“Helium” – A sweet, sad story from Denmark of new hospital janitor Enzo (Casper Crump) who befriends terminally ill child Alfred (Pelle Falk Krusbæk). Enzo notices the boy’s love of aviation and spins a yarn about the titular place where the young one will go after departing this world. The shifts between reality and imagination produce an impressive blend of live action and animation, the latter of which outshines many in the other shorts category. The excellent rapport between the two leads is the main sell here and makes a tough topic a pleasure to watch. Grade: A-
“The Voorman Problem” – Mark Gill’s film is the kind one hopes for in these anthologies. Sporting both star power and a creative, playful story, it gets in and gets out without overstaying its welcome and leaves one yearning for more from a psychiatrist (The Hobbit’s Martin Freeman) and a prison inmate (About Time’s Tom Hollander), the latter of whom has convinced his fellow prisoners that he’s a god. Adapted from a section of David Mitchell’s novel number9dream, its entertaining explanations and illustrations of this alleged god’s power are executed with minimal trickery. Of these five films, it was probably pulled off with the smallest budget and yet it feels made with the most talent. Grade: A
“Just Before Losing Everything” – A powerful, taut French drama about a mother of two plotting to leave her abusive husband with the kids in tow. things get really tense when he shows up at her work, where she’s waiting for her sister to pick them up. Léa Drucker is heartbreaking as the battered Miriam and Denis Ménochet (the dairy farmer from the opening scene in Inglourious Basterds) is ideally cast as her betrothed, whose bearded poker face conveys both teddy bear kindness and serial killer brutality. Writer/director Xavier Legrand smartly doesn’t identify who the players are or the predicament facing them until the details are presented in an organic fashion. The style leads to multiple breathless moments and suggests good things to come from this director. Grade: A
“That Wasn’t Me” – Similar to period costume dramas, African warlord and child soldier stories often feel too alike. The ghosts and central relationship in last year’s Foreign Language nominee War Witch gave it enough of an edge to stand out, but Esteban Crespo’s film offers no such elements. In it, a trio of doctors are abducted by a military leader who’s convinced they’re part of a group that’s been capturing his men. Predictable interrogation ensues and ambitious action set pieces eventually come into play, but it’s all a bit hokey and dull. The main problem is that everyone speaks English without an accent that necessitates subtitles, yet there the words are, explaining what they’re saying though often inaccurately. It’s surprising that a film about to be seen by a sizable audience (with a clip surely to be shown at the Oscars) would have such unprofessional text, but so it goes. Grade: C+
“Do I Have to Take Care of Everything” – This Finnish quickie about a family of four struggling to get ready for a friend’s wedding is fun and funny, but Academy Award worthy? Hardly. It’s the kind of short one might expect at a mid-level film festival and it seems odd that it managed to sneak into the list of finalists when one figures there are more daring and/or accomplished options out there. Grade: B+
Not Rated, but contains Adult Themes, Language and Violence.
The 2014 Oscar Nominated Shorts (Live Action) program is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.