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The Independent Critic

 2014 Oscar Nominated Live-Action Shorts 
Helium: Directed by Anders Walter, Written by Christian Gamst Miller-Harris and Anders Walter

Alfred (Pelle Falk Krusbaek) is a terminally ill young boy who has been hospitalized for months awaiting the inevitable. Surrounded by his treasured hot air balloons and airships, fantasy is Alfred's only escape. When a new hospital orderly, Enzo (Casper Crump), takes notice of Alfred and their shared interest in airships, it creates an opportunity for him to reach young Alfred with fanciful and soothing stories of life beyond life in an alternative to heaven known as Helium.

This Oscar nominee from Denmark manages to maintain its emotional resonance despite a storyline that practically screams out to expect an emotionally manipulative endeavor. Co-writer and director Anders Walter keeps everything nicely restrained and believable. Casper Crump, as the charming and sincere storyteller, is a definite gem here and the young boy, is low-key yet effective. Special effects are quite effective and well used in giving the film a sense of warmth and intimacy.

It seems like every year the Academy seems to honor a film along the lines of Helium, but despite that predictability Walter has crafted a warm, sentimental film that will most likely cause you to shed a tear or two.

3.0/4.0 Stars
Grade: B+

The Voorman Problem: Directed by Mark Gill, Written by Baldwin Li and Mark Gill

Easily the most star-laden of this year's Oscar nominated shorts, The Voorman Problem has been adapted from Cloud Atlas author David Mitchell's number9dream by Baldwin Li and the film's director, Mark Gill. The film gives us Martin Freeman, yes that one, as Dr. Williams, a psychiatrist summoned by Governor Bentley (Simon Griffiths) to tackle The Voorman Problem or, more specifically, a prisoner named Voorman (Tom Hollander) who not only believes himself to God but has managed to convince the entire prison population of the same. The no nonsense Dr. Williams interviews Voorman convinced he can trip him with some verbal trickery, but when Voorman states that he shall make Belgium (the country!) disappear and appears to have done so, suddenly we're not so sure who has the upper hand.

The Voorman Problem is a cleverly written and delightfully portrayed short film that gives you just about what you'd expect from a British short. Tom Hollander is both delirious and wonderful, while Freeman is his usual inspired self.

3.0/4.0 Stars
Grade: B


Just Before Losing Everything: Written and Directed by Xavier Legrand

Easily my favorite of the 2014 Oscar nominated live-action shorts, Just Before Losing Everything is an exceptional filmmaking debut for writer/director Xavier Legrand, a French filmmaker whose next work I eagerly anticipate. Just over 30 minutes in length, Just Before Losing Everything does a slow and suspenseful build with seemingly unrelated actions building suspense even if we don't exactly know why.

I'm not going to give it away.

What I am going to give away is that Just Before Losing Everything is a far deeper film than you'd expect and certainly contemporary and relevant. The film kicks off with a young Julien (Miljan Chatelain) seemingly running a simple errand for his father, or at least that's what we're led to initially believe. Then, Miriam (Lea Drucker) enters the picture and Julien enters her car soon to be followed by a stop at two teenagers sitting at a bus stop making out. The girl gets in the vehicle and they move on.

Before long, they've all arrived at a supermarket where a story both familiar and unsettingly unfolds and which manifests not exactly as you might expect when Antoine (Denis Menochet) arrives.

Just Before Losing Everything is a suspenseful and involving film precisely because Xavier Legrand keeps us guessing as to exactly which direction he's going. The ensemble cast is uniformly strong, especially the mesmerizing Lea Drucker. In what is a weaker than usual field, Just Before Losing Everything deserves to come out on top.

3.5/4.0 Stars
Grade: A-


Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?: Directed by Selma Vilhunen, Written by Kirsikka Saari

I fancy myself almost always a fan of films that come out of Finland and this year's Oscar nominated live-action short Do I Have to Take Care of Everything? is no exception, though the film is truly too lightweight to really be a contender in the category. At 7 minutes, the film is also the shortest entry among this year's live-action nominees, though director Selma Vilhunen uses the time wisely.

Sini (Joanna Haartti) reaches over her husband Jokke (Santtu Karvonen) reaches over her sleepinghusband to turn off the alarm clock and realizes that they are all late for a wedding. Chaos ensues and, not unexpectedly, the more she panics the more chaotic things get. Everyone here does a fine job here, but as someone who reviews short films throughout the year I found myself thinking of a couple of shorts from the Heartland Film Festival that I'd rather have seen in this spot. The film is warm, affectionate and funny and for those of you who get out to check out the Oscar-nominated shorts when they hit theaters you'll likely appreciate the entertaining seven minutes you spend with this film.

3.0/4.0 Stars
Grade: B

That Wasn't Me: Written and Directed by Esteban Crespo

This Spanish entry into the Oscar nominated live-action shorts is likely the most intense short of the category, a gripping film that won the Goya Award for Best Short Film - Fiction. The film explores the tragedy of children kidnapped to become soldiers in Africa by telling the story of Teniente (Alito Rodgers, Jr.), an escort driver taking a Spanish couple into a dangerous area for humanitarian work. They are stopped at a road block by armed 10-year-old soldiers, and while everything seems to be going smoothly it all goes wildly awry when the general (Babou Cham) in charge of these children arrives and kidnaps everyone.

The story that follows is intense, involving and perhaps most gripping because we know that it's played over and over again in reality. Alejandra Lorrente gives a terrific performance as a young woman who manages to stay in touch with her humanitarian nature even as her very existence is threatened, while Kaney (Mariana Nguema) is quite moving.

The Academy is always prone to giving their votes to a deeply meaningful film and the international flavor and relevance of this film could very well push it over the edge.

3.0 Stars/4.0 Stars
Grade: B+