Despite being one of our most important cinematic forms, short films often get relegated to the background. The Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences tries to reverse this trend each year by honoring substantial works in the categories of short animation, live action and documentary. The Oscar-nominated live-action and animated short films will screen at the Ken Cinema beginning Friday, Jan. 31.
The live-action block is strong overall, but the clear-cut masterpiece of the bunch has to be Xavier Legrand's Just Before Losing Everything. At first, the audience is left in the dark as to why Miriam is rushing to get her two children out of their rural hometown in France. Dialogue is sparse, but the tension is thick. When the trio arrives at her place of business, a sprawling grocery store, it quickly becomes clear that she's evading an abusive patriarch who has finally crossed the line.
As Miriam forces her boss to fire her and fast-track a severance package, the film explores a very difficult moment in which personal trauma becomes uncomfortably public. Things get even more frightening when the film flirts with tragedy in the final moments.
Anders Walter's tender drama Helium, about a hospital janitor who befriends a terminally ill boy through the power of storytelling, and The Voorman Problem, a perfectly nasty satire about an inmate who believes he is a god, are both worthy.
The animation category is headlined by Lauren MacMullan's lovely Get a Horse, still screening in front of the feature film Frozen. The other standout is Laurent Witzís mechanically inclined Mr Hublot, which tells the story of a recluse with OCD who adopts an abandoned dog and sees his life turned upside down.
Now you don't have an excuse for feigning ignorance about the short programs during your Oscar office pool.
At Middleton: Two strangers from very different backgrounds (Andy Garcia and Vera Farmiga) meet on their children's campus tour at a quiet East Coast college and develop a strong bond in a short time. Screens at Reading Cinemas Gaslamp.
Gloria: Paulina García plays a divorcée attempting to stay vital despite the rapid changes happening in her children's lives. When Gloria meets an older man who's still seriously connected with his ex-wife and family, she's thrust into a potentially heart-breaking scenario.
Labor Day: An escaped convict (Josh Brolin) holes up with a single mother (Kate Winslet) and her 13-year-old boy during a long weekend in Jason Reitman's romantic drama.
Oscar Nominated Shorts: See the films in the category no one ever guesses right: Live-action and animated short films nominated by the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences. Opens on Friday, Jan. 31 at the Ken Cinema.
San Diego Black Film Festival: A celebration of African-American and African Diaspora cinema takes place at Reading Cinemas Gaslamp from Thursday, Jan. 30, through Sunday, Feb. 2. Find the schedule at sdbff.com.
That Awkward Moment: When a friend is devastated by a recent breakup, three young men (Zac Efron, Miles Teller and Michael B. Jordan) vow to stay single for as long as possible. Of course, since this is a romantic comedy, things don't go according to plan.
One Time Only
Dumb and Dumber: Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels play two nincompoops who embark on a cross-country trip to return a lost briefcase to a beautiful woman in Aspen. Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 29, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
The Attack: When an Israeli surgeon learns of his wife's secret life as a West Bank terrorist, his life is thrown into existential turmoil and ideological panic. Screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 3, at the new San Diego Public Library in East Village.
Shadow Dancer: A single mother (Andrea Riseborough) working for the IRA is forced to implicate her compatriots after being arrested by a cynical MI-5 agent (Clive Owen). Screens at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 4, at the Hervey Branch Library in Point Loma.
Groundhog Day: Bill Murray repeats a fateful day in February to gain the attention of a woman. Bill Murray repeats a fateful day in February to gain the attention of a woman. Bill Murray repeats . Screens at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 5, at The Pearl Hotel in Point Loma.
¿Alguien ha visto a Lupita?: Lupita (Dulce Maria) flees her family after discovering that they plan to banish her to a mental asylum. She journeys to the U.S., setting off a series of events that draw all of Mexico's attention. Ends Jan. 30 at Digital Gym Cinema in North Park.
Caught in the Web: After learning she has a terminal illness, a young woman is caught on camera defying traditional social graces, only to see the video go viral and potentially ruin the lives of her loved ones. From Chinese director Chen Kaige. Ends Jan. 30 at Hillcrest Cinemas.
G.B.F.: A high-school student is outed by his classmates only to find himself recruited by three popular girls looking for a "gay best friend." Screens at AMC Mission Valley.
I, Frankenstein: Frankenstein's monster (Aaron Eckhart) gets turned into an action hero caught up in a centuries-old war between different clans of immortals.
The Invisible Woman: Charles Dickens (Ralph Fiennes) secretly courts a young actor (Felicity Jones), sending a shockwave of melodrama through the streets of Victorian England.
Devil's Due: Newlyweds experience a lost night on their honeymoon thanks to good ol' Lucifer, resulting in an unplanned pregnancy and a potential Antichrist scenario. Call in Father Merrin!
The Great Beauty: A disillusioned novelist traverses modern Rome looking for epiphany in Paolo Sorrentino's gorgeous and surreal art film, which is a testament to physical surfaces and emotional depth.
Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit: Tom Clancy's favorite CIA analyst turned action hero gets his very own origin story, which involves a Russian plot to take down the U.S. economy. Chris Pine assumes the role made famous by Harrison Ford and denigrated by Ben Affleck.
The Nut Job: No nuts, no glory. So goes the tagline for this animated film about an outcast park rodent who must survive the harsh realities of the city after being banished from the park. It was only a matter of time before the squirrel population was properly represented in Hollywood.
Ride Along: Has Kevin Hart fatigue set in yet? The pervasive comedian stars in this action comedy with Ice Cube playing an angry cop and his future brother-in-law out to test his masculinity.
