The live action shorts are not nearly as short as the animated ones. Some even clock in at over a half hour. (The cut-off is 40 minutes.) I imagine that is because animation is so labor intensive. But the added time is not wasted. These movies are more than scenes cut from a longer story. They are stand-alone films where the narrative may be compact, but the characters live out their full arcs. And the genres for these films are as varied as the locations they cover — drama, fantasy, even comedy, in New York City, Somalia, and Afghanistan. All of them are extremely well made with interesting stories, directed with assurance and with some surprising casting choices. The full roster of shorts is showing in some theaters around the country, but I think that is a horrible way to see them. They should be seen one at a time before a feature, as the film gods intended. (You can view all the trailers at the end of this post and decide for yourself if you want to venture out ahead of the Oscars.)


And the nominees are:

Asad by Brian Buckley and Mino Jarjoura is a small film made somewhat bigger by the fact that it was shot in South Africa as a stand-in for Somalia with a cast made up entirely of real-life Somali refugees with no acting experience. It is the story of a young boy Asad, who is enamoured of the local pirates and their lifestyle, but friends with a sweet fisherman who is trying to show him the best path. The story takes place over just a couple of days, when Asad is weighing his options and coming to terms with the reality of the sad world he lives in. It does have a sweet center and a happy ending fortunately. It is not the best script in terms of story, but the kid is great.




Buzkashi Boys by Sam French and Ariel Nasr was filmed in Kabul, Afghanistan with a mostly local crew and local actors. It tells a coming-of-age story of two young boys. One is a street urchin with big plans. The other is the son of a blacksmith, who wants to believe he can be a something more. The best friends are inspired by going to a Buzkashi match, which is an Afghani sport played by men on horseback who jostle for a dead goat. They both dream of rising above their simple lives and becoming sports heroes. The street urchin is willing to take risks, with tragic consequences. But the young blacksmith is ultimately forced to accept, even embrace, the life he was given. What struck me about the film was the beauty of Kabul, despite the long history of conflict. One of the locations used is a bombed out palace that overlooks the city, and the snow-capped mountains that surround it, giving the impression that it was (and may one day be again) a gorgeous place to exist.


Curfew by Shawn Christensen is the most accessible of the lot. It is in English, shot in New York City. The film begins with the main character sitting in a bath slitting his wrists, when he gets a call from his estranged sister begging him to babysit for a few hours. What follows is his redemption through his interaction with his nine-year old, city kid niece. It is sweet and very well done, though it feels kind of familiar. But good for the main actor, writer, and director Shawn Christensen. This is one of those great Hollywood calling card films. (His previous claim to fame was as the writer of a forgettable film called Abduction, that was supposed to be the movie that transitioned Taylor Lautner away from his Jacob persona.) Nevertheless, I look forward to his first feature. I think this short shows he has the chops.



Death of a Shadow by Belgian director Tom Van Avermaet is an oddly creative mix of WWI tragedy and steampunk sci-fi, with Matthias Schoenaerts from Rust and Bone playing a young man with a very strange job — capturing the shadows of people at the moments of their death for a collector. This act, which he doesn’t really enjoy, keeps him from being in one of the frames. In doing his job, he comes into the orbit of a young woman and develops a serious crush. But the question is how far will he go to win her love, especially once he realizes that she loves another man? It is all a bit strange and unsettling, but visually it is extremely inventive. I hope to see more from this writer/director, as well.


Henry by Yan England is the story of a man who wakes to find that his wife has disappeared. He and she are/were musicians and have/had a wonderful romance. Everything is off, and people are controlling him. I don’t think I am giving a lot away to say that the film is about a man ravaged by Alzheimer’s, reliving the past and unable to deal with the present. It is nicely done, and I think that is what it has going for it. Not a great script or story, but the cinematography and GĂ©rard Poirier’s beautiful portrayal of the main character are able to give the audience that detached feeling that must be what dementia feels like. I think it the weakest story-wise of the bunch, though it may appeal to the older members of the Academy.









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