If you are anything like me, I’m sure that over the past couple weeks your lives have been filled with relentless Oscar talk – who will win Best Picture, Best Director and so on. But there are three categories that don’t get a lot of play in mainstream talk – best live action, animated and documentary shorts. And that, folks, boggles my mind. With increasing accessibility to these shorts (through art house theaters and iTunes), greater attention really should be paid to that little box you check off on your ballots come Oscar party night.
We here at VeryAware hope to clear up some of this gray area by telling you a little about the nominees, who we think should win, and who we think will win. (Editors note: We will not be held responsible for you losing your Oscar pool.)
So let’s get started, shall we?
HENRY: (Yan England, Canada) Henry (Gerard Poirier) is a talented, world renowned concert pianist near the end of his career. His life is turned upside down when his wife Marie goes missing, and he’s left to figure out what happened to her and who he is now from the confines of an institution. The film’s mystery aspect is certainly intriguing – did she really go missing or is Henry suffering from dementia? DP Claudine Sauve’s washed out pallet is much like a faded photograph, and echoes the film’s bleak tone. Performances from the ensemble are solid. It’s a reflective, mysterious and poignant complementary piece to AMOUR that hits all the right notes. Where’s my shower snacks at?! 4.5/5
ASAD: (Bryan Buckley, South Africa) Yo ho! Yo ho! A pirate’s life for me?! Asad, a young Somali boy, is faced with choosing between pirate life as all his friends are doing or living an honest lifestyle as a fisherman. It’s a sweet and short coming-of-age tale that has universal appeal and meaning. Performances are natural – if a bit raw – and pacing is brisk exposing viewers to Asad’s culture. It’s amazing to see that even as children, the Somalis are forced to grow up rapidly and make such adult decisions. The sentiment is there that should appeal to Academy voters. Bonus: there’s a cat in a sailor suit! 3.5/5
DEATH OF A SHADOW: (directed by: Tom Van Avermaet, France & Belgium) Nathan (Matthias Schoenarts) is a ghost of his former self. You see, he’s a deceased World War I soldier whose soul (or, in this case, shadow) has been trapped by a mysterious collector. Forced by the collector to work as a photographer of death, his love for a lady guides him into a magical second chance at life. However, what’s waiting for him isn’t what he expected. This is the most polished of the group with special effects and sparkling cinematography, and is reminiscent of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s style and production design. Schoenarts (RUST & BONE) delivers a stirring performance as a man driven by passion and pathos. It’s romantic, metaphysical and all around imaginative. 4.5/5
CURFEW: (Shawn Christensen, USA) Depressed and suicidal Richie (literally) answers the call to watch his wise-beyond-her-years, nine-year-old niece Sophia for the night. Hijinks and healing ensue. Dark humor as well as poignancy are highlighted in this droll tale. Details of why the family are estranged unfold in a clever manner, with a genuine emotional core. The break into a choreographed music video in the second act – although fun – is a tad precocious. Still, challenging the traditional never hurts. Solid performances from leads, including triple threat Christensen, make it haunting. 4/5
BUZKASHI BOYS: (Sam French, Afghanistan) What do a dead goat, polo, and war-torn Afghanistan have to do with each other? That would be the brutal coming-of-age tale of two best friends making their way into manhood. Rafi (the son of a blacksmith) and Ahmad (a street urchin) are young kids who want to be athletes when they grow up. Set amidst the rubble of war-torn Kabul, this is the longest of the shorts clocking in at around 28 min. Composer Jim Dooley’s score is elegant and elevates the narrative. While emotion pops from the dingy, depressing canvas and the two pint-sized leads give fantastic performances, overall this feels a tad bit like “Oscar bait.” 4/5
Should win: DEATH OF A SHADOW or HENRY
Will Win: BUZKASHI BOYS
The 2013 Oscar Nominated Shorts Program opens theatrically on February 1 and on iTunes on February 19. For more information on where you can find these shorts playing, go here.