August: Osage County: A dysfunctional Texas family reunites when its troubled patriarch (Sam Shepard) goes missing, uncovering a barrage of dark secrets and regrets. It's based on the play by Tracy Letts and stars Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts and Chris Cooper.
Her: A lonely man (Joaquin Phoenix) falls in love with his new operating system (voiced by Scarlet Johansson) in Spike Jonze's tender and moving sci-fi romance.
The Legend of Hercules: Action director Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2: Die Harder) brings the origin story of Hercules (Kellan Lutz) to the big screen in not-so-glorious post-conversion 3-D.
Lone Survivor: Four Navy SEALs are behind enemy lines in the mountains of Afghanistan, fighting an army of Taliban insurgents. It's based on the failed Operation Red Wings of June 2005 and stars Mark Wahlberg, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch and Ben Foster.
The Past: An Iranian man (Tahar Rahim) returns to Paris to finalize his divorce from his French wife (Bérénice Bejo), only to uncover a series of hidden secrets. Master dramatist Asghar Farhadi once again focuses on the devastating ramifications of past trauma.
Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones: A young man (Andrew Jacobs) begins experiencing strange phenomenon before realizing he's been marked by an evil spirit. It's the latest entry in the popular found-footage horror series.
47 Ronin: After their master is killed by a ruthless shogun, a band of samurai set out for revenge. Why they asked Keanu Reeves for help is still a mystery.
Grudge Match: Two aged boxers (Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro) are coaxed back into the ring in order to capitalize on their longtime rivalry. Call us crazy, but we don't think this film will live up to Rocky or Raging Bull.
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: Ben Stiller revamps the 1947 Danny Kaye classic with a bigger budget and a bigger emphasis on the healing power of corporate products.
The Wolf of Wall Street: Martin Scorsese's sprawling comedic look at the rise and fall of Wall Street huckster Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), who became an infamous figure in New York City in the 1990s.
American Hustle: Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in David O'Russell's retelling of the infamous Abscam sting established by the FBI in order to capture corrupt politicians and gangsters in the late 1970s.
Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues: Infamous San Diego newscaster and lothario Ron Burgundy (Will Farrell) brings his motley crew of wacky colleagues to New York City in hopes of making it big on a national television channel.
Inside Llewyn Davis: Joel and Ethan Coen's latest odyssey is set in 1961 Greenwich Village, where a struggling folk singer (Oscar Isaac) comes to grips with his failure as an artist and a human being. Ends Jan. 30 at Hillcrest and La Jolla Village CInemas.
Saving Mr. Banks: Marry Poppins scribe P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson) travels to Los Angeles to discuss a potential film adaptation by Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) in this whimsical biopic about two artists struggling to compromise.
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: Bilbo (Martin Freeman), please meet Smaug, fire-breathing dragon and protector of all things gold. Have a nice three hours together.
Nebraska: Aged retiree Woody (Bruce Dern) is determined to collect his winnings after receiving a phony sweepstakes letter, eventually dragging his reluctant son (Will Forte) on a road trip that'll change both of their lives. Alexander Payne's latest is a melancholic ode to family and the Midwest.
Philomena: Comedian Steve Coogan takes on a more serious role as a cynical journalist who ends up helping an elderly woman (Judi Dench) search for her long lost son. Oscar nominations are a certainty.
The Hunger Games: Catching Fire: Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) finds herself once again fighting to survive the titular death match that has become a necessary evil in the dystopic future.
Dallas Buyers Club: In 1985, a drunken rodeo clown Ron Woodroof (Matthew McConaughy) learns he has HIV. Seeing an opportunity to stave off his own death and make some money, he begins smuggling unapproved drugs in from Mexico.
Thor: The Dark World: Thor (Chris Hemsworth) once again brings the hammer down on Loki (Tom Hiddleston) in order to save the human race and sustain the fragile balance of his own kingdom.
12 Years a Slave: Abducted and forced to work on a Southern plantation, free man Solomon Northrup (Chiwetel Ejifor) experiences the horrors of slavery in Steve McQueen's stirring period-piece drama.
Captain Phillips: Based on actual events, this thriller by director Paul Greengrass tells the story of the container ship Maersk Alabama and its leader, Captain Phillips (Tom Hanks), who was kidnapped by Somali pirates during a voyage in 2009.
Hubble: Narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio, this journey into space allows the viewer to experience what it's like aboard the famous telescope while also giving a history of its legacy. Screens through Monday, Feb. 3, at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Adventures in Wild California: Get crazy with this sports documentary that showcases snowboarders, skydivers and skateboarders doing extreme tricks in various regions around California. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Coral Reef Adventure: Local filmmakers Howard and Michele Hall directed this lush documentary that takes viewers to the world's most beautiful coral reefs, from Tahiti to Rangirora atoll. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Rolling Stones: The iconic band performs live during their "Steel Wheels / Urban Jungle" tour in glorious IMAX. Some musical satisfaction is guaranteed. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Mysteries of the Unseen World: This amazing documentary uses high-speed and time-lapse photography to focus on things that are either too fast or two slow for the eye to see. Screens at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.
Cosmic Collisions: So, that asteroid that might smash into Earth in 20 years is much bigger than previously thought? Awesome. This new IMAX movie at the Reuben H. Fleet looks at what happens when things bash into each other in outer space. On the bright side, if we go the way of the dinosaurs, at least future species will have a new source of fossil fuels.
The Rocky Horror Picture Show: The camp classic continues its ongoing run, Fridays at midnight at La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas.