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This year’s Oscar live action shorts are little gems

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Live Action Shorts

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For the last few years, the Oscar-nominated animated shorts and live action shorts have gotten a wide release, and this year is no exception. They opened nationwide in major markets Friday, January 31, and will soon be available even wider (http://bit.ly/1dV5E9V). On February 25, they’ll be available on iTunes, Amazon Instant Video and VOD through your local cable providers. They may be short, but they’re long on entertainment.

This year’s live action shorts include everything from an English prison inmate who thinks he’s God, to a French woman fleeing her abusive husband. And while this year’s five are not quite up to the standards of last year’s very dramatic batch (http://exm.nr/1gBTw5t), they do run the gamut, even including one that is a slapstick farce. Here are the five that made the Academy’s shortlist:

Helium (Denmark)

A new hospital janitor becomes emotionally involved with a dying young boy and creates an elaborate story to help him prepare for death. This 23-minute tearjerker has a magical quality as the fantasy sequences help the child understand death in terms that aren’t as terrifying.

“The Voorman Problem” (UK)

A sarcastic prison inmate (Tom Hollander from “In the Loop”) claims to be God so a mild-mannered prison psychiatrist (Martin Freeman, who can do mild-mannered in his sleep) interviews him in this droll 13-minute black comedy. It’s good but this one could’ve been longer. The banter between these two expert comic actors is so sharp that it will likely leave you wanting more.

“Just Before Losing Everything” (France)

My favorite of the live action shorts is this tense thriller about a supermarket employee trying to flee her abusive husband with the help of her alarmed co-workers. In a deft and economical 30 minutes, it creates more tension than most thrillers given three times the screen time. And lead Lea Drucker gives an incredibly nervous, yet courageous performance as the mother plotting her escape with her children.

“That Wasn’t Me” (Spain)

Two Spanish aid workers are taken prisoner by rebel forces in Africa. The thrust of this war tale is that the forces are mostly village children coerced into brandishing weapons of death to prove their manhood. It’s unsettling with its issues of child exploitation, rape and yes, brutal murder. Still, in just 24 minutes, it makes for riveting cinema.

“Do I Have To Take Care of Everything?” (Finland)

A family panics after oversleeping on the day of a friend’s wedding and their attempt to get ready for the big day turns into a slapstick farce. Even with a running time of only 7 minutes, this one could use a lighter touch. Still, despite its heavy-handed jokiness, it does deliver the laughs.

It’s hard to predict which one the Academy will favor but I wouldn’t be surprised if “Helium” takes the Oscar gold. It stands out from the others with its unique sweetness and that difference has proved to be a deciding factor in the past, like at the 2011 Academy Awards ceremony when the adorable “God of Love” bested more complex works (http://bit.ly/1jY7cIC). But you can decide for yourself which short is tops as these are in theaters through the week. Then they arrive in various VOD formats the week before the Oscars, and that’s the long and short of it.

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