Oscar shorts come to the Landmark Oriental

Every year, the Academy Awards roll around and inspire speculation among would-be movie buffs about who should, who will and who won’t get the industry’s top awards.

"That Wasn't Me" is nominated for Best Live Action Short. Photo via blacksheepreviews.com
“That Wasn’t Me” is nominated for Best Live Action Short. Photo via blacksheepreviews.com

While many people do their best to see as many of the movies nominated for “Best Picture” or “Best Foreign Film,” the short films are often overlooked. It’s a shame, because short films offer a diverse snapshot of artists’ work from across the globe. They tell stories that have just as much (if not more) of an impact as the two-hour features that make up most of popular cinema. 

Through Feb. 20, the Landmark Oriental is showing the Oscar nominees in both short films categories, animated and live action. Knowing not all readers will want to trample through the snow all the way over to Farwell Avenue, Marquee reviewed the nominees from each category and made predictions on who deserves the Oscar for Best Short Film.

Animated

“Possessions” is a charming and fantastical Japanese cartoon that ponders what happens to discarded materials after a man takes shelter in a strange shrine in the middle of a jungle. Ordinary old objects come to life, and the protagonist finds a way to respectfully and decisively put them to rest. If only it were that easy to take care of all the clutter in our own lives.

The most traditional of the Animated Shorts, “Room on the Broom,” feels the most out of place among the other films nominated this year. Based off of a children’s book, this simple fairy tale follows a witch and her pet animals. It lacks the depth of the other animated features, but does a better job at charming children than the rest of the shorts in the category.

The only exception to that is Disney’s “Get a Horse!,” which made for a visually appealing and entertaining piece before theatrical showings of “Frozen.” With nostalgic drawing techniques, it feels like a throwback to early Mickey Mouse cartoons but takes a different turn as Mickey and company shatter the fourth wall, spilling out into the theater. The cartoon is Mickey Mouse’s first feature animated short since 1995, bringing the beloved mouse into the CGI landscape of the 21st century. 

In “Feral,” a wild boy in the wilderness turns out to be more wolf than man.  A hunter finds him and brings him to civilization, where he attempts to adapt. Trying to reconcile being human and wolf isn’t easy, but the boy eventually finds a different path to follow. As the most abstract of all the shorts, with the only dialogue coming through the howling of the wolves, the film leaves you with a sense of melancholy not quick to disappear.

Short that should win

“Mr. Hublot” is a French film about a man and his metal dog in a steampunk-inspired world. It is a visual masterpiece with mechanical oddities that make the world cold and uncaring, but it also gives viewers a fascinating curiosity to behold. Title character Mr. Hublot deals with his compulsive habits while finding a way to change himself. Lonely but hopeful, this animated short has an emotional weight that makes it feel especially worthwhile.

Live Action

Martin Freeman (“The Hobbit,” “Sherlock”) stars in “The Voorman Problem” as a psychologist called into a British prison to evaluate a patient, the title character Voorman (Tom Hollander), who claims to be a god. Freemen struggles to reason with the convincing inmate, and later discovers Voorman brought all of the prisoners into his own cult of personality and religion. Absurdist and surreal, “The Voorman Problem” is one of the lighter pieces in the live action category.

“Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?,” a wacky Finnish short, is the briefest of the bunch. It tells the tale of a family traveling to a wedding and its many mishaps along the way – all in only seven minutes. Think dysfunction in a similar vein to “Little Miss Sunshine” but minus the originality and depth that made that film so endearing.

Another family piece, but with a much more serious storyline, is “Just Before Losing Everything.” The lead character, Miriam (Léa Drucker), plans to flee from her husband (Denis Ménochet of “Inglourious Basterds”) with her two children. As she prepares to leave at the supermarket where she works, her husband shows up, making her escape more difficult and bringing the family’s problems to the surface.

The conflict in the Danish film “Helium” is evident from the beginning. An orderly at a hospital caring for a terminally ill child brings hope to the young boy’s life with his stories about a world waiting beyond the clouds and all the people waiting for him there. As the most sentimental of the films nominated, “Helium” is still compelling, even though it belongs in a volume of “Chicken Soup for the Soul.”

Short that should win

The Spanish film, “That Wasn’t Me,” is the darkest of the nominated shorts, providing an uncompromising examination of child soldiers in Africa. It shows the trauma inflicted on the kids and adults trying to save them. The humanity lost on both sides of the struggle is evident through flashbacks to the events leading to the liberation of a child soldier named Kaney.