2014 Oscar Nominated Short Films
It's that time of the year again! With the Academy Award nominations officially announced and the show date quickly approaching, people have already started releasing their predictions for the full-length feature categories. However, most moviegoers don't get the chance to hear nearly as much about the short film categories. Whether you're an enthusiast of animated films, live-action pictures, or documentaries, each one has its own category at the Academy Awards. The nominees feature a wide array of filmmakers from around the world, which allows for an impressive variety of perspectives from artists who have experienced this world in completely different environments. Even though this portion of the awards ceremony isn't spoken about quite as often as the remainder of the categories, it offers an incredibly unique and fascinating look at the art of cinema in a different form. This year offers a wonderful round of short films that are most certainly worth seeing.
The first short that I watched was a live-action film from Denmark by the name of Helium. After watching this, it instantly set the bar incredibly high for what was to come. This short is about a young dying boy who develops a connection with the hospital janitor. He begins to find hope in a magical land called HELIUM. Told from the perspective of the sympathetic janitor, directors Walter and Magnusson instantly captivate audiences. In such a short period of time, you'll quickly find yourself caring deeply for these characters and the tragic situation that they find themselves in. However, this isn't meant to be a depressing short, but is about hope and dreams. At the same time, it most certainly placed a lump in my throat that simply wouldn't go away. Helium has a wonderful sense of story, character, and dialogue. This is only escalated by the exceptional use of visual storytelling. Even the depictions of this "magical land" will completely immerse audiences in this exceptional short live-action film. This is perhaps the best nominated short.
After experiencing a film as emotionally intense as Helium, I wanted to watch something a little bit lighter. Fortunately, The Voorman Problem delivers on just that. UK's entry follows Doctor Williams (Martin Freeman), who is tasked with examining an inmate named Voorman (Tom Hollander). The psychiatrist must declare whether the man is truly sane or insane, as he's convinced that he's a god. There are several ways that this short could have played out. It goes down a more comedic route, which is definitely a nice change of pace. The humor is effective and the story works. In fact, this could easily translate into a full-length motion picture. Running at only thirteen minutes, I could have easily watched more of this. The Voorman Problem ends on a satisfying note that will leave you with a smile on your face. However, the competition is tough this year. This is both a decent and humorous entry, but it isn't the best in the category.
The next live-action short film on the list is from France. As an enthusiast of French cinema, I was instantly excited to see what filmmakers Xavier Legrand and Alexandre Gavras could pull off. Sure enough, I was impressed with the results. Just Before Losing Everything tells the story of Miriam, who left her abusive husband and has taken refuge with her two children in the local supermarket where she works. The film becomes increasingly intense, as we watch a broken family deal with serious issues. Some of Miriam's co-workers attempt to assist her in escaping in order to get away from the situation. Legrand and Gavras have created a piece of cinema with a huge amount of urgency. Just Before Losing Everything demands your attention from start to finish, and it surely gets your heart beating a bit quicker several times through its thirty-minute running time. Not only is this compelling material, but every aspect of the film comes together to create an exceptional piece that will stick in your memory long after viewing it.
Each short has a different goal it's trying to achieve, and in this case, they're all successful in doing so. However, this short from Spain has more than an intended theme or emotion. That Wasn't Me has political ideals that will hit anybody who hasn't been living under a rock. It's about Paula, a Spanish aid worker, who encounters an African child soldier named Kaney. Writer/director Esteban Crespo has a wonderful sense of storytelling. Not only is this film incredibly intense, but it hits several emotions pretty hard. It will get your adrenaline going, tug on your heart strings, and so much more. Every aspect of this short comes across as being entirely raw. Once the end credits start to roll, you'll be left with your jaw hanging on the ground. This is an incredibly powerful piece of filmmaking that has a much more powerful voice than many full-length motion pictures.
After watching a few more intense films in a row, Do I Have to Take Care of Everything was a welcome surprise. This film from Finnland is clearly the lightest nominee present. It introduces Sini, who tries frantically to get her family ready to leave for a wedding. However, it seems as if everything continues to go wrong. With this comedic short clocking in at only seven minutes long, it moves extremely quickly. From the very first frame until the moment it ends, this entry had me smiling and laughing. Filmmakers Vilhunen and Saari have a stunning sense of humor that works on numerous levels and will have audiences laughing out loud. The majority of the comedy is delivered visually, as there isn't very much actual dialogue. This frantic family has a lot of character that will instantly hook audiences. My only complaint about this entry is that I wish for it to have been longer, which is a good problem to have.
