The Oscar Animated Short Films
The Oscar Animated Short Films
2014: Live Action
In our part of flyover country, the dead of winter is a particularly sad time for moviegoers - most of us have used up the worthy awards contenders that opened at the tag end of 2013. Obsessive Oscar mavens who endeavor to see everything before the awards ceremony (pushed back to March 2 this year in deference to the Winter Olympics) have to travel to see all the Best Foreign Language nominees (so far only The Hunt has opened in Arkansas; the good news is that the Belgian nominee, Felix Van Groeningen’s The Broken Circle Breakdown, is now available on various video on demand platforms, while the Criterion Collection is preparing to release a Blu-ray edition of Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty on March 25.)
But for the past few years, it’s been relatively easy to see all the Academy Award-nominated shorts; they’ve been bundled together and exhibited theatrically in advance of the big show. It’s handy that they each clock in at a reasonable feature length - the third shorts category, documentaries (which are not opening in Arkansas this week but may be later), has been broken into two feature-length segments. One can comfortably take in 10 Oscar-nominated films in a weekend.
This year’s crop of animated films is solid if predictable (unlike some past years, there’s no genuinely outre entry), led off by the inevitable Disney entry, the charming Get a Horse, which served as the appetizer for Frozen, and so has likely been seen by more folks than have seen the rest of the program combined. It begins as a found footage black-and-white cartoon evoking the vintage “rubber hose” animation style of Walt Disney himself and featuring the archived voice of the founder as Mickey Mouse - the main rodent’s first appearance in a Disney short since 1995 - and the return after 84 years in exile of Mickey’s forerunner, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, who plays a large role in the Disney mythos.
While I suspect that the implicit history lesson might have been lost on the target demographic - the princess-mongers who showed up for Frozen - Get a Horse is superbly executed and deeply interesting.
It’s not my favorite, though. That would be Mr. Hublot, a dialogue-free stop-action and computer animation hybrid from France, inspired by the sculptures of Stephane Halleux, a Belgian artist who crafts steampunk-flavored figures such as the title character and his rather wonderful dog.
The rest, while not exactly drab, lack the originality and charm of these two. Room on the Broom, which at 25 minutes is the longest of the animated features, is a straightforward adaptation of Julia Donaldson’s children’s book that features a strong voice cast led by Simon Pegg, Sally Hawkins and Gillian Anderson. Feral, a handmade Portuguese product, is a pastel-tinted tale of a wild child’s return to civilization that feels padded even at 13 minutes long. And while I wanted to like the Japanese entry, Possessions, with its intriguing premise that tools and other inanimate objects achieve souls after being in use for 100 years, I found it a little lacking in focus.
The cream of the live-action crop is the 30-minute French entry, Just Before Losing Everything, the first film directed by Xavier Legrand, who made his acting debut as one of the boys in Louis Malle’s 1987 film Au Revoir, Les Enfants. It’s a suspenseful and terrifically controlled story about a battered woman preparing to leave her abusive husband. Almost as good is Danish director Anders Walter’s intense Helium, about a terminally ill boy and the hospital janitor who tells him of the magical (and heavily CGI-ed) afterlife he’s about to enter. While it is a bit schmaltzy, it’s sweet and beautifully realized, and at 22 minutes, just about the length of a half-hour network programming block.
Less successful, though perhaps more accessible, is The Voorman Problem, a comedy in which The Hobbit’s Martin Freeman plays a psychiatrist called to a prison to investigate an inmate (Tom Holland) who claims that he’s God. He has convinced all his fellow convicts, and made Belgium disappear, so maybe there’s something to it. Unfortunately, the conclusion to this Twilight Zone episode isn’t particularly satisfying.
Similarly, while Esteban Crespo’s That Wasn’t Me sounds like a promising little movie, it’s ultimately a familiar tale of sacrifice and redemption that employs African child-soldiers as a shorthand for man’s capacity for atrocity. It feels like a treatment for a longer, more boring film.
In contrast, the 7-minute palate cleanser Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?, a madcap sketch about a family’s desperate rush to make it to a friend’s wedding, feels like a clip from a longer film we’d very much like to see.
Oscar Nominated Short Films 2013
87 (live action)
Cast: Various Directors: Various Rating: Not rated Running time: 114 minutes (animated), 118 minutes (live action)
MovieStyle, Pages 33 on 02/14/2014
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