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Ranking The Oscar Shorts: Live Action

On Friday January 31st, many in the U.S. were given their first chance to see this year’s Oscar nominated shorts. For those that are Oscar completists, you truly aren’t done until you sit down and watch these short films from the Animated, Live Action and Documentary realms.

They feature some of the very best and creative work you’ll see, in bite size chunks. There’s familiar names, but mostly, these are fresh faces, voices seething with vibrant creativity, and waiting to be discovered.

If that didn’t get you pumped, then check out this sneak peek. To find out if the Oscar nominated shorts are playing near you, please refer to Shorts.TV. If they’re out of reach, don’t fret: the shorts are available on Amazon, iTunes and many On-Demand services, so it’s only as far away as the remote.

Because each program is wholly different, and since they’re nominated separately, I’ve decided to rank each group of shorts separately from one another, with each mini reviews in different fashion. Behold: the Live Action Short film nominees! You can find my thoughts on the Documentary Short programs here, and my praise for the Animated pieces is forthcoming.

LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM NOMINEES

Estimated Running Time: 108 minutes 

5. “Pitääkö Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?)” (Directors: Selma Vilhunen and Kirsikka Saari, Finland/Finnish)

Characters Featured: Sini (mother, played by Joanna Haartti), Jokke (husband, played by Santtu Karvonen), Ella (daughter, played by Ranja Omaheimo) and Kerttu (daughter, played by Ella Toivoniemi)

In this Finnish farce, Sini and her family race against the clock to get to church in time for a wedding. Nothing good happens after 2 AM, or when rushing to a wedding with small children and a loutish husband. The twist? The wife is really the one mucking things up. It’s refreshing to have a mostly carefree, loose experience with a short (so many of these are so serious or convoluted or involved viewing). This is a clever, albeit flimsy, bit o’ fun.

GRADE: B-

If the Americans remade this film… it’d be retitled Honey, I Missed The Wedding! (Something Borrowed might be too on the nose). They’d turn the cute 6 minute short into a two hour $#*! show with Melissa McCarthy and Chris O’Dowd as the mopey, ill-prepared parents, joined by a crazy adorable child who will end up carving out a mediocre career as a pop singer (is there any other kind?). Rebel Wilson would replace one of the children in the cast as Sini’s perpetually drunk younger sister. It’d be mildly more amusing than an episode of Super Fun Night. But so is a trip to the dentist’s.

4. “The Voorman Problem” (Directors: Mark Gill and Baldwin Li, UK/English)

Characters Featured: Voorman (Tom Hollander), Dr. Williams (Martin Freeman)

What doesn’t Martin Freeman do? In this English short, Freeman plays Dr. Williams, a psychiatrist called into a prison to examine Voorman, an inmate who believes himself to be God, and has garnered a following with his fellow prisoners. Freeman is a slice off the ole Dr. Watson block here, with the great Tom Hollander being the one to frustrate him (and fans/citizens of the wonderful beer filled country of Belgium) instead of Cumberbatch. Dr. Williams gets more than he could have ever expected with Voorman, the problem proving far more serious and real than anyone could have expected. This short has perhaps the best and cleverest premise of them all, and is so wonderfully British. I was left wanting to see more. Which is perfect, because…

GRADE: B+/A-

If the Americans remade this film… The Voorman Problem would become known as The God Complex (Brits would crack that it’s a fitting title for America), and it’d turn into a Steve Carell vehicle and it’d somehow be even better. Louis C.K. would sign on to play Voorman/God, but before that stroke of brilliance could occur, the studios would wonder why Morgan Freeman wasn’t in a movie with a God character. Louis C.K. would go on to get snubbed for his brilliant work on Louie again, Morgan Freeman would be too busy with whatever environmental documentary or VISA commercial (or the LEGO movie sequel) he’s doing these days, and instead of just snagging the talented Tom Hollander to reprise the role, they’d tap Steve Coogan, making many wonder why this remake was happening in the first place, or at least why it wasn’t happening in England. It’d go on to gross $160 million and spawn 3 sequels anyways, including 2018’s Voorwoman Problem, a blockbuster that would headline John C. Reilly in drag and net him an Oscar.

