Review: The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2013 – Live Action

The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2013: Live ActionAnd the nominees are…

“Death of a Shadow” (Tom Van Avermaet, Belgium) — The 20-minute length doesn’t allow for much explanation of the mechanics behind the intriguing science-fiction-like concept, which involves the collection of the shadows of the dying, so we basically just accept it and focus on the characters’ emotions. These ring true through handsome performances (particularly Matthias Schoenaerts’s as the lovestruck lead), but they’re nothing we haven’t seen on film before. Thus, does the concept amount to much more than a gimmick? Beautifully framed compositions, in any event. B-

“Henry” (Yan England, Canada) — This year’s heavily-nominated feature “Amour” provided us an emotional connection with people in the final stage of life, but “Henry” actually puts us in the shoes of one such man. (Coincidentally, he and his wife, like “Amour”’s Georges and Anne, are musicians.) The film’s multiple transformations—from a quiet (but foreboding) account of the man’s morning, to a horror/suspense film, to an ultimately heartbreaking look at love and loss—affectingly simulate the disorientation of dementia. Through all the narrative hullabaloo, Louise Laprade’s lead performance doesn’t lose an ounce of humanity. A-

“Curfew” (Shawn Christensen, USA) — A man’s (writer/director Christensen’s) life is saved when he is invited back into that of his kid niece (Fatima Ptacek), who metaphorically functions as a guardian angel. The duo’s rapport together is charming, imminently watchable. A vaguely surrealist bowling alley dance sequence in the center is when the film hits its high. But behind the camera, Christensen goes overboard to convince us of how much his character and the man’s sister, who hesitantly calls on him to babysit despite his shady past, have suffered in their lives. “Curfew” is bookended by suicide attempts, so piling on more tragedy—drugs, a black eye, etc.—is just unnecessary, a distraction from the beautiful central relationship. B-

“Buzkashi Boys” (Sam French; Afghanistan, USA) — It’s good to know that filmmaking exists in today’s Afghanistan, but this Kabul-shot drama is unfortunately elementary. You’ll almost certainly recall “The Kite Runner” as you become acquainted with the main characters, young Afghan boys who bond over a common interest — in this case, Buzkashi, a more rigorous version of polo played with a goat carcass, indigenous to the region. Blacksmith’s son Rafi (Fawad Mohammadi) and street beggar Ahmad (Jawanmard Paiz) watch the game with wonder, dreaming of an escape from their tough lives. For first-time child actors, the performances are very good, but the film’s maudlin tone and overdramatic climax keep them from resonating. An emotionally complex final shot compensates, to some degree, but not enough to render the film a success. C

“Asad” (Bryan Buckley; South Africa, USA) — This is the superior nominee about an innocent child navigating life in a war-torn third-world country. Asad (Harun Mohammed) lives in a fishing village on the Somali coast that has been infiltrated by thugs (remember the Somali pirates?). It would be unforgivable of me to spoil where the film goes, but I will say that it becomes a surprising fable that reminds us that even in the worst places imaginable, the imagination and naturally positive spirit of childhood endure. Director Buckley stunningly juxtaposes current events with an intimate narrative, extracting winning, natural performances from his cast of real Somali refugees all the while. A-

And the Oscar goes to…
My Prediction: “Curfew”
My Personal Pick: “Henry”

“The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2013: Live Action” program is now playing in select theaters and on Video On Demand and iTunes.