Oscar season hasn't officially arrived until the Academy Award-nominated short films are splashed on the big screen. The season is now in full swing: The Oscar Nominated Short Films compilation has arrived in Boise--Friday, Feb. 1-Thursday, Feb. 6, at The Flicks--and the class of 2014 is a dazzling bounty.
The animated nominees represent some of the best big screen artistry in years, starting with Get a Horse, the Walt Disney Animation Studio's homage to some of its very first efforts, starring Mickey Mouse (Steamboat Willie-era). In this new spectacle, the black-and-white Mickey is paired with some full-color, 3-D filmmaking. In fact, director Lauren MacMullan even uses Mickey's original voice (Walt Disney himself) in this modern classic. Get a Horse is already being paired with Disney's blockbuster Frozen (nominated for Best Animated Feature), making it this year's only Oscar-nominated double feature.
The other animated short subjects are all artistically splendid, including Possessions, an 18th century story of a Japanese man who, while hiding from a violent storm, learns that he's sharing his shelter with some goblin spirits; Room on the Broom, which is based on the popular children's picture book and features the voices of Gillian Anderson and Rob Brydon; Feral, a beautifully drawn black-and-white fable of a wild boy who is found in the woods by a solitary hunter and his subsequent integration into civilization; and Mr. Hublot (my favorite film in the animated group), the story of how a mechanical man's perfectly precise world is turned upside down by the arrival of an oversized, unruly dog.
The highlight of this year's live action short subjects is Finnish export Pitaako Mun Kaikki Hoitaa (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything), this season's funniest six minutes at the movies. It's a completely relatable story: Mother and father oversleep and now are late for a wedding. Trying to get their 6- and 4-year-old daughters ready for the big ceremony is something to behold--no spoilers here, lest I ruin this maelstrom of mirth.
The Voorman Problem, starring Martin Freeman (The Hobbit trilogy, Sherlock), is an expertly constructed dark comedy, telling the story of Dr. Williams, a psychiatrist (Freeman) called in to diagnose Mr. Voorman, a prisoner (Tom Hollander) who believes he is God. Voorman tells Williams he will prove his ultimate power by making Belgium disappear--imagine the psychiatrist's reaction when, later that evening, he sees Belgium is indeed missing from the world atlas.
The rest of the live action shorts are serious dramas, all of them well told. But the best of the lot--and I suspect the Oscar winner--is Denmark's Helium, the gentle story of young little Alfred, who loves balloons and zeppelins but who is dying, living out his final days in a hospital. That's where he meets a janitor who tries to cheer Alfred up by telling him that someday he'll go to a magical place called "helium," where children play all day and live on floating islands surrounded by giant balloon ships. The dream sequences are breathtaking and it's a fair bet that you'll be wiping away tears before it's over.
But no worries, there's another film after that... and another and another. Make time to see these films that are short in length but long in splendor.