3. “Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn’t Me)” (Director: Esteban Crespo, Spain/Spanish)

Characters Featured: Paula (Alejandra Llorente) Juanjo (Gustavo Salmerón) General (Babou Cham) Kaney Adulto (Mariano Nguema) Teniente (Alito Rodgers Jr.) and Conductor (Jose Maria Chumo)

Two Spanish aid workers reach a border manned by African child soldiers, the very people they’re trying to help. It appears they’re going to be able to pass, until the General (Babou Cham) and his squadron of child soldiers arrive. They kidnap Paula, her lover Juanjo and their driver, as the General plays a game of chicken with their lives, egging on the kids, in particular a boy named Kaney, to brutally murder them. It doesn’t end well, and hits you like a brick, not just because you know this happens in Africa far more than it should (which is never). The film picks up in the future, with an older Kaney explaining his past (thus the title). I think the flash-forward could’ve been used more effectively, with a consistent narrative flashing to the adult Kaney (in trial?), with some sort clarity as to who Kaney is talking to and what his life is like now.

GRADE: A-

If the Americans remade this film… Demian Bichir would star as the doomed Spanish aid worker in Boys & Bullets!, and Noomi Rapace would play Paula, because she’s Swedish, and that’s close to Spanish. Hey, it’s the same continent, unlike Demian (Mexico, instead of Spain). People would be understandably pissed, but Forest Whitaker’s son (does Forest Whitaker have a son?) would dazzle, as the murderous, angry, misunderstood child soldier Kaney.

2. “Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just before Losing Everything)” (Directors: Xavier Legrand and Alexandre Gavras, France/French)

Characters Featured: Miriam (played by Lea Drucker)

Miriam frantically gathers her son and daughter from school, and heads into the supermarket where she works to get an advance on her paycheck and skip town. Tension drips off every scene and cast member, especially when you realize the family is running from her abusive husband Antoine. Their lives are about to changed forever, as she has to quit her job, and literally run away and hide from him because Antoine has made his way to the supermarket. It’s a devastating, pins n’ needles portrayal of what abuse does to family. In a short period of time, Miriam is put through the wringer, forcing to come clean to her co-workers, lie to her husband, all while keeping it together in front of her children and the customers. It’s intense.

GRADE: A-

If the Americans remade this film… Child Abuse In Aisle 3 would be a surefire Oscar contender from start to finish, thanks to the fearless direction from Niels Arden Oplev (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) and an emotional, tour de force Oscar winning performance from Sally Hawkins (Blue Jasmine).

1. “Helium” (Directors Anders Walter and Kim Magnusson, Denmark/Danish)

Characters Featured: Alfred (played by Pelle Falk Krusbaek)

This probably won’t win, but it was my favorite. Alfred (Pelle Falk Krusbaek) is a terminally ill child, living his last days in the hospital. He’s terrified of what comes next, not really buying into Heaven. Enter Enzo (Casper Crump), a disheveled and clumsy janitor new to the hospital,  who develops an immediate kinship with Alfred over their shared love of balloons. He tells him of another magical place… Helium. To get there, Alfred need only ride the Helium Express (a pimpin’ blimp) into the clouds, where shimmery floating islands propped up by hot air balloons await. It’s whimsical, wonderful and heartwarming as Enzo breaks hospital rules to tell him stories of Helium, and help this scared and sick child prepare for the impossible: death. It could’ve come off as creepy for Enzo to take such an interest in Alfred, but it’s never anything less than touching.

GRADE: A

If Americans remade this film… the movie would retain its title (although it might take place in the future and affix a 2038 A.D. suffix) and begin with Alfred dying, and starting his journey to Helium. This intermediary limbo would be fashioned into a post-apocalyptic like science fiction world, pitting children (who can only speak with Helium aided voices) against each other in fierce balloon animal contests (where the animals come to life and battle each other after they’ve been created!). Directed by Duncan Jones, Helium would likely star Jeffrey Wright as Enzo, Anna Kendrick as the understanding and helpful Nurse, and Michael Caine’s grandson (or a Hollywood big wig’s kid) as Alfred. It would be met with pointless controversy from the Church, yet even with that feather in its cap, Helium 2038 A.D. will be unable to find an audience during its theatrical release. Within a few years, it will be anointed as a bona-fide classic cult film until inevitably becoming overrated.

WRONG OSCAR PREDICTION: “Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn’t Me)”