In some ways, short films are more admirable than longer ones. They have to deliver just as satisfying of a punch in half the time. Brevity is their strong suit and they’re appreciable when we’re reminded of features that run on far too long. However, their short runtime can also make the story seem trite and unimportant.
This year’s batch of Oscar-nominated live-action shorts, sadly, were mostly on the latter side as the filmmakers struggled to find depth, took shortcuts, or, in the case of one short, demanded far more space than the confines of the format would allow. However, there was a diamond in the rough, and it was a reminder of how live action shorts can adeptly hit the mark.
[Shorts are listed in alphabetical order]
Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?
Boy, being a wife and mother sure is difficult! I wasn’t aware of that since I’ve never seen a family sitcom. To its credit, Do I Have to Take Care of Everything? is an amusing story of a family that’s woefully ill-prepared to attend a wedding, especially when it appears they’re being subject to Murphy’s Law. There are some good jokes in here, but for comic value (and that’s all this short has), there are far better shorts on Funny or Die and College Humor.
A terminally ill boy is bored by the traditional idea of heaven, and is comforted by a more detailed, personalized version dreamed up by a kindly janitor. The janitor continues to provide more depth to this world, “Helium”, and it provides a comfort to both since the janitor lost his brother when he was a boy. The movie veers between genuine sweetness and brazenly manipulative, but it stays just charming enough until the final shot pushes the corniness too far. Helium eventually becomes a Hallmark movie with better production values and performances.
Just Before Losing Everything
The ominous title sets us on edge before the movie even really begins, but as the story becomes clear—a woman and her two kids are trying to flee her abusive husband—the tension remains. Just Before Losing Everything provides a unique perspective on this kind of event by showing the little details such as taking a child out of school, enlisting the help of co-workers, and finding an escape route. The short plays like an edge-of-your-seat thriller, but it’s never exploitative. We’re drawn into the desperate situation, and we pray that the woman and her children can make it to a new life where they’ll be safe.
That’s Wasn’t Me
The short is a potent reminder that the war-torn parts of Africa are an unforgiving hellscape of unending atrocities. That Wasn’t Me plays like an advocacy piece about child soldiers, but it doesn’t tell or show us anything we don’t already know. We know that using child soldiers is absolutely evil, but the movie doesn’t provide any solutions other than raising awareness, which isn’t really a solution. The topic would be far better suited to a documentary except a documentary couldn’t show innocent civilians being raped and murdered.
The Voorman Problem
The premise is fascinating: a psychiatrist (Martin Freeman) is called into a prison where an inmate named Voorman (Tom Hollander) has convinced the population that he’s God. In order to calm to upheaval and provide a reason to transfer Voorman to a mental hospital, the psychiatrist interviews the inmate, who explains his godlike powers. The story becomes exciting when it turns out that Voorman might actually be God, and then the short abruptly ends. I would love to see this stretched out into a feature, but as a short film, it’s maddeningly frustrating. I can’t stress strongly enough the level of potential, and then the movie just stops. I’m not sure if the filmmakers ran out of money or couldn’t figure out how develop the story any further, but I hope this isn’t the last I’ve seen of The Voorman Problem.