Start small. That’s the guiding dictum for everything from biological evolution to filmmaking. The live-action shorts that mark the start of most directors’ careers rarely see the light of day outside of specialized festivals; that is, except for the lucky bunch that get plucked to appear on Oscar’s big night. This group is easily the collective best in the last decade, with three films that would have been stand-out front runners any other year. That sucks for them, but it’s great news for audiences treated to tight filmmaking at its finest.
“Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn’t Me)”
Directed by Esteban Crespo
Set in Africa, this short is proof that you can create pant-wetting tension, heart-splitting tragedy and soul-filling redemption in less than 30 minutes flat. Crespo creates a nuanced, minimalist story revealing the hellish world of child soldiers and the limitless potential of the human spirit for forgiveness and rebirth. So, yeah … check the box on your ballot now and thank me later.
Directed by Anders Walter
If, somehow, “That Wasn’t Me” doesn’t win, it will be because Oscar voters couldn’t pass over a film about a boy dying of cancer and a kindly hospital worker who invents heaven. It may be a bit cloying and clichéd with its heart-string puppetry, but the fantasy sequences alone elevate the material beyond Lifetime TV-style limits. Audiences will be split into two camps: those who say they got misty eyed and liars.
“Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything)”
Directed by Xavier Legrand
Legrand’s film is basically a heist movie. Money is transferred into accounts and cons are underway. But the “treasure” stolen here is freedom from domestic violence. A woman seeking to save herself and her children asks for help escaping her abuser from her job. Her boss fires her instead of letting her resign, so she gets severance, her coworkers lie to cover for her … but then her husband shows up. It delivers unreal tension in just less than 30 minutes. Related: I can apparently hold my breath for just under 30 minutes.
“Pitääkö Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?)”%u2028
Directed by Selma Vilhunen
The lone dud among the 10 liveaction and animated shorts, this slightly goofy comedy is eight minutes of a family rushing to a wedding. People fall down and wear silly clothes, if you’re into that. I can only hope some form of nepotism got this a nod because I don’t get it. Oof.
“The Voorman Problem”%u2028
Directed by Mark Gill
If one film from this bunch is developed into a feature, it should be this. Starring Martin Freeman as a psychiatrist interviewing Tom Hollander playing a man who claims to be God, this has at least two “holy eff ” moments and the coolest ending of the bunch. “That Wasn’t Me” was the “best” short of the year, but “The Voorman Problem” was my favorite.