Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Closer Look at the Best Live Action Short Nominees

*NOTE: Due to some unforeseen problems, I am unable to purchase the Animation portion of this program. I am working on solving this and will hope to have a piece on it soon.

One of my favorite portions of the Oscars is seeing the films that are practically unknown to everyone. The ones where during the ceremony an image appears for a Best Live Action Short that makes you wish that you saw it. As usual, Shorts HD has made it easier than ever to access these titles in a fancy package featuring interviews with established filmmakers about the significance of the medium. At only $7.99 each, the annual investment is well worth the price to see one of the few categories that are still unbiased to popular opinions and have an even playing field from every participating country.

This year's packaging continues Shorts HD's excellent output with a cast of interview subjects that includes Steve McQueen, Matthew Modine, Jim Field Smith, Tom Vaughn, and last year's category winner Shawn Christensen talking about the process that goes into being creative. As a whole, it is familiar territory year-to-year, but is always a treat to see who they manage to wrangle together for interviews. It allows for a nice break between each of the shorts, which ranged from 7-30 minutes, and allowed it to feel more personal. Even if it didn't present any new insight into the actual process, it does aspire hope.

However, unlike previous years, there wasn't too many nominations that stood out. For the most part, this year's group features selections that feel like they end abruptly or in an emotionally manipulative way. Very few take advantage of the potential of a short form narrative and instead draw out the conclusion until brief moments at the end. There isn't any strong metaphorical context between supernatural and emotional stories as there has been nor is there any that feels distinctly fun or unique. Briefly: there isn't any here that is better than past nominees Tuba Atlantic, Death of a Shadow, Buzkashi Boys or Asad. It may just be because of the selections, but it also feels like a rather disappointing year.

That isn't to say that each have their own merits. As I will discuss very soon, I do feel like each one definitely had something important to say. From African child soldiers to abusive husbands to metaphorical death, there are a lot of strong themes present in these contemporary stories. Their only issues are that they either drag on for too long or result in an abrupt conclusion. None feel totally satisfying and thus makes it hard to really judge which one should be the best. In order to add some juxtaposition from my thoughts to the potential Oscar chances, I will infuse the odds as present on statistics website Gold Derby.

Left to right: Lee Drucker and Milgan Chatelain
Just Before Losing Everything (France)

ODDS: 20:1  (#4)

Of the five nominees, this is the only one that felt like it had more on its mind. It is a story of Miriam (Lee Drucker) as she attempts to escape her abusive husband Antoine (Denis Menochet) who follows her to work on the day she decides to quit. Despite being a simple drama with a simple goal, it features elements of a thriller as Miriam attempts to flee to freedom. It is a slow burn with calculated moves and a sense of closure that makes it a compelling feature. Even if the short occasionally drags, it is by far the most interesting selection, as it allows for conventions to be broken and infuse thriller elements into everyday life. It may not compare to prior nominees, but it definitely is my favorite here.

Martin Freeman
The Voorman Problem (UK)

ODDS: 8:13 (#1)

This is probably the most disappointing of the nominees on the grounds that it ends abruptly. With a psychiatrist (Martin Freeman) going to interview Voorman (Tom Hollander) about his God complex, he slowly realizes that Voorman may be telling the truth. There's one witty and fun conversation between the two that results in the disappearance of Belgium and causes suspicions to go awry. However, with this being one of the shorter selections, it ends before things really get going and the momentum quickly drops with a familiar and predictable ending that doesn't allow for the endless possibilities of the scenario to play out. Somehow it is Gold Derby's favorite for the win, which I would only agree with on a conceptual level.

Juan Tojaka
That Wasn't Me (Spain)

ODDS: 10:1 (#3)

This short explores the complication of growing up knowing that you were once a child African soldier. If judged based on the initial opening in which doctors begin bonding with the soldiers, this may have been my favorite, as it did allow for some sense of humanity and endearment to come through. However, as the story progresses, it gets darker and stranger and allows for it to veer into discomfort rather effectively. It is only in the final portion when things start to wane and feel manipulative with orchestral strings underlying emotional tendencies and driving the message through in a blatant manner. It may be a solid effort with plenty of interesting moments, but the tonal shifts are too problematic to make this a favorite.

Helium (Denmark)

ODDS: 7:2 (#2)

If any of the nominees can be accused of feeling emotionally manipulative, it is Helium. While the plot is noble about a doctor teaching a child about an alternative version of heaven involving blimps. The only issue is that the plot is very familiar and is reminiscent of stories such as Finding Neverland in which emotional cues are borrowed from finding creative ways to describe death. It doesn't actually say anything interesting about the event of dying nor does it create an interesting chemistry between the two main characters. However, it is visually interesting and allows for some lenience in narrative as it mixes C.G.I. in majestic and impressive ways. Still, it is too meandering and dull to be anything more than an emotionally manipulative and familiar story.

Joanna Haartti
Do I Have to Take Care of Everything? (Finland)

ODDS: 100:1 (#5)

Coming in at seven minutes, it is the shortest nominee. Unlike last year's Fresh Guacamole, the brevity doesn't work in its favor. The story follows a family as they get ready to go to a wedding only to have everything that could ever go wrong go wrong. Even in terms of comedic value, there isn't all that much interesting going on and thus makes the nomination in general a little puzzling. It is the most anticlimactic of the five and doesn't really build to any wonderful conclusion. It is a short that feels like it was nominated because there was an empty space more than a recognition of something new or exciting.

What do you think of this year's nominees? Who should win? Is this one of the less interesting years for the category?

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