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Live-action shorts have plenty to offer viewers, also

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The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2014: Live Action

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Pittsburgher movie quiz for yunz

Is 'Birdman' star Michael Keaton the best actor with western Pennsylvania ties? Click here to play the Trib's tongue-in-cheek attempt to find out.

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By Steven Rea
Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014, 8:55 p.m.
 

‘The Voorman Problem'

The film stars Martin Freeman, alias Bilbo Baggins, alias Dr. John Watson (opposite that Caldecott Bumbershoot fellow in PBS's “Sherlock”). In the British short “The Voorman Problem,” Freeman plays a psychologist dispatched to interview a prisoner who claims he is God. The warden needs certification to put him away. Problem? His fellow inmates have come to believe that the straitjacketed Voorman (Tom Hollander) is, indeed, who he claims to be.

‘Just Before Losing Everything'

The other exceptional entry among the five Academy Award nominees in the short-fiction field hails from France. “Just Before Losing Everything,” from actor-turned-director Xavier Legrand, offers an impossibly suspenseful 30 minutes of uncertainty and menace, as a woman (Léa Drucker) plots to flee her violent, abusive spouse, taking her young son (Miljan Chatelain) and teenage daughter (Mathilde Auneveux) along. The day begins in typical fashion, with the kids heading to school and the wife to her job at a large, chain store; it ends in anything but typical ways. Taking a cue from Michael Haneke, Legrand closes with an ambiguous final shot. Pay close attention to the cars in the traffic circle, and think about where this story may continue to go.

‘Helium'

“Helium,” from Denmark, is an accomplished but sentimental story of a boy with a terminal illness and a newly hired hospital worker who comforts the dying child with stories of an afterlife, based on the boy's obsession with blimps and balloons. Cut to scenes of floating islands and crystal particles that light up at night.

‘Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?'

From Finland, Selma Vilhunen's one-joke (but extremely satisfying joke) “Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?” follows a husband and wife as they wake up late for a wedding, running through a series of comic mishaps as they try to make it to the church on time, pipsqueaks in tow. Never mind the dysfunctional family, this one is discombobulated. Hugely so.

‘That Wasn't Me'

Spanish director Esteban Crespo bites off more than he can chew in “That Wasn't Me,” a grim, gratuitous story about three European social workers caught up in an African conflict, where kids with automatic weapons are being trained to fight, and kill by a charismatic, sociopathic revolutionary. The sense of fear and finality experienced by the Spanish couple (Gustavo Salmerón, Alejandra Lorente) and their friend feels real enough, but the story's past/present narrative device and redemptive climax do not.

Steven Rea is a movie critic for The Philadelphia Inquirer.

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