Oscars Lowdown 2014: Best Short Film (Live Action) – A wide open race will make or break office pools

In the lead-up to the 86th annual Academy Awards on March 2, HitFix will be bringing you the lowdown on all 24 Oscar categories with multiple entries each day. Take a few notes and bone up on the competition as we give you the edge in your office Oscar pool!

The shorts categories can make or break your office predictions pool, and this year in particular, they could really make a difference. It's a tight race overall and if you can figure out where the Academy might go in these fields, you'll have a leg up. Live action might be the most difficult one of the bunch to call, however, as four of the five nominees could easily win the prize. It's an international assortment, entries coming from Spain, France, the UK, Denmark and Finland. (Note the absence of an American voice this year. Pity.) It's usually best to side with the film that rouses the emotions, but this year, a number of these films do that. (I've already covered these nominees at length, FYI, so these descriptions will sound familiar.)

The nominees are…

“Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn't Me)” (Esteban Crespo)
I would look to “That Wasn't Me” as a potential spoiler, just based on some light anecdotal evidence. It moves people quite a bit, this story of a border crossing gone wrong in an undisclosed war-ravaged African country, children set up as ominous gun-toting soldiers and all the familiar imagery that conjures. The film keeps you glued to the screen with each new turn in the script, ultimately becoming a pretty powerful story of redemption carried exquisitely by a few wrenching performances. Some have played the “white savior” card, but that doesn't compute much beyond the fringe, I think. This director packed a lot into this little space and could be rewarded for it.

“Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything)” (Xavier Legrand and Alexandre Gavras)
If you can exhibit certain qualities in a short film that reveal a potential master at the helm, you can get a long way in this race. With “Just Before Losing Everything,” director Xavier Legrand does a magnificent job of ratcheting up the tension every step of the way in the story of a domestically abused woman fleeing her relationship with her children in tow. Like “That Wasn't Me,” it has won quite a few prizes across the globe, and it also features a recognizable face in actor Denis Ménochet. I would not be surprised at all if this one won the prize.

“Helium” (Anders Walter and Kim Magnusson)
The most likely to win the prize, potentially, might also be the most forgettable of the bunch. I didn't love “Helium” but I have a great deal of respect for the production value on display in this story of an eccentric hospital janitor helping a dying boy through the last stages of his life with stories of the world of Helium. Beautiful visual effects and design render the fantasy well and the craft on the whole is handsome. But “on paper” doesn't always compute with these categories. Producer Kim Magnusson has been nominated five times in this category, by the way, having won for 1999's “Valgaften.”

“Pitääkö Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?)” (Selma Vilhunen and Kirsikka Saari)
The least likely to win is easily the slightest of the bunch but a delightful little tale nonetheless. “Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?” is a brisk yarn about a matriarch struggling to get her family ready for a wedding and in unfolds with aplomb until revealing itself as a bit of a gag piece (no spoilers). In just under seven minutes you get to know this family well and it's a fine job by all involved, but held up next to the other nominees it really just feels like a lesser entry on the whole.

“The Voorman Problem” (Mark Gill and Baldwin Li)
A number of pundits are picking “The Voorman Problem,” which could be a good bet given that it features familiar actors (Martin Freeman and Tom Hollander) and has a hip little concept to play with. The story is one of a guy in a looney bin who believes he's a god and how things unfold unexpectedly from there. It's kind of like “K-Pax” conceived as a dark comedy short, if that makes sense, and it could certainly pull off the win. But ultimately it doesn't make you feel much and is a bit cold on the whole, so while there is confidence out there that it could take the prize (with logic that computes), I'm betting otherwise.

Will win: “Helium”
Could win: “Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything)”
Should win: “Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn't Me)”
Should have been here: “Aningaaq”

I won't pretend to have watched a bunch of short films throughout the season, giving me some grand insight into what should have been here. But it would have been pretty awesome if “Gravity” companion piece “Aningaaq” could have slipped in, making Jonás Cuarón an Oscar nominee alongside his father (since they weren't nominated for original screenplay). Alas. In the end, if you've seen these films, just go with your gut. It's really all you have to steer you.

What do you think deserves to win Best Short Film (Live Action) this year? Vote in our poll below.

Who should have been here instead? Have your say in the comments section.