Live Action Shorts – Size Matters Not

1

by Marshall Flores

I will preface this post by saying that it’s always difficult for me to choose a winner from any of the Oscar-nominated shorts in a given year. Too often are the nominees in a shorts category better than their “big brothers” in the respective feature category – in fact, I prefer this year’s crop of animated shorts over any of the animated feature nominees. Year in and year out, each shorts lineup represents an incredible, diverse array of artistry and talent.

But in any case, here’s a look at the 5 shorts nominated this year in the live action category:

Asad (dir. Bryan Buckley and Mino Jarjoura) is one of two coming-of-age stories featured in this year’s lineup. Asad is a young Somali boy who idolizes the pirates of his coastal town. Of course, he eventually realizes that the pirate’s life isn’t as romantic as it seems, and begins to recognize the harsh, violent realities of life in the region. Comprised of increasingly bizarre events that are simultaneously nerve-racking and darkly humorous, “Asad” is propelled with terrific energy resulting from the charisma of its lead and the authenticity of its cast (all Somali refugees), culminating in a wacky curveball of an ending that I doubt anyone will see coming.

3

Buzkashi Boys (dir. Sam French and Ariel Nasr), like “Asad,” is a coming-of-age story in a war-ravaged country – this time, Afghanistan. Rafi and Ahmad are two young boys who both dream of participating in Buzkashi – a violent variation of horse polo. The longest of the five nominees, “Buzkashi” eschews the humor and unpredictability of “Asad,” favoring a more somber, conventional storytelling style that delivers plenty of emotional punch, while also providing a much-needed look into Afghanistan’s culture – a culture that remains pretty unknown to Americans despite our continuing military presence in that country.

4

Curfew opens with a despondent young man named Richie (Shawn Christensen, who also directs) sitting in a bathtub, about to cross a deathly Rubicon when he receives a phone call from his estranged sister. Soon, Richie finds himself on a night on the town, responsible for his precocious niece, Sophia (Fatima Ptacek, whose charming performance evokes Miranda Cosgrove in “School of Rock”). “Curfew” treads familiar territory, but there’s exceptional chemistry between Christensen and Ptacek, and the story is touching without being maudlin. And only the hardest of hearts will not be swayed by the cute, impromptu mob dance sequence initiated by Sophia at a bowling alley

111

Matthias Schoenaerts, who turned in a memorable performance as the hunky, mercurial love interest of Marion Cotillard’s character in “Rust and Bone,” is almost unrecognizable in Death of a Shadow (dir. Dood van een Schaduw). Schoenaerts is Nathan, a deceased World War I soldier reincarnated and given new purpose: to capture the shadows of people (via a special camera) just before their deaths, which are then put on display in a gallery. “Shadow” is a little too complex and cramped for its brief run time, and a superficial approach in touching on themes of love and loss belies the power of its novel setting. However, the morbid and fantastical premise, coupled with some memorable photography, makes for a decent watch, akin to a middle-of-the-road “Twilight Zone” episode.

222

Finally, Henry (dir. Yan England) centers on an elderly love story between a renowned concert pianist and his wife (sound a little familiar?). “Henry” is two parts “Amour” (with a similarly muted color palette) and one part “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” – though that isn’t meant to be a reductionist criticism. I won’t go into much detail: the less you know going in, the more effective the film is. That being said, “Henry” ends up being a poignant reflection on the contradictory nature of love – simultaneously fleeting and permanent, joyous and heart breaking.

As noted in the preface, it’s difficult to single out a favorite, much less be able to predict the eventual Oscar winner in any of the shorts categories. Honestly, I think all of them have a legit chance of winning, even if I feel “Death of a Shadow” will be too inaccessible and weird for the typical AMPAS voter. If I had to choose today, I think “Henry” and “Buzkashi Boys” would be the most likely to win with these voters. But I certainly will be mulling this category over between now and Oscar night.

More information about the shorts can be found here.

9 Comments on this Post

  1. mileshigh

    Curfew is winning, no contest. (MAYBE Henry could sneak in there.) The feel good American movie has won in recent years and this might continue that trend.

  2. Thanks for the summaries, Marshall. Doc shorts never get enough attention and it’s rare you even know what they are about when you fill in your pool ballot.

    I’ve only seen Buzkashi Boys – it’s great (shout-out to Halifax producer Ariel Nasr) – but I need to see the rest before choosing a favorite, especially Montrealer Yan England’s Henry.

    Asad is probably the one that appeals the most, based on your description.

  3. I was lucky enough to have interviewed the VERY talented American director Sam French of “Buzhakhi Boys” at the Montreal Film Festival this year. He was very impressive as a talented filmmaker, who has committed himself to living in Kabul for the past four/five years and making his film career THERE in Afghanistant!

    He certainly has found his great subject and I’m sure is going to really score with Oscar voters when they see this, the first feature film(though short, it packs a wallop)shot in and starring Afghan actors(and mostly non-actors.)

