Oscar Nominated Short Films…anyone that has ever done an office Oscar pool is familiar with these categories. These are the nominees with names of films you’ve never heard of and if you’re like me you usually pick the one that sounds the most Oscar-y or the one with the craziest title. For the past few years, the Academy has been packaging these films and presenting them in theaters or for download online to give audiences a chance to see these and maybe make more than a blind guess. In years past I’ve made it to the Documentary Shorts but this year I wanted to make sure I hit the Animated Shorts and Live Action Shorts as well.
All of the actors in the uneven but ultimately entertaining Asad are Somali refugees brought together to tell the story of a young boy faced with a choice that may decide his path in life. The Somali village is brought to realistic life and the acting is solid considering many of the actors are amateurs and/or youngsters. There’s surprising humor to be had, especially in the finale that is as unexpected as the rest of the film is familiar.
A bleak coming of age story told with sensitivity, Buzkashi Boys follows two young Afghan boys with very different home situations. One is largely on his own and dreams of becoming a famous Buzkaski (think polo player) while the other boy lives with his blacksmith father and resents a life that seems already planned for him. The vistas of a war-torn Afghanistan town are mighty to behold and the locations used add a great deal of weight to the picture. The trouble is the film hinges on a convenient happenstance that feels forced rather than natural, robbing the film of being truly honest to what has come before. Handsomely made and well acted, it’s a strong nominee that loses points for a Hollywood contrivance.
Shawn Christensen writes, directs, and stars in Curfew and it’s one of two nominees that I would be interested in seeing expanded to a full length film. The short opens with Christensen in a bathtub in the process of slitting his wrists…but a phone call from his sister desperate for childcare saves him. The evening the uncle and niece spend together is an engaging and honestly developed one thanks to the strong performances of Christensen and Fatima Ptacek. Bonus points for having the best bowling alley dancing scene since Grease 2.
Death of a Shadow
The first short shown was this eerie mystery from Belgium dealing with the supernatural in a creative way. Like Curfew, I think there’s enough here to warrant investigation into a full feature if the filmmakers can figure out a way to flesh out some backstory and add the necessary character elements. Even saying that, the absence of these is maybe what makes the short work so well. As a soldier on a mission from Death, Matthias Schoenaerts takes a 180 degree turn from his stellar work as a brooding fighter in Rust and Bone. It’s an intriguing premise delivered well by all involved.
Concert pianist Henry steps out for a visit to a local café and loses himself along the way. It’s not a big secret what exactly is happening to Henry so the enjoyment to be gained from the film is the sensitive performances and sure-handed direction employed. It may remind folks of another nominated film this year…but I’ll refrain from mentioning it lest I give anything away. Shot with a just coldness, Henry is a skilled short featuring a score that avoids sentimentality and a well handled narrative that leads the audience along nicely.
An interview with the winner of this category last year was interspersed between the shorts and I liked hearing about what the experience was both making the film, being nominated, and winning was like.