Reviewed in brief: Oscar-nominated short films

  • Article by: COLIN COVERT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 30, 2014 - 3:41 PM
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Japan’s “Possessions” has a fable-like simplicity and grace.

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The Oscar-Nominated Short Films 2014: Animated
⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Unrated: In English and subtitled Japanese.
Theater: Uptown.

 

This year’s short animated Oscar entries, worst to first:

“Room on the Broom” is an overproduced and overlong nursery rhyme about a witch, her cat and the menagerie of friends she brings along on her increasingly crowded broomstick. There’s an overqualified vocal cast including Simon Pegg, Gillian Anderson and Rob Bryden, and proficient stop-motion animation, but at 30 minutes, it drags unconscionably. “Feral” is a wordless yarn about a wolf-raised foundling and the hunter who hopes to integrate him into a city school. Drawn in a wintry palette of white and gray, its characters featureless and abstract, this is a singularly joyless cartoon. The computer-generated entry “Mr. Hublot” creates a carefully detailed retro-futuristic world. The solitary, fussy title character adopts a mechanical pet (half dog, half toaster), which requires him to expand his heart and his living space, too: visuals 9, story 3. The jaunty Disney entry “Get a Horse” presents itself as a lost Mickey Mouse short, with Minnie, Clarabelle Cow and Horace Horsecollar having a fine day in the country until Peg-Leg Pete shows up to spoil things. The action grows more complicated, colorful and multi-dimensional as Mickey and Pete’s fray punctures the fourth wall in unexpected and creative ways. It’s a keeper. But first place must go to the stunning Japanese entry “Possessions,” in which a Shogun-era craftsman takes shelter in a mysterious forest temple. His dreams are interrupted by the spirits of tools and implements in need of repair. The story has a fable-like simplicity and a look as graceful as its unforced moral.

 

The Oscar-Nominated Short Films 2014: live action
⋆⋆⋆½ out of four stars
Unrated: In English and subtitled Finnish, Danish, Spanish and French.
Theater: Lagoon.

 

This year’s short live-action Oscar finalists, ranked least to most impressive:

“Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?” is a comedy of errors following a flustered family racing off to a friend’s wedding and contending with every imaginable hurdle on the way. It’s a well-orchestrated but insubstantial string of sight gags and slapstick. “Helium” wrenches the heartstrings with a dying boy and the hospital janitor who tells him tales of a comforting world just beyond the clouds. A mawkish fantasy finale mars an initially touching tale. “That Wasn’t Me” concerns two Spanish doctors (Alejandra Lorente and Gustavo Salmerón) in an African war zone where their fate is in the hands of armed, unpredictable child soldiers. The subject matter is undeniably suspenseful, but the climax feels like a matter of wishful thinking more than dramatic necessity. The sublimely silly “The Voorman Problem” stars Martin Freeman (“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”) as a psychiatrist and Tom Hollander (“Pirates of the Caribbean”) as an inmate who makes increasingly persuasive arguments that he’s a god. Very funny unless you are Belgian (don’t ask). Best of all is “Just Before Losing Everything,” an anxious thriller about a department-store worker fleeing an abusive husband. There’s taut drama in every breath as embattled Lea Drucker and her children, Anne Benoit and Miljan Chatelain, weave through a maze of domestic drama and impending violence. Actor turned director Xavier Legrand makes masterful use of subjective camera placement to put us in the frightened but determined woman’s vantage point. I fervently hope this 30-minute appetizer becomes a full feature film.

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