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Movie review: Oscar-nominated shorts have wide range of styles and stories

Published January 31, 2014 8:01 am

Review • Tough drama, witty comedy and varied artistry.
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Like reading a collection of short stories instead of a novel, watching a program of short films lets the viewer enjoy storytelling stripped down to its basics.

The short films nominated for Academy Awards in the live-action and animated categories arrive in separate programs this weekend. This allows movie completists a chance to fill out their Oscar pool ballots knowledgeably and opens a window to some of what the world's filmmakers have to offer.

The shortest of the live-action shorts are bouncy comedies. The Finnish film "Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?" spotlights a family in a mad dash to attend a wedding, while the sharp-witted British short "The Voorman Problem" pits a prison psychiatrist (Martin Freeman, of "The Hobbit" and "Sherlock" fame) against an inmate (Tom Hollander, from "About Time") who claims to be God.

The longer the live-action films get, the more serious the topics. The harrowing Spanish-made "That Wasn't Me" focuses on an African child soldier (Juan Tojaka) and two Spanish doctors (Alejandra Lorente, Gustavo Salmerón) in a life-or-death situation. The Danish heart-tugger "Helium" features a hospital orderly (Casper Crump) who comforts a dying boy (Pelle Falk Krusbæk) with tales of the happy place where the boy will soon be going.

But the best of the lot is French director Xavier Legrand's drama "Just Before Losing Everything," which follows a supermarket clerk, Miriam (Léa Drucker), on a not-at-all-typical day: gathering her kids, quitting her job and getting away from her abusive husband. Legrand tackles an important issue with the immediacy of a thriller.

The animated program is a bit more hit-or-miss, dominated by one overlong short, the stop-motion "Room on the Broom." This 25-minute British children's tale told in rhyme, about a generous witch pursued by an angry dragon, is loaded with celebrity voices (Simon Pegg narrates; Gillian Anderson portrays the witch) but a slight story.

You've likely seen the Oscar favorite: Disney's "Get a Horse!," which plays attached to the megahit "Frozen." It's a hoot, a reimagining of a classic silent-era Mickey Mouse cartoon that shatters the fourth wall into clever computer animation.

The other three nominees show off a wide array of styles. The rough-hewn "Feral," by Daniel Sousa, tells of a wild boy suddenly dealing with civilization. Laurent Witz's stop-motion "Mr. Hublot" is a charming steampunk story of a man with OCD taking on a pet who's too much to handle. Best of all is Shuhei Morita's "Possessions," an anime-style story of an 18th-century tinker who encounters a cabin filled with discarded — and haunted — objects.

The animated show includes three nonnominated shorts to fill out the running time. These were not screened for critics, but the one you might be familiar with is "The Blue Umbrella," Pixar's photorealistic romance between inanimate objects that played before "Monsters University" last summer.


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Oscar nominated live-action shorts


Oscar nominated animated shorts

Where • Tower Theatre.

When • Both open Friday.

Rating • Not rated; the live-action shorts are probably R for some violence and language; the animated program is probably PG for mildly disturbing images.

Running time • The live-action program is around 98 minutes; the animated program is about 102 minutes; both feature shorts with subtitles.