Some short films are longer than others. There’s also a big variance in storytelling goals.
Ten-minute dazzlers make a different impact than 30- or 45-minute mini-features. Thus there’s often an apples-and-oranges quality to short films nominated for Oscars, especially in the live-action and animated fields.
Film lovers can witness all that variety on the Crest Theatre’s big screen starting Friday. The Crest will offer a several-day run of the 2013 live-action and animated shorts vying for Oscars. On Feb. 9, the Crest will show the documentary short subjects in two programs, one with three nominees, the other two. The Oscar ceremony is March 2.
The live-action program will contain five nominated films, and the animated lineup will include the five nominees along with a few other noteworthy animated shorts.
Having seen all the nominated shorts, I can say that each category contains two clear standouts. In both the live-action and animated fields, the two standouts differ substantially in tone and length from each other.
In live action, the 13-minute English comedic film “The Voorman Problem” and the 30-minute tensely dramatic French film “Just Before Losing Everything” both are of exceptionally high quality. But again, apples and oranges.
“Voorman,” starring Martin Freeman (“The Hobbit’s” Bilbo Baggins) as a prison psychiatrist faced with diagnosing a potentially brilliant, potentially bonkers inmate (a delicious Tom Hollander), makes its case cleverly and succinctly.
The story’s effectiveness rests almost entirely on its “ta-da!” dialogue. Consisting primarily of conversations between the two men, “Voorman” contains little action. It plays like a filmed stage play.
“Losing Everything,” by contrast, slowly builds into a thriller incorporating several characters and a busy Costco-like grocery/department store. The film takes its time revealing why store employee and mother of two Miriam (Lea Drucker) has spirited her children away from their school day to hide them at her workplace.
The tension ratchets up as supervisors and co-workers become involved (the co-workers are sympathetic but one wonders why Miriam brought her drama to work). Meanwhile, clerks ring up items and customers give only passing glances to the woman walking hurriedly through the store, children in tow.
“Losing” director Xavier Legrand handled more actors and locations and likely faced more logistical challenges in making “Losing” than director Mark Gill did in shooting “Voorman.” Does that make “Losing” a better film? It doesn’t. The films satisfy differently but equally.
There’s a similar disparity in length and style between the two best animated films. “Room on the Broom,” based on a picture book and directed by Jan Lachauer and Max Lang, features photo-realistic computer animation, lively voice acting by Gillian Anderson, Sally Hawkins and Timothy Spall, and a message of inclusivity.
“Broom” follows a witch with a wart on her nose and a soft spot for animals as she encounters creatures asking to catch rides on her broom. Eventually, she flies with a cat, dog, frog and bird.
The animal adventure tale is a staple of full-length animated films – such a staple it’s almost mandatory. At 26 minutes, “Room” distills this idea to its essence, without flab or the easy flatulence jokes often employed to tickle 4-year-old funny bones.
Mysterious where “Room” is ebulliently open, the dreamlike, hand-drawn and 12-minute “Feral” wordlessly follows a wild child raised among wolves as he is plucked from the forest and plopped into polite society. Directed by Daniel Sousa, the beautifully drawn “Feral” transports at moments but also stays grounded in the question of what composes “human” nature.
As in most years, the documentary category is longer than the others – thus the separation into two programs – and its films more consistent in (usually serious) tone. Most of the 2013 docs are issue-oriented. The two standouts examine heinous acts and their heartening flip sides of resilience and the sincere belief people are capable of change.
Malcolm Clarke’s wonderful “The Lady in Number 6” makes a case for optimism and passion for the arts as fuel for a long life. The film follows 109-year-old Alice Sommer, a one-time concert pianist who as a girl in her native Prague met Gustav Mahler and Franz Kafka. She still entertains neighbors and passers-by by playing piano every day in her north London apartment.
Recognized as the oldest living Holocaust survivor, Sommer withstood a concentration camp and much later, the death of her son, noted cellist Raphael Sommer, with spirit intact.
Sommer tries to see the humanity even in Nazis, and she has come to terms with Raphael’s death from an aneurysm at age 64 in 2001. At least he never had to experience old age, Sommer said. But despite her own limited mobility, Sommer has gone further into old age than most, and without losing much mentally.
An unlikely, almost incredible bond formed between perpetrator and victim is the focus of “Facing Fear.” Jason Cohen’s documentary explores the friendship between former white supremacist Timothy Zaal and one-time El Dorado County resident Matthew Boger, who was a gay street kid in Los Angeles when Zaal and a gang of young men beat him and left him for dead.
Boger was working at Los Angeles’ Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance when he met Zaal, who had turned his life, and his views, around, and was now speaking to young people about accepting others. Soon Zaal and Boger discovered they had encountered each other 25 years before during an attack that resulted in scars still visible on Boger’s face.
“Fear” tells of their subsequent agreement to tell their stories together to groups of students, though they were highly uncomfortable in each other’s presence, and of the eventual friendship that grew from their collaboration.
The story itself is amazing, and Cohen’s telling of it assured. “Facing” brings in both men’s back stories, revisits the violent incident and ends on a hopeful note – all in 26 minutes.
Call The Bee’s Carla Meyer, (916) 321-1118. Follow her on Twitter @CarlaMeyerSB.