Review: Short-film nominees for Oscar a fine group

Pittsburgh Post-GazetteFebruary 6, 2014 

The live-action and animated ones nominated for the upcoming Academy Awards are a particularly good crop in both categories.

What I love most is the unpredictable international smorgasbord, and these 2014 short subjects -- miniature movie morsels between 6 and 26 minutes long -- are tastier than usual.

In the animation department, they range from fairy-tale fantasy to flights of futuristic fancy:

• "Room on the Broom" (directed by Max Lang and Jan Lachauer; UK; 25 minutes): The Least Wicked Witch of the East or West has a sweet disposition and joie de vivre unusual for her profession. She's a happy, user-friendly kind of witch, but she keeps losing things in mid-air and having to retrieve them, aided by her faithful feline companion (a ginger Bando) and various critters on the ground, who all ask the same question: Is there room for them on the broom, too? It's an old model, with dubious aerodynamics -- increasingly crowded and problematic. Favorite detail: When the cat reaches into a haystack, searching for her lost hair-ribbon, he pulls out a needle instead.

• "Mr. Hublot" (Laurent Witz; Luxembourg/France; 11 minutes): The hero is described as "a withdrawn, idiosyncratic character with OCD." This agoraphobic man-of-the-future -- made of (spare) mechanical parts, wears quadrifocal corrective lenses and an odometer on his forehead with constantly running numbers, like an electric meter. The invasive arrival of Robot Pet, a stray mechanized dog, disturbs his terrifically drawn dystopia.

• "Get a Horse!" (Lauren MacMullen; USA; 6 minutes):

Walt Disney checks in from the beyond in this state-of-the-CGI-art homage to early Mickey Mouse. Mick, Minnie, Horace Horsecollar and Clarabelle Cow are having a jolly hay wagon ride when interrupted and menaced by Peg-Leg Pete.

• "Possessions" (Shuhei Morita; Japan; 14 minutes): It's a dark and stormy night in 18th-century Japan, where a lost traveler takes refuge in a long-abandoned shrine full of discarded objects .

• "Feral" (Daniel Sousa; USA; 13 minutes): A wild boy in the woods is discovered and "rescued" by a hunter, who takes him back to civilization.

In the live-action department:

• "The Voorman Problem" (Mark Gill; UK; 13 minutes): Supercilious Dr. Williams has been summoned by the authorities to determine the sanity or insanity of a dangerous prisoner who claims to be God.

• "Just Before Losing Everything" (Xavier Legrand; France; 30 minutes): Miriam is desperate to get herself and her two kids out of town in a hurry.

• "That Wasn't Me" (Esteban Crespo; Spain; 24 minutes): An even worse international crime is chronicled in the grim, devastating story of Paula and Kaney -- Spanish doctor and African boy -- whose paths cross at the violent intersection of a civil war employing child soldiers.

• "Helium" (Anders Walter; Denmark; 23 minutes): A much sweeter path-crossing takes the form of a dying boy and a feckless hospital janitor meeting late on the road from here to eternity.

• "Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?" (Selma Vilhunen; Finland; 7 minutes): Finnish moms aren't much different from American (or any other) moms. Sini wakes up in a panic, having overslept for a wedding.

A nice bonus with the animated program is the inclusion of four runners-up "qualifying" (but un-nominated) shorts -- of which "A la Francaise," created by a team of students from the French animation school Supinfocom, is to die for: It's an afternoon in Versailles during the reign of Louis XIV, the aristocrats in sumptuous, eye-dazzling costumes cavorting to classical music.

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