    Sam, and Ariel Nasr his Canadian/Afghan/American co-producer is also in the interview. And you can see it if you click on my name on my You Tube Channel’s home page.

    Afghanistan and Kabul where this is set and shot seemed incredibly, incredibly poor and every building location they shot in was full of walls riddled with bullet holes.

    I can’t imagine the Academy not responding strongly to this film. And Sam French, himself, is a rock star, as you’ll see.If he wins the Oscar, he’ll never look back

  4. Ironically size matters even with shorts. Most of the time the longest nominee wins. It’s not fair, isn’t it?

  5. Thanks for the interview info, Stephen. I heard a similar one on CBC radio right after the nominations were announced and these guys (French and Nasr) are doing great work in Afghanistan and have been for some time.

    I think they are the favorites in this race and agree – if they win, we’ll be seeing a lot more of Sam French in the future.

  6. moremovies85

    “Buzhakhi Boys” and “Asad” were definitely my favorites. “Curfew” was well done too. The other two were definitely forgettable, especially “Henry” which was one cliche after another.

    I had seen “Rust and Bone” the day before seeing the shorts, and I did not recognize Matthias Schoenaerts in “Death of a Shadow.” It was almost a good short, but it didn’t quite work for me.

    Even though “Buzhakhi Boys” is the longest, it definitely does not feel long at all, I was surprised when it was over because it seemed like hardly any time had passed. It is also the most beautifully filmed of the 5. I think “Asad” will win because the film puts a smile on your face in the end, even with all of the violence, famine, and death surrounding the main character. Very life affirming.

  7. Eek- the support for Henry in this thread frightens me. I LOATHED it. Like moremovies85 says, it was one cliche after another. And the lead actor was shooting for the stars with that over-the-top performance. ::Shudder::

    Death of a Shadow was missing an important emotional element to the story (I just didn’t care about Schoenaert’s character or his love interest). I’d toss it out as well.

    As for the ones that I think could win, I found Buzkashi Boys beautifully shot but rather dull and overlong.

    Curfew was a little more fun, but the plot was random (that bowling alley scene is lovely but what does it have to do with the rest of the film?) and contrived (picking up the phone, which you’ve conveniently placed by your tub, as you’re committing suicide? Mmhmm…).

    Asad was my favorite. It has complex emotions (is it funny? melancholy?). It’d be my vote for the win.

    As to which will win, I think that Curfew’s English-language or Asad’s humor could help one of them get the win. Buzkashi looks the part of a winner, but if these things are screened in the order I saw them (Shadow, Henry, Curfew, Buzkashi, Asad), by the time you get to it, you just *do not* want to watch another depressing thing. So really, it’s anyone’s game.

  8. alan of Montreal

    Death of a Shadow sounds suspiciously like the plot of an x-files episode i remember, in which a man who is cursed to live forever photographs those who just died as their souls leave their bodies

  9. Kevin Landry

    I just came back from a screening in Montreal and here are my thoughts :

    Death of a Shadow : It had great production value and a really interesting concept (though a bit convoluted at times, it seems like it was making up rules as the movie went) but, just like Upside Down, it was wasted on a really blend love story.

    Curfew : My favorite of the five. It had great actors that played off of each other beautifully and a really fun story. Like stated before, the telephone thing was a bit contrived (twice) and that monologue the brother gives to her sister at the end of the movie killed the rhythm. But otherwise, it’s the one I’m rooting for!

    Buzkashi Boys : The most gorgeous of the group. It was a bit too classic of a story for me. When one of the boys entered the scrapyard and everything played out for the big reveal of the movie, I was keeping my fingers crossed that it wouldn’t be the obvious outcome. It was… Still, great acting from the kids and loved the ending. I would be really happy if this one won also.

    Asad : I loved this one for the ending gag and that’s pretty much it. The rest of the movie was a confused mess filled with bad acting and annoying dialogues. I’m sure if the movie had worked towards the ending gag a bit more, it would’ve been so much greater.

    Henry : Oh boy…. THAT one… Prepare for a rant (with mild spoilers) … I kind of feel bad, because it’s a movie from a local filmmaker and it’s the one I would like to root for but in all honesty… How in the blue hell did this crap get nominated?! I absolutely LOATHED the movie (and I was coming in with low expectations, because I hated Yan England’s previous short, “MOI”). Right from the café scene, I had predicted 2.5 out of the 3 “twists” (I had guessed that the women that spoke to Henry was close to him). Jesus christ was that short predictable and filled with tired clichés. And the acting, MY GOD THE ACTING. The actor playing Henry was chewing the scenery so bad, it was hard to watch sometimes. He wasn’t given much to work with though, seeing how horridly the movie was written. In all honesty, if you want to have a good idea of what Quebec filmmakers are capable of, please watch War Witch and skip entirely this horrible short…

Leave a Comment

Warning: Do not abuse your right to comment here. You will be deleted.