I have seen a lot of animation from around the world, and Japan is known for creating some of the most innovative and fantastical animated features in the world. Director Shuhei Morita brings audiences a story about a man who is desperately seeking shelter from a storm. He comes across a seemingly rundown shrine, but it ultimately springs to life, as goblin spirits possess ordinary household objects. The lead must figure his way out of this chaotic situation if he hopes to make it out of this shrine. I expected to be absolutely blown away by this seemingly inventive animated venture, but it ultimately left me feeling rather underwhelmed. While there are some inventive aspects here and there, I constantly got the feeling that a major piece of the puzzle was missing. I had a great deal of difficulty connecting with the lead and actually caring about what was going on. However, the goblin spirits themselves are quite amusing. The animation is a bit odd, as the character animation feels like something from a video game. Fortunately, the environments are beautifully-crafted. They aid in pulling audiences in, even if the content itself isn’t where it should be. Possessions is watchable, but it’s clearly the weakest of the bunch.
After getting started on a mediocre note, I was hoping for something more impressive from directors Max Lang and Jan Lachauer. It’s narrated by Simon Pegg, after all! The UK’s Room on the Broom tells the story of a friendly witch and her cat, as they set off on a grand adventure. They ultimately meet several unlikely friends along the way. It makes sense why this story is told in the format of a children’s story, and it works incredibly well for this short. The entire plot is expressed visually and through Mr. Pegg’s excellent narration. Room on the Broom has the strong theme of friendship, and while it’s sweet, it doesn’t hit you over the head with it. This is an infectious short film that had me engaged from start to finish. There are some great moments of physical humor that work extremely well. As far as the animation itself goes, it looks pretty good. There are a lot of great textures going on, and the universe is certainly inviting enough. Room on the Broom definitely ended before I was ready for it to, as I was having that much fun with it. This is definitely a huge step up from Possessions.
From the moment that France’s Mr. Hublot begins, it’s clear that it has the best animation out of 2014’s nominees. The textures are beautifully-rendered, and everything moves in an extraordinarily smooth fashion. This is only one of many incredible things that can be said about this wonderful short directed by Laurent Witz and Alexandre Espigares. This animated short is about the isolated Mr. Hublot, who has a severe case of OCD. When he decides to take in Robot Pet, his organized life is quickly flipped upside down. Will he be able to withstand such a disruptive change in his life? Mr. Hublot doesn’t feature a single word of dialogue, as every bit of the plot is expressed visually. It sports several emotions within its short running time. The filmmakers manage to make the lead character and his new pet incredibly infectious, as it doesn’t take very long to relate to them. The film also has a good sense of humor. It successfully pulled me into the story and its visuals. Without a doubt, this is the strongest nominee of the animation category for 2014. It most definitely deserves the award.
Each nominated animation has its own visual style that it achieves. Some of them go for a realistic feel, while others have a tone more similar to a storybook. Directors Daniel Sousa and Dan Golden’s Feral stands out from the pack in a variety of different ways. It all starts in the woods, as a young boy encounters wolves. When he’s about to get into a potentially violent situation, a hunter shows up and finds the boy. He decides to take him to civilization and attempt to give him an ordinary childhood. This is another non-dialogue film with an intriguing use of visuals. Instead of having a digital vibe, it feels a lot more like a charcoal world brought to life. However, it also has a decent theme underneath it all. Feral features decent storytelling, and while it doesn’t even rank amongst my top three of the animation category, this is still an impressive short well-worth checking out.
The second nominated short film coming from America is actually from Disney. It features some recognizable characters that we’ve come to love from this company, such as Mickey Mouse. The famous mouse and his friends are enjoying a musical wagon ride when they have an encounter with Peg-Leg Pete. This transforms into a fight over Mickey’s favorite pal Minnie Mouse, both on and off the screen. This animated short has an extremely entertaining concept that works very well. The audience watches a movie within a movie, as Mickey and his friends fight against Peg-Leg Pete in this universe, as well as the classic Disney-verse. If you’re a fan of traditional Disney cartoons, then you’re instantly guaranteed to enjoy this one. It’s funny, cute, and plays off of our already-existing feelings about characters that we have all grown up watching. It shouldn’t be very surprising that Disney has scored with yet another successful animated short.
