With all the major Academy Awards categories to keep up with in the next month, the nominees for Best Film Shorts have been easy for anybody but extreme film buffs to overlook.
But this time around, even casual movie fans should take note as the 10 nominees for 2013 Oscars, all opening Friday in the Triangle, are a much better batch than we’ve been given in recent years.
The animated shorts may veer too much toward the whimsical (especially since they favor music and sound effects over dialogue), and the live action ones may get a bit heavy handed, but both will give you plenty of entertainment bang for your buck.
John Kahrs’ black-and-white (except for some red lipstick enhancement) “Paperman” features a young couples’ “meet cute” in ’40s NYC that becomes a missed connection only a succession of paper airplanes can fix. Its breezy effect is charming yet slight in a TV commercial way, unlike Minkyu Lee’s hand-drawn “Adam and Dog,” which tells the story of the Garden of Eden from man’s best friend’s point of view. Lee’s 15-minute film has a “Jungle Book” via pastels look, and it effectively conveys disconnection between its subjects when the inevitable Eve arrives.
Timothy Reckart’s claymation UK production “Head Over Heels” depicts an aging couple living in a gravity-defying house; the husband lives on the floor, while his wife resides on the ceiling. It’s the strongest (and strangest) of the shorts, while PES’s “Fresh Guacamole,” running at only one minute and 41 seconds, is the weakest. Don’t get me wrong; PES’s film, also claymation, is colorful fun in its blending of plastic household items – such as Monopoly houses, a golf ball, and dice – into the side-dish recipe, but it goes by so quickly that it’s instantly forgettable.
The fan favorite in this mix is sure to be David Silverman’s “The Simpsons: The Longest Daycare,” which showcases the iconic cartoon character Maggie Simpson battling her unibrowed nemesis, Baby Gerald, at the Ayn Rand School for Tots. Funny stuff, but I’ll be surprised if it takes home the gold over “Head Over Heels,” or “Paperman.”
Sam French’s “Buzkashi Boys,” the longest at 28 minutes, concerns the friendship of two boys (Jawan Mard Homayoun and Fawad Mohammadi) who bond on the streets of Kabul, Afghanistan; one is a dreamer, the other a realist. Who do you think survives? Though transparent thematically, the gritty cinematography by Duraid Munajim is engrossing, and the feel-good spirit is just what Academy voters go for.
However, I preferred Tom Van Avermaet’s “Death of a Shadow,” which could be fleshed out into an exciting feature film if it keeps its Night Gallery-esque scenario intact. In the French production, Matthias Schoenaerts (“Rust and Bone”) plays a World War I soldier whose shadow gets captured by a collector (Peter Van Den Eede), and it’s as beautifully surreal as it sounds.
Yan England’s “Henry,” a Canadian French-language production clocking in at just over 20 minutes, could be seen as a more compact version of the Best Picture nominee “Amour,” as it deals with getting old and having to let go of the one you love the most. Gerard Poirier plays a fading concert pianist who gets lost in dementia when his wife (Louise Laprade) goes missing in the intensely touching short.
In “Asad,” U.S. writer/director Bryan Buckley’s story about a 12-year-old refugee in a war-torn fishing village in Somalia, we are again involved with the struggle of youths in the third world. Protagonist Najah Abdi Abdullahi has to decide between being an honest fisherman or whether to take the thieving pirate route in this 18-minute film that uses some cheap thriller tactics, but has its heart in the right place.
Unfortunately, the heart of Shawn Christensen’s New York-set English-language “Curfew” (also around 20 minutes) is suspect as it dabbles in episodic television cliches with its premise of a screwed-up junkie (Christensen) babysitting his sister’s daughter. It’s an earnest work, with some fine acting – 9-year-old Fatima Ptacek is one to watch - but it holds no surprises, so I wouldn’t bet on it come Oscar night, Feb. 24. Of the live action shorts, “Buzkashi Boys” looks like the safe bet, but I’m pulling for “Death of a Shadow.” However, since this looks like one of the most unpredictable Academy Awards races ever, I’d refrain from putting any money on it.