Forget the debate over which feature film is favored to win best picture at this year’s Oscars. That august field of nine has nothing on the nominated live-action shorts this year, five films of differing styles and tones, but each polished to near perfection – short films so good you’re dying to see feature-length versions of every tale told here.
Tom Van Avermaet’s Belgian “Death of a Shadow” is a sublimely spooky and romantic ghost story set around World War I. Matthias Schoenaerts plays a soldier given a magical camera and sent in search of shadows of the dead. The camera allows him to see how they died, and takes images of the shadow of death that he delivers to an omnipotent “Collector of Shadows.” Then, he meets a girl and must decide whether to capture her in death, or figure out a way for her to live.
Yan England’s “Henry” covers the same ground as best picture nominee “Amour,” and does it in 21 minutes. An old man (Gerard Poirier) practices his piano and makes plans with his violinist-wife. But strangers shake him out of his idyll with “They’re LOOKING for you Henry,” and “Your wife is in danger.” “Henry” is one thing “Amour” never manages to be – achingly romantic.
“Asad” is filmmaker Bryan Buckley’s intimate tale of a Somali boy who must choose between the traditional way of life in his village – fishing from a dory he rows out to sea – or the country’s growth industry, piracy. Asad cannot wait to get into piracy, but the veterans (also quite young) always tell him “soon” it will be his turn. “My life is filled with ‘soons.’ ” Will he be drawn back to fishing by the old man, Erasto? The film leaves out that industrial trawlers have fished out the coast, one of the reasons piracy took hold there. Will the kid make his living with violence like seemingly everyone else in that blighted land? “Asad” is an eye-opening and compelling look into a culture we never see in the news.
“Curfew” has been chilling and charming film festival audiences over the past year, a blacker-than-black comedy about a junkie (Shawn Christensen, who also wrote and directed it) lured out of his death tub (he’s slashed his wrists) because his sister needs a baby sitter. The bratty and precocious Sofie (a delightfully annoying Fatima Ptacek) resists bonding with her “irresponsible” uncle, and the uncle can’t resist hitting a bar and a crack house during their long night together. It’s a touching tale with laugh-out-loud moments.
Even the weakest film in the field, “Buzkashi Boys,” has wonderful child actors and an arresting setting – Kabul, Afghanistan, where the two boys, a blacksmith’s son and a homeless kid, long to compete in the sport of dead-goat polo (Buzkashi).
The Oscar nominated live-action shorts go into limited release as one full program in select theaters between now and Oscar night.