Once again the live-action and animated Oscar-nominated short films will be screened theatrically prior to the Academy Award ceremony on March 2. Both packages are rewarding, though the animated bundle is a little better than the live-action compilation. Here's a look at the films.
JUST BEFORE LOSING EVERYTHING. Thirty compelling minutes of tension as a woman (Lea Drucker) with her two kids in tow shows up at the mega-grocery where she works to get help escaping from her abusive husband. Every second feels real in this gripping look at the logistics of breaking free from an unacceptable situation.
HELIUM. A terminally ill boy is far from excited at the prospect of Heaven – it sounds so boring! Along comes a well-intentioned hospital janitor, who tells him about Helium, a much more colorful afterlife setting where people live on picturesque chunks of land suspended in the sky by gigantic blimps. The visuals of the afterlife in Anders Walter's film are beguiling. The tale of new myths replacing flimsy old ones is touching, even if the janitor's go-for-broke efforts to breach security and finish his story when the boy is moved to intensive care are a bit disquieting.
THE VOORMAN PROBLEM. Martin Freeman and Tom Hollander star in a twisty story of a psychiatrist called in to deal with an inmate whose claim that he is God has been embraced by his fellow prisoners. The feature plays like one of the insubstantial but engaging short segments from the underrated '80s Twilight Zone revival series.
THAT WASN'T ME. A group of Spanish humanitarian workers get caught in the middle of a battle involving very dangerous African child soldiers. The harrowing action scenes play like fragments from a big budget movie. The message is less convincing.
DO I HAVE TO TAKE CARE OF EVERYTHING? A family races to prepare for a wedding. Quick, frantic and fun.
POSSESSIONS. Japanese animator Shuhei Morita takes an old myth – after 100 years, tools and instruments attain souls and trick people – and turns it into a wonderful tale of a man lost in the mountains who encounters such beings and responds to their tricks in a surprising fashion. The blend of visual styles is a treat. Loved the physicality of the burly fellow. Watch the scene where he slowly yawns to see how magic animation can be.
MR. HUBLOT. Savor the visual feast of elaborate mechanical beings and a grandly clunky cityscape in this story of a squat cyborg hermit and his friendship with a dog-like mechanized critter. The intricate animation will make you think of Terry Gilliam's work and steampunk sci-fi.
GET A HORSE! You've probably seen Disney's black & white/color toon that's running in theaters with the hit feature Frozen. Mickey Mouse stars in the raucous chase story where the action tears out of the screen and into the "real" world. Nothing new here, and the pacing is manic, but it's fun. Nice to see Mickey in his old-school mischievous mode.
ROOM ON THE BROOM. Lively fairy tale narrated by Simon Pegg about a loveable witch (Gillian Anderson) who picks up hitchhikers – a cat, a bird, a dog, a frog! — while cruising on her broom. Nice artwork, goodhearted fun.
FERAL. A boy raised by wolves is discovered in the forest, captured and brought to civilization. The story has an otherworldly feel that makes it hard to connect with emotionally. The visuals are interesting, however.