To kick off my coverage of the Oscars, I wanted to talk about my favorite of the shorts categories. These 5 live action films are all great and cover a variety of topics. I hope you get the chance to watch any of them, especially since this is a category overlooked by most audiences.
In order of least favorite to most:
The story of a young Somali boy, “Asad” shows what life is like for many in/from this African nation. Asad, the title character, yearns to go out with the older boys and be a part of their pirate raids. To save him from this dangerous life, an old fisherman tries to teach him how he can take care of his family without picking up a rifle.
“Asad” is a good coming of age story that tells a story most would never hear about. For me, it never crossed the line to become something more than a nice, little film, though. In a year full of good nominees, that leaves you at the back of the pack.
4. Buzkashi Boys
For those who have seen “Rambo III” (Sorry, I know you were trying to forget), buzkashi is the game similar to polo that Sylvester Stallone plays with the Middle Eastern warriors. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, just know that it’s a game where people ride around on a horse and carry a dead goat as if it were a football.
The film is about two young boys, one a beggar, the other a blacksmith’s son, who dream of becoming professional buzkashi riders. Similar to “Asad,” it is a coming of age story for these two friends who are holding onto their dreams despite the hard life they live in war-torn Afghanistan.
There are two reasons why I rank this ahead of “Asad.” First, the two protagonists work well off of each other, making the film more endearing and letting the characters develop a little more. Second, the cinematography here is beautiful. There are certain shots of the city that really make it come to life. While I liked these films, I feel like there is a big gap in quality that separates them from the next three nominees.
“Curfew” is the only English-speaking film of the bunch and it has a distinct vibe to it that makes you think of American indie cinema. There are some strong viuals to kick off the story: a bloody hand reaching out of a bathtub to answer a ringing phone.
Richie (played by writer/director Shawn Christensen) is contemplating suicide when he gets a call from his sister begging him to watch her daughter. Although the two probably couldn’t get off to a worse start, eventually Richie and his niece work through their differences and their family as a whole experiences healing. In another year, I think this film could win the Oscar, but the fact that it very much looks like a student film makes it less enjoyable than these next two films.
2. Death of a Shadow
This Belgian/French collaboration is by far the most creative of this year’s nominees. The protagonist, Nathan, is a soldier who died in World War 1, but instead of going to heaven or hell, he is imprisoned in a demented art gallery located between this world and the next. His assignment in this gallery is to take photographs of the dead (preferably violent deaths), traveling through time to document their demise.
During his travels, Nathan likes to check in on a woman he fell in love with around the time of his death. As his sentence at the museum comes to a close, he starts to think about how he can bend the rules of life and death to make a relationship with the woman work.
Aside from its originality, “Death of a Shadow” is also incredibly shot and lit. Each scene is like a gothic fairy tale that might be found in one of the Hellboy movies. It’s an unconventional film that is much more daring than the other nominees. If only there wasn’t “Henry”…
“Henry” is a Canadian film about an elderly concert pianist who finds one day his wife has suddenly disappeared. Although the true nature of the film isn’t exactly the most unpredictable thing I’ve ever seen, knowing what’s going to happen really doesn’t take anything away from the film. The filming techniques employed here make for a fantastic viewing experience. “Death of a Shadow” may have it beat when it comes to set design, but “Henry” dominates every other film in my mind. Raw emotion and great direction make this my film to beat for the Live Action category this Sunday.
Well, that’s it for this category. I’ll try to cover the other shorts categories before the show Sunday (as well as post my ballot). Until then, happy viewing.