Oscar nominated short film programs at the Crest Theatre
Keeping up tradition, the Crest Theatre will be playing all 15 Oscar nominated short films, in animated, live action, and documentary programs. Neither the narrative form animated or live action programs are especially long, although they are too long to merge them together, and so it’s quite likely that the distributor will have included some bonus content beyond the five films nominated in each category (that exact information wasn’t available at the time of going to press).
By comparison, the documentary shorts are sufficiently long to require two programs and are being split into an A and B package. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences distinguishes between short and feature length films with a cutoff of 40 minutes for shorts. The nominated documentary shorts include two at 39 minutes each and one at 40 minutes (the others are both 26 minutes long) and so this particular lineup is approaching the maximum end of the range of possibility – hence the split program.
Short films qualify for Oscar consideration by either having a theatrical run or by winning awards in specific, Academy sanctioned film festivals. Thus, there are a great many more short films in circulation than ever get seen or noticed by the Academy. However, to ensure fairness in voting for the ultimate short subject nominees, members must attend special screenings in which all films within a category are screened together in order to be eligible to vote for their preferred shorts (this isn’t the case for features). In that sense, this opportunity to view them together puts you on an even footing with Academy members and it’s well worth the unique opportunity to see these films as a set.
All programs are separately ticketed, although there is a discounted ticket that includes both documentary programs (as they play back to back on one day only). For exact show times and ticket information, visit the Crest event page here.
The narrative (animated and live action shorts) are reviewed below. Due to their later screening date, the documentary shorts are not described individually in this column.
“Get a Horse” – USA – 6m
This is the “ringer” of the group and most recognizable to US audiences as it was produced by Disney and shown in support of the animated feature film “Frozen.” As such, as has also previously been the case with Pixar shorts, it feels as though it’s in a different league than films that have sometimes been a labor of love for a single filmmaker for several years. That said, it’s an inventive film that starts out seeming like something pulled from the Disney archive, until it breaks an internal fourth wall and the characters spill out into an imaginary onscreen theater, with the distinction between these two worlds involving a shift between monochrome and color palettes as well as drawing styles. The outcome is a little like the history of classic Disney characters compressed into six minutes. It’s frenetic, fun, and very well done – as one might expect from the mouse house.
Possessions – Japan – 14m
With a distinctly Japanese style of animation, it wouldn’t be hard to determine “Possessions” origins. It tells the story of a wandering repair man (it’s set in the 18th Century although that isn’t immediately clear) who seeks shelter in a small shrine during a storm. While in the small building, he’s caught in some kind of spell that transforms the space and assaults him with various items that need to be repaired. The discarded and broken items and the relative ease with which he repairs them seems, on some level, to be a commentary on our propensity to discard things – something we do even more now than in the period in which the film is set. It’s a story that lends itself well to an animated form and seems well matched to its running time.
Room on the Broom – UK – 25m
In comparison to the last remark, “Room on the Broom” feels like it has been stretched somewhat to reach its 25 minute running time. This may be the result of having originally been produced for TV in the UK with the need for a specific timeslot to be filled. Based on a children’s book by Julia Donaldson, it’s co-directed by Max Lang who also worked from her material on the 2011 Oscar nominated “The Gruffalo.” This could make this a sentimental favorite amongst those who know he came this close before (and the film has some well known voice actors including Simon Pegg, Gillian Anderson, Timothy Spall, and Sally Hawkins), but the film itself seems relatively workmanlike in this company. Telling the cute and rhyming tale of a witch who loses several small items and is helped by a series of animals who then help her, it takes an already established story and visual style (as with “The Gruffalo” also) and converts it to the (big or small) screen. It will likely be more known to European Academy members than others, and it’s an odd aspect of this category that a film made originally for TV even qualifies. But it still feels like a simple story that wouldn’t take this long to read at bedtime.
Feral – USA – 13m
Probably the most different in appearance, “Feral” looks more painted than drawn and doesn’t attempt the dimensionality or visual depth of most of the others. The story is one that has been told in one form or other several times, of a small boy found living in the wild who is then brought into an urban setting with generally negative results. At the point of initial discovery, the boy is in jeopardy and his removal from the woods feels like a rescue rather than simply a dislocation, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s now better off. Although in the middle of the pack for running time, it feels the slightest of the group and has a more ephemeral tone to its conclusion.
