didn’t like it at all. A boy is raised by wolves, is caught and taken to the city, where he doesn’t do well. He returns to the forest. This one is all about style, a dense black and white abstraction that melts from one scene to another.
“Get a Horse!” (2013, USA, 7 minutes) From the Disney studios. Begins as a tiny cartoon very much in the style of “Steamboat Willie.” Then some of the characters burst through the screen and are in color and 3D, and interact with the ones still up on the screen. It’s funny and well done, but I felt the same about it that I did about “Presto!” in 2008, which was one of the funniest Pixar shorts … and I like it that Pixar continues to do shorts to go with their movies … but I didn’t like it that a behemoth like Pixar was competing with four other shorts done on a shoestring by people who were deeply dedicated to their little films. (“Presto!” didn’t win, by the way.)
Possessions (“Tsukumo”) (2012, Japan, 14 minutes) The Japanese always produce animation that is beautiful to look at, and often is deeply engaging on an emotional level. This one is quite beautiful, but it didn’t do much for me.
“Room on the Broom” (2012, UK, 25 minutes) My second-favorite. It’s sweet and I believe it was based on a children’s book. A witch and her cat take on more and more passengers, much to the cat’s annoyance. But in the end they all work together to defeat a dragon. It is narrated by Simon Pegg and has a lot of other great people doing the voices … most of them with very little to do but squeal or bark. I liked it.
“Mr. Hublot” (2013, Luxembourg/France, 11 minutes) This little gem packs more humor and cleverness into eleven minutes than I would have thought possible. Hublot is some sort of human/cyborg, with a digital counter in his forehead. He is obsessive-compulsive, always straightening things. He lives in a robotic world that is a sheer delight to behold. One day he sees a little robot puppy, abandoned, frightened, about to be killed. He rescues it. He feeds it. The puppy grows. And grows … And that’s it. The ending is sweet and funny and unexpected. This small film has the look of a multi-million-dollar project, but it just goes to show you what you can do with CGI, and a budget (according to IMDb) of only $295,000. This was the one we gave the Oscar to, and so did the Academy.
LIVE ACTION SHORTS:
“That Wasn’t Me” (“Aquel no era yo”) (2012, Spain, about 25 minutes) this is a bit of a guilt trip for me. I have the vague feeling I should have liked it more than I did. This is surely the most politically aware and important of the five nominations. It is intense, it is ugly, it brings up a subject that really needs to be covered, it moved me … but I couldn’t love it.
Here’s the deal: It takes place in an unnamed location in Africa that could be any of half a dozen septic tanks pretending to be countries, where there is a “revolutionary” movement led by sub-human thugs. These guys impress boys as young as ten or twelve into their ranks, boys barely big enough to lift an AK-47. Then they turn them into stone killers. These are the most dangerous “soldiers” on the planet, because they have absolutely no fear of death and no more moral sense than a lizard. And on the other side? An “army” composed to thugs just as terrible, the only difference being that they wear uniforms and have tanks and helicopters so they can kill on a mass scale, instead of one by one. It seems there is absolutely no hope of these countries ever becoming civilized places. It’s too deeply ingrained now, there are too many of these feral boys who have turned into feral adults. This film tells a harrowing tale of two white doctors who fall into the hands of a revolutionary band, with tragic results. It was hard to watch, hard to even remember. I would have understood, had the Academy picked this one, because it is an important film about an important issue. I even expected it. But they didn’t, and I’m glad, in a guilty way. I think that for once they violated their unstated “Holocaust Rule,” which states that any documentary about the Holocaust has a huge edge in the voting.
“Just Before Losing Everything” (“Avant que de tout perdre”) (2013, France, 29 minutes) This was my runner-up. It is an understated showing of a woman during a desperate day of trying to escape her wife-beating husband. All the people in the huge department store where she works are trying to help her, but it’s a close-run thing. The tension builds slowly and almost unbearably. I was on the edge of my seat. Will she make it? I’m not telling.
“Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?” (“Pitääkö mun kaikki hoitaa?”) (2012, Finland, 7 minutes) The first of two one-joke films. I loved them both, laughed out loud, but neither of them felt like Oscar-winning material. This one, in an amazingly short time, tells the story of one of the most fucked-up days any family has ever had. They’re trying to make their way to a wedding, and everything that can go wrong goes wrong, and then even more things go wrong. It was loving and funny, and the last scene will have you rolling in the aisle.
“The Voorman Problem” (2012, UK, 13 minutes) Another one-joke film. An inmate in one of Her Majesty’s gaols believes he is God. What’s more worrisome is that most of the other inmates think he is, too. Martin Freeman is the shrink who is brought in to evaluate the man in the straitjacket. They bat a few philosophical questions about, and the inmate has a good answer for everything. As a test, the inmate suggest Belgium. “Belgium?” the shrink asks. “Yeah, Belgium. I will make it cease to exist. I don’t think even the Belgians will miss it.” Shrink goes home, mentions Belgium. His wife has never heard of it. Gets out the atlas. No Belgium, just a Lake Walloon. Well, we all knew it would turn out that the inmate really was God. But I wasn’t expecting the ending, which is very clever.
“Helium” (2014, Denmark, 23 minutes) The reason Lee and I and the Academy all agreed this was the best is that it has such a huge, warm heart. It is irresistible. A boy, Alfred, about six years old is dying in a hospital. There is no hope. He loves airships and balloons. An orderly, Enzo, starts a relationship with the boy. He begins telling him stories about a place called Helium, where people go when they die. Everyone has their own private floating island. This is all shown in lovely CGI images of floating islands and airships. The boy’s condition worsens and he is moved to another ward where Enzo can’t go. But he has to finish the story, has to tell the boy how you get to Helium. He won’t be deterred. He manages to do it just before the boy dies. We see the boy boarding a fantastic zeppelin, and motoring away from the hospital. The last shot, just after that, brought tears to my eyes. In fact, thinking about it, tears are forming again. If it doesn’t at least make your eyes a little misty, I don’t think I want to know you.