Oscar Circuit: Live Action Short Film


live action shorts

And the Nominees are:

  • Do I Have to Take Care of Everything? (Finland)
  • Helium (Denmark)
  • Just Before Losing Everything (France)
  • That Wasn’t Me (Spain)
  • The Voorman Problem (United Kingdom)

Ah yes, the one Oscar category that everyone seems to overlook year in and year out: “Best Live-Action Short Film.” The same can be said about the “Doc Short,” but “Animated Short” films tend to get a boost in viewership thanks to Disney’s inclusion and the relative ease in which they can be consumed (I’m sure they are used to get kids excited about a ceremony that will eat up three hours of television for mommy and daddy). I’ve already given an inspirational back story about former DGA head Taylor Hackford’s Oscar-winning short in the 1970s that boosted his career in Hollywood, so naturally I won’t repeat myself unless you feel the need for me to continually justify this category’s importance. What I will say to preface this article is that I genuinely hope moviegoers — especially aspiring filmmakers who read this site — seek out these entries and appreciate the platform Oscar gives to such noteworthy artists. Sad as it may be to admit, unless you are the extraordinary Steve McQueen (who’s now managed to make studios do his creative bidding), it’s almost impossible for quirky/offbeat/anti-Hollywood art to be embraced in such a high-profile manner by major industry folks unless it’s in short film form. In other words, please don’t shrug off this category like it’s a commercial you want to fast-forward through. And with that said, it’s now time to analyze the Oscar prospects of our very eclectic group of “Live-Action Short” nominees this year…

 The Frontrunners:

Mark Gill, The Voorman Problem


Oscar Scene: Doctor Williams (Martin Freeman) discovers Belgium isn’t on the world map anymore.

Accolades received before nomination: 8 (BAFTA, Aspen Shortfest, Brussels Short Film Festival, Leuven International Short Film Festival, Rhode Island International Film Festival, St. Louis International Film Festival *won*, Toronto Worldwide Short Film Festival, Warsaw International Film Festival)

Analysis: No short film is an a better position to win this year’s Academy Award than Mark Gill’s The Voorman Problem. The film has picked up the most notices of any of its competitors and has a win to show for it coming into the race. In addition, its BAFTA nod means voters in AMPAS’s British voting body, who also belong to BAFTA, have likely seen it and will likely vote for it to win. Yes, science fiction and Academy Award-winning films rarely go hand in hand — though The Voorman Problem’s wacky “God Theory” narrative works because it doesn’t take itself seriously — but its high-profile cast should diffuse any opposition to the historically mistreated genre. Martin Freeman and Tom Hollander are major British stars who are almost bound to be recognized by the mostly American voting body (c’mon, even the curmudgeonly Academy has seen at least one of The Hobbit and Pirates of the Caribbean films). Watch any Emmy telecast and you’ll always see big stars getting rewarded for doing smaller work (aka Miniseries or TV Movie). If this isn’t enough proof, two years ago the star-studded British short The Shore cake-walked to victory. I failed to predict that win and I definitely won’t be fooled twice.

Anders Walter, Helium


Oscar scene: The lonely hospital janitor forfeits his job as he rushes past security to visit a dying boy for the last time

Accolades received before nomination: Zero

Analysis: Don’t let that big fat “zero” fool you — Helium is a relatively new short film that probably didn’t get a chance to play the festival circuit. Its qualification for an Oscar and subsequent nomination means it went from having no buzz to a position of great power. How is this possible, you ask? This Danish short film — which tells the story of a children’s hospital janitor making a valuable connection with a dying young boy — is both visually remarkable and emotionally resonant. Its meditative stance on death, faith, imagination vs. reality is wonderfully explored. It also adds an extra layer to its themes by fully immersing us in the imaginative “Heaven” the janitor fabricates, “Helium,” by way of extraordinary visual effects that oddly enough make us nostalgic for our childhood. A “weepy” for sure, Helium will tug at voter’s heartstrings and would easily be our winner if not for the aforementioned short film’s British connections. Still, don’t be surprised if the tear-jerking Helium emerges as the top vote recipient.

