Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Oscar Nominated Live Action Shorts

A scene from "That Wasn't Me," nominated
for the Best Live-Action Short Film Oscar
The five films nominated for the Best Live-Action Short Academy Award run the gamut from hilarious comedy to intense drama and interestingly, none are from the U.S. I recently caught all of them at Time and Space Limited in Hudson, NY in order to increase my odds for winning the pool at a friend's Oscar viewing party (the prize is usually about $20.) The program ran just short of two hours and the shorts were interspersed with interviews and observations from filmmakers including Steve McQueen and Matthew Modine.

Helium is a sweet fantasy from Denmark about a dying little boy and the hospital orderly who tells him stories about a floating afterlife full of zeppelins and airplanes. The Voorman Problem is a British comedy concerning a psychiatrist summoned to treat a prison inmate who believes he's a god. Things get weird when the doctor begins to believe his patient.

Then the program turned very dark with two 30-minute, intense dramas. Just Before Losing Everything (France) starts at an almost leisurely pace depicting a seemingly ordinary family going to work and school. But it's gradually revealed the wife is taking her kids and fleeing her abusive husband as she goes through the process of quitting her job at a large supermarket, cashing out her savings, and arranging to go to her sister in another town. The tension mounts as her husband shows up and she must escape without raising his suspicions. Director Xavier Legrand wisely avoids melodrama by focusing on small details like having the heroine's co-worker insist she turn in her uniform before leaving. It's little touches like that which make this short piece achieve a cinema-verite credibility along with the Hitchcockian suspense.

That Wasn't Me follows the horrific plight of two Spanish doctors caught up in an African tribal war. Esteban Crespo uses glaring cinematography and a jittery, hand-held camera to create a brutal, scary story. After these two nail-biters, the program finished with a hilarious, seven-minute comedy from Finland. Do I Have to Take Care of Everything? follows a family preparing for a wedding and everything goes wrong. It provided an incredible release of tension after an hour of gut-wrenching drama.

I will predict That Wasn't Me as the winner. The high-impact storyline along with the innovative camerawork should put it over the top.

The Oscar-Nominated Shorts are playing at the IFC Center in Manhattan. They will be available on iTunes and Amazon Instant Video on Feb. 25.

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