Shorties Soar: A Fast Look at the Contenders for the Oscar-nominated Short Films
February 24, 2013
I recently attended a movie marathon of sorts—call it a short marathon: three hours and forty minutes dedicated to the Oscar-nominated short films from two categories, live action and animated. If you need a crib sheet to help you vote on Sunday, read on.
Three of the nominated live action films are interesting also-rans. Curfew (directed by Shawn Christensen), a family drama, is let down by the choice of music in key sequences and a plodding pace, from which it never quite recovers, though on the plus side, ten year old Fatima Ptacek is terrific. Weak of story but strong in production values, the best thing about the surreal Death of a Shadow (co-directed by Tom Van Avermaet and Ellen De Waele) is the beautifully rendered mechanical contraptions that allow a dead soldier to identify and photograph the shadows of people as they die—in the past (I said it was weak of story). Henry (directed by Yan England), portrays the interior life of an elderly man with dementia, in a tightly controlled, perfectly composed but ultimately predictable narrative.
The other two films are something else. Somali refugees play every part in Asad (co-directed by Bryan Buckley and Mino Jarjoura), a fable set on the Somali coast, renowned for its lawlessness and piracy. A young boy faces two possible futures: becoming a pirate, or a fisherman. Daily life means drought, which brings predatory soldiers from Mogadishu, who plunder all the food and terrorize the people. Even the smallest actions and decisions can be life-or-death.
Buzkashi Boys (co-directed by Sam French and Ariel Nasr) must be the front-runner to win on Sunday, if only for the welcome glimpse we are given into ordinary life in Kabul, Afghanistan. Two boys on the brink of adulthood try to imagine a future while living day to day, one an apprentice to his father, a blacksmith, the other fending for himself on the streets. They dream of playing Buzkashi the national sport, a kind of free-for-all polo.
The film succeeds in presenting a human picture of Afghanistan almost never seen in the West, and a story of adolescence familiar to everyone; these boys could easily mix in with Truffaut’s boys in The 400 Blows or Spielberg’s in ET.
Characters in the animated short category are not required to be mute, but this year, in their combined total running time there are exactly zero lines of spoken dialogue, a testament to the high quality of the visual storytelling on display. The five films, all different in tone and theme, share a clarity that is their strength.
In Maggie Simpson in The Longest Daycare (directed by David Silverman), Maggie tries to preserve a bit of the wonder of the natural world from the inhumanity that is daycare.
Minkyu Lee’s Adam and Dog supposes Adam had a dog, before he met Eve in the Garden of Eden. In Paperman (directed by John Kahrs), boy meets girl on a train platform; boy loses girl when the train doors close; boy gets girl back with the help of a thousand paper airplanes.
A couple who share a home, but whose worlds are so separate that they obey opposite laws of gravity, try to find common ground, in Head over Heels, (Timothy Reckart and Fodhla Cronin O'Reilly. Fresh Guacamole (PES) cleverly twists incongruous objects that, in one way or another, remind us of food, into guacamole.
I will be rooting for Buzkashi Boys on Sunday, though of all ten films, the one I raced home to tell my friends and family about is Fresh Guacamole. At just one minute and 45 seconds, this stop-motion animation is the shortest film ever nominated for an Oscar. The wit, charm, complexity, simplicity, and brevity display a true artistic mind. PES deserves the Oscar.