Only one Academy Award nominee in the live-action short film category truly merits the win.
Following a battered woman and her children's escape from her abuser, "Just Before Losing Everything" ticks for half an hour as if it could explode at any moment. Actor Xavier Legrand's directorial debut draws on a conceivable scenario and booby-traps it with entirely plausible hurdles. Glimpses of the woman's bruises and a little one's screaming substantiate the high stakes. Claw your armrests. Clench your teeth. This is one roller-coaster ride.
As deserving as "Just Before Losing Everything" is, you'd be best advised picking just about any of the other nominees in the office pool. They seem more likely to win.
"The Voorman Problem" comes with the star wattage of Martin Freeman (Bilbo Baggins in "The Hobbit" movies) and Tom Hollander playing, respectively, a psychologist and a prison inmate who claims to be a god. Although the film commands your attention throughout, the payoff is nil.
Unabashedly sappy, "Helium" milks the bond between a terminally ill child and an eccentric hospital custodian. In the end (spoiler alert!) the kid boards an imaginary blimp, presumably heaven-bound.
"Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?" takes a mildly amusing — if very slight — snapshot of a family of four cumbersomely tumbling out of bed, into the dining room and out onto the pavement to attend a wedding. Ha. Next.
The astonishingly reprehensible "That Wasn't Me" fabricates war atrocities that take place in some unspecified African country for reasons it cannot articulate. It's "Captain Phillips" stripped of facts and left with only noxious stereotypes. Its central child soldier ultimately lives to wax poetic in front of an appreciative white audience about the war crimes he committed.
"The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2014: Live Action." No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes. Playing: In limited release. Also on VOD.