Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Look at the Best Live Action Short Nominees

As I have shared in the past, there is a way to see the Best Live Action Short nominees before Sunday, and you don't have to leave your home to do it. While conflict has come up with being able to find a package of the Best Animated Shorts, I have watched all of the Best Live Action nominees and we have quite a batch of interesting selections. While I am not an expert at predicting the big winner, I do enjoy getting a chance to watch each of these and at least knowing that there is something interesting in the outer categories. After the jump, I will give a brief review of each as well as my thoughts on who should win.

I want to personally thank Shorts HD for continuing to make this program available to the general public. Overall, I feel that there is an overall theme of identity and overcoming life's obstacles this year. While some are abstract takes on senility (Henry) or finding reasons to live (Curfew), this is another year that brought some fascinating options from around the globe. While I feel that last year was exceptionally more interesting, these are no chumps. They continue to prove that shorts have the ability to make you feel like a feature length can. 

The following is a brief review of the five nominees that are available for $7.99 on iTunes full with a very compelling`presentation by last year's winner Luke Matheny, director of God of Love. It is definitely worth your time if you find the shorts to be fascinating field. I will attempt to find something for the Best Animated Short and write up a piece by Saturday night. But for now, here are the nominees:

Death of a Shadow

From France comes a story of Nathan Rijckx (Matthias Schoenaerts of Rust and Bone), a photographer who is in charge of collecting shadows of people who have died. On paper, this makes no sense, but it is one of the stronger nominees this year, as it explores the abstract and the moral dilemmas of the media's relationship with the morbid culture. While it is slow at times, it is easily the most ambitious and creative of the batch. The ending is rather powerful and Schoenaerts continues to prove himself to be an excellent actor.

Gerard Poirier

The second feature is about classical pianist Henry (Gerard Poirier), who decides to go for a stroll one day only to end up having memories come back to him. Memories of war, family, and his children. The tale is essentially about the unfortunate beauty that disappears when you reach a particular age and amnesia starts kicking in. While it is very poignant, it is one of the weaker selections from the nominees and despite clever imagery, moves pretty slow and doesn't have the same impact as the other selections. Still a solid entry overall.

Left to right: Shawn Christensen and Fatima Ptacek

The American entry this year is one that is kind of bittersweet. After a series of unfortunate events, Richie (Shawn Christensen) ends up having to babysit Sophia (Fatima Ptacek). Things go awry at a bowling alley and soon Richie's dark history is discussed in great detail, including why Richie wasn't allowed to see Sophia until that night. In the end, the two bond and Sophia gives Richie reasons to live. At very least, the final moments of the short is an uplifting, if slightly cliche look at the power of friendship. Compared to the other nominees, it is a little bit small in the narrative substance at first, but it soon evolves into this sweet story that makes you root for the cast and leaves you feeling happy.

Fawad Mohammadi
Buzkashi Boys

From Afghanistan is Buzkashi Boys, a story in which two boys (Fawad Mohammadi and Jawanmard Paiz) bond over a dangerous sport called Buzkashi that involves horses and a capture the flag technique. The two dream of one day being up there on a horse and being the heroes of the town. Meanwhile, they have to deal with their parents trying to get them into their own labor system. The story gets a little dark towards the halfway mark, however the morals present at the end result in a solid coming of age story. It is lucky that the two boys have great chemistry, which carries the film into an entertaining, youthful fantasy that translates in any language. The filming is also some of the liveliest from any nominee this year.


A young boy names Asad lives in Somalia and has to dead with his village being taken under control by some soldiers. One day, he has to overcome bad luck and go fishing to feed his family. The results are simultaneously depressing and a hopeful message of finding optimism in times of peril. The story is played entirely by Somali refugees, which adds authenticity to the overall narrative, and Asad is a young boy with plenty of charisma and convincingly leads the story through a swift history lesson of how people survive in the village. It is in no ways preachy and it may not be nearly as abstract as others, but it does come across as the most uplifting of the bunch.

With all of this said, what is my favorite? While I kind of find admiration for the technical aspect of Death of a Shadow, I feel like Asad has to win. The story is the most concrete with very little filler. The Somali refugee angle also gives it an edge that makes it work simultaneously as a narrative as well as commentary on the Somali village's rough history. Its metaphors are concrete and the story works on a numerous amount of levels. Asad the kid is also a rather fascinating actor, as he convincingly becomes the hero of the tale after a slow start to that position.

According to statistics website Gold Derby, the front runner is Curfew with odds of 21:10. The graphs located below the statistics argue that Curfew has consistently been considered the favorite. As stated, I find it to be a touching example of life and its uplifting subject matter make me really admire it (though I would place it as third behind Death of a Shadow), but Asad just is ripe with authenticity, social commentary, and has the uplifting subject matter down pat. It is in second with odds of 4:1. While I am not an expert on how the shorts categories work or any bias, I do worry that the American film is going to win simply because it is the most accessible. I felt that could have been the case with God of Love last year (I was a big Tuba Atlantic fan). Either way, I am placing my vote for Asad.

With exception to Henry, which isn't terrible, but is definitely the least interesting, I feel like this is definitely another ambitious year. Please do yourself a favor and check out these shorts, especially Asad and Death of a Shadow. Both are impressive examples of what cinema and narratives can do. 

Have you seen any of them? What is your pick for the Best Live Action Short this year? 

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