“Helium” – Anders Walter and Kim Magnusson
Of all the live action shorts this year, “Helium” is the most sentimental, or in other words, the one that is the most likely to make you cry. As a hospital janitor makes a connection with a young dying boy, he re-imagines heaven for the boy as he questions life after death. Telling stories of a land floating in the clouds where a giant zeppelin carries you to after you’re gone, the janitor struggles with the rules of the hospital after the boy’s condition worsens. Knowing exactly how to touch your heart, the film’s story is smart and well played, with wonderful performances all around, despite a desperate need to make the janitor appear completely childish, with messy hair and bumbling demeanor. Even the graphics of the helium world are expertly executed, raising this short above average. Never count out the power of emotion, because if the Academy feels something during this short, chances are they could end up remembering it when it comes time to vote. This is Anders Walter first nomination and Kim Magnusson fifth, with one win under her belt for “Election Night” (1998).
“The Voorman Problem” – Mark Gill and Baldwin Li
You know what will make you short stand out above the rest? Having recognizable faces in it like Martin Freeman and Tom Hollander. In “The Voorman Problem”, Freeman plays a doctor sent to a prison to evaluate an inmate (Hollander) who is creating a ruckus in the prison as they believe him to be God. Of all the other shorts, this one made me think the most in such a short period of time, with several twists and smart dialogue between the leads, creating a very memorable piece. The question that remains is whether the emotions brought on by “Helium” will be enough to detract from “The Voorman Problem” and its star power. Chances are this short will be a popular pick for work Oscar pools when people read up on the cliff-notes and see that these two men are starring. Personally, this was my favorite of the shorts, but the needle could fall on either film. This is a first nominations for both involved.
“Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything)” – Xavier Legrand and Alexandre Gavras
Women helping women, is what I read this short described as. Told in a very fast paced, thriller-esque way, “Avant Que De Tout Perdre” follows a mother of two as she collects her children and retreats to her Costco like day job where to plans her escape from her abusive husband. As the writers raise the stakes throughout the piece, with the husband showing up and the bitchy boss almost giving away her cover, the entire short sustains a tension needed to keep the ball rolling. Never quite escalating the way I had hoped, the short eventually ends in an escape and although I was never quite on the edge of my seat, the lead, Léa Drucker, puts on a great performance and my attention was held for the entire 30 minute run-time. Will it be able to hold out against the previous two shorts? Probably not. But it marks the first nomination for the creators.
“Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn’t Me)” – Esteban Crespo
Judging purely on the quality of the short, “Aquel No Era Yo” felt the most like it could be easily adapted into a feature film. Taken hostage by a militia in Africa, three doctors are bound and gagged, awaiting their execution at the hands of children, or soldiers in the making. With the highest production quality, including gun fights, explosions, and realistic wounds, the film leaves you wanting more in the best of ways. Where the film falters is the need to ground the storytelling in a flash forward to the present, where one of the soldier children in training is a high school student speaking of his childhood in a packed auditorium. Trying too hard to extract an emotion, there’s little reason for this besides getting some teary eyed reaction shots from those in the crowd. That being said, something has to be said for a short that goes above and beyond and this may be a tough one not to vote for, with political and emotional ties all bundled into one. This is a first nomination for Esteban Crespo.
“Pitääkö Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?)” – Selma Vilhunen and Kirsikka Saari
My least favorite of the five short films, “Pitääkö Mun Kaikki Hoitaa?” is just plain and simply nothing I haven’t seen before. A missed alarm and a lazy husband, mixed with good old fashion bad luck, sees a family of four in a small, messy apartment, attempting to get ready for a wedding against all odds, as dresses come out of the washer soaking wet, as a missing gift and spilled coffee create arguments, and a missed bus send the family running down the street, only to find out the wedding isn’t until next weekend. Having read a few reviews from other critics, I am still not convinced this should have been nominated for an Oscar, not quite living up to the four previous films. I agree that having a comedy is a nice change of pace, but this film is really nothing a film student with a camera couldn’t do. I see no way this film will win the Oscar, but it delivers a first time Oscar nomination to Vilhunen and Saari.