I started my watching of the doc’s with Karama Has No Walls, which originates from Yemen. Director Sara Ishaq utilizes the footage of the events with personal interviews of those it affected extremely well in order to create an impactful documentary that won’t soon be forgotten. This documentary explores when protesters in Yemen added their voices to those of other nations during the Arab Spring. It was a peaceful protest that erupted into a government attack, which left 53 people dead and many injured. Not only did this horribly affect the peoples of Yemen, but it also captured the attention of those from around the world. Just from reading that synopsis, it’s clear what you’re getting into. This is deep material that leaves its mark on your mind. However, this isn’t just the story of the protest itself, but it explores how it affected people who live there. The director speaks with individuals whose children were killed or injured, and some of them weren’t even a part of the protest. If you didn’t know very much about this tragic event, then you’re in for a real shock here. Karama Has No Walls is powerful, emotional, and unforgettable.
The next documentary continues the theme of tragic events affecting the world, but it takes a magnifying glass to it. Directors Malcolm Clarke and Nicholas Reed tell the story of Alice Herz Sommer, who is the world’s oldest pianist, as well as its oldest Holocaust survivor at the age of 109. She tells a story of courage and passion, of which saved her life. The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life explores a part of the Holocaust that some might not have known very well. This is an exceptional look into how talented musicians, such as Alice, were treated during this terrible time in our history. This is a tremendous story that deserves to be told, and the filmmakers have done it justice. This is a fascinating look at a woman’s life who has gone through a lot, but doesn’t allow that to get in the way of her true passion for playing music. This is an extraordinarily well-crafted documentary that works on every level.
Now that same-sex marriage has finally become legal in various states across the United States, it’s clear that this nation is becoming much more accepting of those who are attracted to the same gender. There couldn’t possibly be a better time for director Jason Cohen’s Facing Fear to be seen by audiences. As a gay 13-year-old, Matthew Boger was horribly beaten by a group of neo-Nazis. Living an extremely difficult life, he worked his way up in the tough city of Los Angeles. Twenty-five years later, he meets one of the neo-Nazis once again, but in a completely different setting. It’s so incredibly unfortunate that what happened to Matthew Boger has happened to many other homosexuals around the world, but sweeping it under the rug isn’t going to make it go away. Facing Fear puts a spotlight on the issue, as we hear from both Matthew and a man who has decided to turn his life around years after causing so much pain and destruction. However, this is also a story of forgiveness, emotion, and taking responsibility. Director Jason Cohen has an extremely impactful documentary here.
The next documentary tells a completely different kind of story about an individual man whose job has taken over his life completely. Director Jeffrey Karoff examines New Mexico environmental sculptor Ra Paulette as he carves elaborately designed sandstone caves. He has a clear artistic vision, although that gets him into quite a bit of trouble with the clients who hire him. Even in being at an older age, he isn’t afraid to continue working at his craft, but refuses to create for any more patrons. Cavedigger follows an interesting subject, and all of the pieces are present to make a fascinating documentary. However, this is definitely the weakest out of 2014’s Oscar documentary nominees. While the craft itself is fascinating to watch and learn about, Ra Paulette himself isn’t portrayed in a very interesting fashion. Even though this isn’t a long film at all, it feels longer than it is. Perhaps deeper questions should have been asked of the subjects in order to truly get into the mind of this man, or perhaps it should have focused more on the caves. This film isn’t necessarily bad, but it isn’t very memorable either.
When a prison inmate becomes terminally ill, how are they treated? Well, they used to be left in their cell to die alone. Director Edgar Barens explores a new system that has been set in place, all funded through donations and the inmates themselves. Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall is set in a maximum security prison, as we follow the terminally ill Jack Hall. His health steadily declined, as he faced the final days of his life. He was placed in the newly developed hospice care, which is maintained by workers from the prison population. Jack Hall has quite the story, which becomes even more prevalent as he’s entered into hospice care. He begins to question whether he’s going to heaven or hell, as he recounts some of his past. Director Edgar Barens also explores his relationship to the workers who took such incredible care of him during his last few days. It constantly feels as if we’re the “fly on the wall,” as his son comes to visit him. You might want to bring tissues when you see this, because it’s almost guaranteed to have you in tears by the time it’s over. Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall is an emotional roller coaster, as we’re informed on the hospice care system in prison, as well as the process that Jack Hall went through during his final few days.
DVD Talk's Top 10 Releases of 2014
2014 Holiday Gift Guide
Notes on the 2014 Tallgrass Film Festival
A Belle for Christmas