Potential Spoilers:

Esteban Crespo, That Wasn’t Me

that wasn't me

Oscar Scene: The closing moments of the former child soldier’s speech.

Accolades received before nomination: 3 (Elche International Film Festival, Goya Awards *won*, Málaga Spanish Film Festival *won*)

Analysis: This gut-wrenching depiction of a child soldier’s loss of humanity will leave many viewers enraged, scratching their heads as to why the world doesn’t come together to stop such enforced barbarism. My biggest problem with the film is the European POV, making its Spanish travelers appear more victimized than the child soldier who eventually asks for forgiveness in his adult life. However, “white/Western savior” propaganda has only ever been met with positivity, so I doubt any Academy member will be as skeptical of this short as I was. It flashes a bright flag of importance, but so did last year’s contenders Buzkashi Boys and Asad — two far more powerful and impressively made short films — and they lost to the offbeat American charmer, Curfew. My guess is Spain’s That Wasn’t Me will be granted respect but not love, the latter of which secures the ultimate win.

Xavier Legrand, Just Before Losing Everything


Oscar Scene: The family flees the supermarket, hoping to not be spotted by “the enemy.”

Accolades received before nomination: 6 (Aix-en-Provence International Short Film Festival, Angers European First Film Festival *won*, Clermont-Ferrand International Film Festival *won*, Grenoble Short Film Festival *won*, Leeds International Film Festival *won*, Uppsala International Short Film Festival *won*)

 Analysis: By far my favorite short film among this relatively disappointing lineup, Just Before Losing Everything may have the most precursor wins among its competition but I’m positive its auteur structure won’t go over well with AMPAS. Let’s be realistic: voters want to watch these shorts as quick as possible so they can focus on their beloved top-tier categories. I can guarantee you, half who watch will be both confused and angered that it takes so long for the plot to reveal itself. What I love about Xavier Legrand’s masterpiece (I awarded it 4 stars, ’nuff said) is how slowly it unfolds, allowing us to rebuild and make sense of the fractured narrative from scene to scene. The extra level of audience participation Legrand asks of may annoy Academy members, who no doubt want to get to the juicy parts as painlessly as possible. The short film does pay off in a major way, but again the superb ambivalent ending might not be everyone’s cup of tea. Straight-forward storytelling is usually the best way to engage AMPAS voters, and thus the complex and thoroughly involving — that is if you want to be involved — French short stands almost no chance of acquiring consensus admiration. Then again, maybe I’m underestimating The Academy and quality will in fact win out in the final tally!

Just Happy to be Nominated:

Selma Vilhunen, Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?


Oscar Scene: The mother dresses up her kids in Halloween costumes because there’s nothing “formal” for them to wear.

Accolades before receiving nomination: Zero

Analysis: This might be the “Alone Yet Not Alone” nominee of the category this year. No, I’m not accusing anyone of anything…but its obscure inclusion after not gaining any kind of traction throughout the year is puzzling. It does, however, come off like a decent Superbowl commercial, so I have to assume that has to be the only reason why this unremarkable Finnish short film made it into the lineup. Satirizing mothers who get so worked up about getting their family ready for formal engagements, Do I Have to Take Care of Everything? is all about the punchline and rarely offers the kind of depth you’d find in strong satirical work. Dysfunctional families are always easy to relate to, but the unrealistic events that befall this amusing clan turns them into a laughing stock of the embarrassing, “I-dont-know-you” kind. Solid performances and an extremely short running time elevate the film’s chances somewhat, but when stacked against the rest — which, like I said, are mostly uninspired as well yet still marginally noteworthy — the commercial-like Do I Have to Take Care of Everything? feels noticeably out of place.

Final Predictions: The Voorman Problem takes home the Oscar

Check out my reviews of each of the nominees if you haven’t already. Please share your thoughts and opinions below in the comments section!