Greetings again from the darkness. In what has become an annual ritual, I got to take in all of this year’s Oscar nominated short films. It really is enjoyable and it reminds me of a mini-film festival. Taking in so many films by so many different filmmakers in a short period of time is pure joy for a movie lover. This yearthere was the added bonus of having each of the presentations (Live Action and Animated) “hosted” by previous short film Oscar winners William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg (The Flying Books of Mr Morris Lessmore) and Luke Matheny (God of Love). The best short films all share one obvious trait … the care and love that goes into the making of each.
Below is my recap by category, in order of preference (not my Oscar predictions):
Death of a Shadow (Dood van een Schaduw, Belgium) Directed by Tom Van Avermaet. Very odd story of an “art” collector who captures souls through the shadows of those in their moment of death. Nathan is a former soldier who agreed to capture 10,000 shadows for the collector in the hopes of re-discovering his long lost love Sarah. Jealousy and disappointment lead to undesired consequences. There are many life lessons crammed into this short film. This one has a unique look and pace.
Henry (Canada) Directed by Yan England. Henry is an old man who has flashbacks as he tries to make sense of his current life. He was a concert pianist who met his wife, a violinst during the war. These visions are clear in Henry’s head, but he doesn’t know why this lady keeps showing up … then he recognizes her … and then he doesn’t. It’s easy enough to figure out, but very touching with a top notch performance by Gerard Poirier. The End card has a quote that is apparently from the director’s father. It goes something like this: “The worst thing about being an old man is realizing you are losing memories”.
Curfew (USA) Directed by Shawn Christensen, who also stars as Richie, the slacker brother who his sister stoops to calling in a moment of desperation. He agrees to look after his niece Sophia (Fatima Ptacek). To do so, he has to climb out of the suicide tub he was in when the phone rang. Is this his chance at redemption? Sophia is very smart and fascinating to watch, but it’s tough to shake that opening image of Richie. Dancing, a bowling alley and some special flipbooks add a level of poignancy to this one.
Asad (South Africa) Directed by Bryan Buckley, who is world renowned for his commercials – especially Super Bowl ads. Here we see that life in Somalia means you are either a Sea Pirate, a Street Thug, an old fisherman, or one of the scared, faceless masses. Asad is a smart, charismatic young boy too young to join the pirates and too smart to get killed by the thugs. His fishing trip would be among my worst days ever, but for him it’s a coming of age. Did you catch that?
Buzkashi Boys (Afghanistan/USA) Directed by Sam French. My first exposure to the rough sport of Buzkashi … free-for-all polo played with a dead goat. Ahmad and Rafi are young boys and good friends set against the backdrop of war-ravaged Afghanistan. It’s a tough world for Ahmad, an orphan who hustles on the street for a little food and small change. Life’s not much better for his more reserved friend Rafi, the son of a harsh blacksmith, who is no fan of Ahmad or wasting daylight hours. The ending is not what you might expect, but it’s beautifully shot and well acted by the boys.
Head Over Heels (UK) Directed by Timothy Reckart. Expert claymation depicting an aging married couple that have grown apart emotionally, but have a seemingly comfortable arrangement – despite the visual loss of equilibrium. The husband tries a simple gesture in an effort to re-connect, but the wife misunderstands and it turns their crazy world upside down (again). It’s a heart-warming story of re-discovery.
Fresh Guacamole (USA) Directed by Adam Pesapane aka PES. At 1 minute, 45 seconds this is the shortest short ever nominated for an Oscar. It’s a visual feast as it uses everyday items such as a pool ball, baseball, dice and poker chips to create a stunning bowl of fresh guacamole. Of course, there is no dialogue but it’s colorful to look at and will generate a smile.
Maggie Simpson in “The Longest Daycare” (USA) Directed by David Silverman, producer of the TV series and director of the feature length The Simpsons Movie (2007) and Monsters, Inc (2001). Marge drops off Maggie (yes, with pacifier) at The Ayn Rand School for Tots. Kids are divided into “Gifted” and “Nothing Special”. Maggie desperately wants the zen-like environment offered by the gifted area, but instead is hounded by a brutish boy who loves to stomp all living things. Maggie’s mission is to save a poor butterfly and she uses much trickery in the process. The short has no dialogue and seems like a segment pulled directly from the brilliant and long-running series.
Adam and Dog (USA) Directed by Minkyu Lee, also nominated for artwork in Wreck-it Ralph. This is a story of Adam in the Garden of Eden and his making friends with a dog. There is no dialogue in this short and it employees my least favorite type of animation. Still, it’s a nice treat watching Adam and the dog bond … well, until Eve enters the picture. The dog remains loyal until it’s clear to him that Adam has not.
Paperman (USA) Directed by John Kahrs, an animator at Pixar for 15 years. A chance meeting at the train station between an office clerk and a lovely woman lead to lipstick on the page and a feverish hunt to track down his dream girl. Rarely have paper airplanes been so vital to a man’s day or the success of a film. Serendipity and destiny are key players.