Mr. Hublot – Luxembourg/France – 13m
This is my favorite of the group as it blends a well told story, with a crisp running time that’s well utilized, and an inventive visual style. I’ve read that the filmmaker has an interest in adapting the concept into a feature film and that seems unfortunate as it’s so perfect at just 13 minutes. Mr. Hublot lives in a crowded and noisy city in a time or place where people and animals are at least partially mechanized. He keeps busy at home and is reluctant to venture outside until he sees a dog-like robot, lonely and at risk across the street. Bringing it into his home alters his stable and static environment and that’s before he discovers the creature’s own ability to change. It’s a tightly made and neat story told very well and it would get my vote, although as stated there are (at least) two other films that are likely to carry significant appeal and enjoy greater recognition.
Live Action Shorts
Do I Have to Take Care of Everything? – Finland – 7m
The only overt comedy of the group, and the briefest, this is a simple story of a family that wakes up too late to adequately prepare to attend a wedding. The mother is in a constant state of denial that the problems around her are of her own making (the day starts with her, half asleep, confusing the alarm clock with the phone and shutting it off while trying to answer it). It’s cute and funny but also very simple and insubstantial. It works but it has some flaws, including somewhat untrained actors, and it’s inclusion is probably more a result of the selection process than truly being one of the best shorts of the year. I enjoyed it but it doesn’t seem like an Oscar contender.
Helium – Denmark – 23m
A cleaner at a children’s hospital finds himself, one night, in the room of a boy who is terminally ill. A few casual remarks and a later chance encounter draw them together as the man tries to diminish the boy’s fear of death. The boy has heard mixed accounts of heaven and he doesn’t find it appealing and so the man fills his head with stories of an imaginary alternative world that fits the boy’s own interests and passions. It’s a touching film that addresses the difficulty of working around sick and dying patients, especially children and it delivers that storyline quite effectively. It also contains scenes of the imaginary world of “Helium” that play like a special effects demo reel, or calling card for the director. This is often the purpose of a short film and the outcome is impressive on what was, presumably, a very low budget, but it’s also a little distracting at first. Ultimately, however, as these scenes continue they seem less out of place and the film regains its sense of both wonder and tragedy.
The Voorman Problem – UK – 13m
Although billed as a comedy/drama, and certainly amusing, “The Voorman Problem” is less directly funny than “Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?” The premise is that a psychiatrist has been asked to evaluate a prison inmate who claims to be God, with all of the skepticism likely to surround such a claim. It’s more of an interesting puzzle than a joke, as one wonders how one might approach a similar situation. The film carries some star power, especially currently, with Martin Freeman (Dr. Watson on the British TV version of “Sherlock” and Bilbo Baggins in “The Hobbit” franchise) as the doctor and Tom Hollander as the patient. (There’s also a moment that feels like a slight inside joke as a character refers to the shortage of doctors due to them being called away to “the war in the east” – with Freeman’s Dr. Watson having been a military doctor in Afghanistan prior to meeting Sherlock Holmes.) It’s well conceived and executed and certainly assisted by the cast – and by the inadvertent role of the entire population of Belgium.
That Wasn’t Me – Spain -24m
Set in an unspecified African country, “That Wasn’t Me” takes place in the context of a revolution based on an army of child soldiers. Two foreigners are suspected of kidnapping boys away from this pursuit and are held by a brutal general who is transforming children into killers. It’s a dark and brutal subject matter that will likely play well with Academy voters, and the film has already won dozens of awards on the festival circuit. The story is told partly through scenes of the action as it unfolds and partly through the eyes of one of the boys who was present, who describes the time, place and process to an audience of young white people. He explains that becoming a soldier is relatively easy – the hard part is becoming yourself again afterwards. I’ll be surprised if this doesn’t win although it’s not my personal favorite – and it does feel very staged and artificial at times (although certainly powerful).
Just Before Losing Everything – France – 30m
My choice among these five is this French drama that’s also the longest of the group. With short films, as with features (only it’s often even more obvious with shorts), the key to length is that the time must be well spent. My concern with “Room on the Broom” in the animated category wasn’t with the length itself, but with it feeling longer than it needed to be. I’ve known some festival directors who avoid longer short subjects but this is a film that uses its entire duration to build up a sense of urgency and palpable tension. It’s a story about a mother trying to take herself and her children away from a harmful environment and it’s so effective that it starts to feel more like a horror film than a family drama. As with many low budget films, there are limitations to the production and it looks, in some scenes set in a large store, as though the regular patrons were watching actors and cameras going by them. But the sense of dread and fear in the family and the mother’s co-workers feels very real and never lets up. I don’t expect it to win but I would like it to.