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Shorts Circuit

ROOM ON A BROOMSmall films, big results, in ‘Oscar Nominated Short Films 2014’

Where are the next generation of filmmakers and animators coming from? Most are getting their start in short films, a less expensive, yet no less creative way of breaking into the movie biz. It used to be that the five live-action and five animated short films nominated for the Oscar each year were viewable only by Academy voters or at film festivals, but more recently, the 10 nominees have been collected into two anthology programs and offered for theatrical release to the general public. This year’s Oscar Nominated Short Films 2014 arrive in two complete and separate programs in advance of the Academy Awards telecast on March 2.           

The Live Action program offers an eclectic mix of comedy, suspense, and poignancy from around the world. The most crowd-pleasing will be The Voorman Problem (U.K., 13 minutes), in which director Mark Gill distills a brief section out of the David Mitchell novel, “number9dream,” into an hilarious encounter between an incoming prison psychiatrist (Martin Freeman, of The Hobbit and Sherlock) and a straightjacketed inmate (a deadpan Tom Hollander) who calmly explains that he’s God. His arguments are unsettlingly persuasive.

Helium (Denmark, 23 minutes) is director Anders Walter’s tender fable about a scruffy hospital janitor who bonds with a dying little boy. When the child complains the heaven they all tell him he’s going to sounds boring, the janitor spins tales—charmingly visualized onscreen—about an alternate place beyond Heaven where private islands and castles are borne in the sky by the intricate dirigibles and helium balloons the boy loves.

Things get serious in the harrowing That Wasn’t Me (Aquel no era yo) (Spain, 24 minutes). Set in a war-torn African nation, where rebel commandos preach that guns equal “respect,” Esteban Crespo’s drama of consequences and redemption concerns a fateful encounter between Spanish aid workers and boy soldiers, with unexpected results. No less suspenseful is Xavier Legrand’s Just Before Losing Everything (Avant Que De Tout Perdre) (France, 30 minutes) in which a woman faces ever more nerve-racking obstacles on the day she attempts to extricate herself and her two kids from her abusive husband. Finally, Do I Have To Do Everything? (Finland, 7 minutes) is Selma Vilhunen’s lighthearted joke about a frantic woman trying to get her husband and two little daughters to the church on time for a wedding.

All the entries in this year’s Animated program are splendid in their own, weird way. Mr. Hublot (France, 12 minutes) is Laurent Witz’s delirious stop-motion steampunk fantasy in which the intricate and amazing mechanical found-junk sculptures of Belgian artist Stephane Halleux come to life in a sweet tale about a reclusive humanoid who befriends an eager Robot Pet. Do not blink for an instant, every frame of film is crammed with so many astounding images and clever ideas.

Sheer gorgeousness is the hallmark of Shuhei Morita’s color-rich Possessions (Japan, 14 minutes), in which a Samurai-era mender of broken things shelters from a storm in an abandoned mountain shrine and finds himself tested by the prankster spirits of the forgotten objects inside. Far more monochromatic, and yet wistfully poetic is Daniel Sousa’s Feral (USA, 13 minutes), about a wild boy found in the woods attempting to make an uneasy peace with the civilized world.

Perhaps the most buoyant fun of the lot is Room On the Broom (U.K., 26 minutes). Max Land and Jan Lachauer direct this fanciful stop-motion storybook tale about a kind-hearted witch (voice of Gillian Anderson) who keeps inviting outcast interlopers (a dog, a bird, and a fastidious frog) to ride on her broom—to the annoyance of her ginger cat. Happily, they all pull together in the end in this sweet-natured story narrated in rhyming couplets by Simon Pegg.

Get A Horse (USA, 6 minutes), has already been playing in theaters with Disney’s Frozen. Director Lauren MacMullan’s story of Mickey and Minnie Mouse out on a hayride, menaced by the villainous Peg-leg Pete, is a new production done in the style of a vintage 1930s black-and-white Disney cartoon (right down to Mickey’s voice provided by Walt Disney himself, pieced together from the studio’s sound archives). A nifty twist of spanking new technology alters the course of the adventure and the viewers’ perception—a seamless blending that celebrates the past and future of the animator’s art.

OSCAR NOMINATED SHORT FILMS 2014 (Not rated)

Live Action Program: 113 minutes. (★★★)

Animated Program: 110 minutes (★★★1/2)

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