Oscar shorts

a/Arts & Entertainment/Film and TV by

For most Academy Awards viewers, the two short film categories represent a void in the ceremony that lacks the familiarity of the other televised fields. To help you avoid the otherwise inevitable unpreparedness, the Tribune compiled cheat sheets that will provide all the knowledge you need to fill out an informed ballot—or you can just see the films yourself. They’ll be screening at Cinema du Parc (3575 Parc) until Feb. 6. Screenings take place at 1:45 and 8:15 p.m. Student tickets are $8.50.

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Live action:

As attested to by famed directors, producers, and actors, the short film is a highly underappreciated art in the world of cinema; short films allow for a purely cinematic experience that forces the viewer to see, hear, and feel in rapid succession.

The five live-action short films nominated for the 2014 Academy Awards ranged from funny to suspenseful; politically-charged sermons to thought-provoking cliff-hangers; but all of them remain unified in their ability to utilize poignant dialogue and meaningful camerawork to display a message far beyond the half-hour time frame.

Anders Walter’s Helium tells the story of a young dying boy, Alfred (Pelle Falk Krusbaek), who is given hope through the stories of a hospital janitor, Enzo (Casper Crump), about the world of Helium, “where sick kids go to get their strength back.” Of all the nominated films, Helium is the most visually striking as it displays in vibrant, fast-moving colors the imaginations of a young-boy. Where Helium falls flat was in its failure to develop the storyline of Enzo, whose fairy tale drives the plot. Despite this oversight, Helium’s strong dialogue makes for an emotionally stirring piece that’s well balanced in humour, seriousness, and childlike wonder.

The Voorman Problem, a UK film from Mark Gill, tells the tale of a psychiatric doctor’s (Martin Freeman) encounter with a prisoner (Tom Hollander) who claims to be God. Overall, this is the most interesting of the five films, somewhat like a psychological thriller without any jump-scares. It’s designed to leave you mouth-agape, wondering what just happened. What I liked most about The Voorman Problem was that it kept me wanting more, as if it was a sneak preview to a new reality TV show. However, in comparison to the other nominated features, it lacks an emotional link.

Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything) tells the story of a young wife, Miriam (Léa Drucker) who escapes with her two children from her abusive husband. Director Xavier Legrand’s film stands out as a result of its suspenseful nature, depicted atypically through images rather than music. The set-up of the movie has the plot unravel slowly, showing a frantic woman who is revealed through context clues to in fact be a victim of spousal abuse. This film leaves you on the edge of your seat up until the last moment; and while its fast-paced camera work keeps viewers on their toes, it allows some thematic concepts to get muddled and be left unfinished.

Selma Vilhunen’s subtitled Finnish film Pitääkö mun kaikki hoitaa? (Do I Have To Take Care Of Everything) tells the story of a family rushing to make it on time to a wedding. This film is the shortest of those nominated, clocking in at seven minutes, and is also the funniest, making good use of visual and situational humour. While it’s a welcome relief to watch in regards to some of the heavier films featured alongside it, this short film fails to rank with its competitors in terms of visual dynamism and thought-provoking story lines. Despite this, it’s still a heart-warming film with a happy, carefree message of love and acceptance.

My pick for the Academy Award goes to Esteban Crespo’s Aquel No Era Yo, the tale of a young boy (Mariano Nguema) and his experience as a child soldier in Africa. Aside from being an emotional rollercoaster and a cinematic attack on the senses, this film provides a no-holds-barred look into the world of a child soldier. This film is produced in collaboration with multiple projects that aim to help children around the world live safer, healthier, happier lives. By providing a raw, unedited look into the world of a child soldier, this film makes a powerful and lasting statement.

—Morgan Alexander 

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Animated:

A children’s bedtime story, a phantasmagorical dream, and everything in between make up this year’s animation shorts Oscar nominee pool.

Disney delivers Lauren MacMullan’s Get a Horse, featuring Mickey Mouse (using the archived voice of Walt Disney) and the gang—Minnie, Peg-Leg Pete, Horace Horsecollar, and Clarabelle Cow—in an oddly self-reflective narrative about the evolution of animation. Stylized in their two-dimensional 1928-esque black-and-white renderings, Mickey Mouse and his friends engage in a raucous, simplistic comedy. The film takes an unexpected turn when Mickey is thrown out of ‘the screen,’ landing in the theater’s venue and converted into a colored three-dimensional cartoon. The gang constantly crosses between the 2D and 3D worlds, and even goes so far as ‘rewinding’ and ‘fast-forwarding’ segments of their ‘film’ by using the screen as a vintage flip book.

Mr. Hublot, a French short from Laurent Witz and Alexandre Espigare, tells a heart-warming story of a peculiar obsessive-compulsive man, outfitted in mechanical parts, living alone and adopting a robotic dog from the streets that turns his ordered environment upside down. Set in a steampunk-esque environment, the man comes to cherish his adopted pet and learns to make room in his ‘tin’ heart and ordered living space. Using stop-motion and computer animation, Witz and his team produce a visually intricate feast for the eyes. Yet more compelling is the story of this man and his dog filled with belonging, friendship, and love. You can’t help but root for the tiny robotic puppy we first encounter on the streets.

A Japanese contender, Possessions, directed by Shuhei Morita, is the oddball of the bunch. An 18th century traveling ‘fix-it’ merchant takes shelter from a storm in an abandoned hut filled with discarded possessions that are fittingly ‘possessed.’ The items come to life and break out in song-and-dance in creepy fashion; it makes for some puzzling questions as to Morita’s vision regarding the plot. Though the conclusion leaves more questions than answers, the colours in the animation are vibrant and distinct.

Max Lang and Jan Lachauer bring together the stellar voice talents of Simon Pegg, Gillian Anderson, and Sally Hawkins in Room on the Broom. This children’s bedtime story is distinguished by its simple, bright colours and animation, along with the poetic rhyming narration. Though overly extensive in length, the film does possess the makings of a perfect children’s tale through its delightful humor and morally-sound happily-ever-after ending.

American director Daniel Sousa, along with composer Dan Golden, brings us Feral. Out of all the nominees, this one is the hardest to define. This poetic film tells a story about a wild boy living in the wilderness among wolves who is taken by a hunter to live among a human society. With stark colours and absent dialogue, it’s a visual essay examining the brutalities of nature and human society for an innocent boy, left to navigate both worlds on his own. The entirely hand-drawn animation depicts an expressionistic, surreal reality with its muted sound and metaphorical imagery. Accused of having a vague, inclusive ending, the narrative is poignant and effective in its examination of the binary realities of light and dark; wild nature and civilization; and child and man.

Though it would be thrilling to see Mr. Hublot take the win for Best Animated Short, it would be surprising if the poetically beautiful Feral does not bring the Academy Award home. But in Oscar tradition, Get a Horse, may surprise audiences and take the golden statuette home for its self-reflective examination of the art of animation.

—Mira Sharma