Movie Reviews: Oscar-nominated live-action short films for 2012

On my birthday this month, I decided to see the Oscar-nominated short films at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany. This was predicated on the fact that I might see Zero Dark Thirty on video, but might be less likely to find these. As it turned out, it was the very last day of its three- or four-week run. The program ran for 115 minutes. The films were interspersed with commentary by Luke Matheny who won a couple of years ago for God of Love, which as I noted at the time, was probably my least favorite of the nominees. Unlike the commenters for the animated films this year, I didn’t think Matheny brought that much insight to the table. It didn’t help that he was trying to be wryly humorous and the films, for the most part, were not.

Film descriptions were from the Spectrum website.

Death of a Shadow (France and Belgium/Dutch, 20 minutes) – A soldier attempts to ransom his soul from Death and return to the girl he loves. Directed by Tom Van Avermaet and Ellen De Waele.
This was the darkest of the five, and quite metaphysical, taking photos of people’s shadows at the moments of their deaths, any time in history. It was well done, but most uncomfortable.

Henry (Canada/English, 21 minutes) – Henry, an elderly concert pianist, undergoes a series of confusing experiences as he searches for his wife. Directed by Yan England.
The audience may be a bit confused by the action at first, intentionally so, but ultimately this is a very sweet story of aging. I’ve seen a couple of full-length films about getting old recently. This is not as cavalier as Quartet, but not nearly as depressing as Amour. In fact, this movie showed far more of the couple’s good times than Amour did. This was my favorite of the five.

Curfew (USA/English, 19 minutes) – A young man on the verge of committing suicide receives a call from his sister asking him to babysit his niece. Directed by Shawn Christensen
This film was the Oscar winner, and I can see why. It’s about second chances. The protagonist is the last person his sister knows she’d want to leave her daughter with. Possibly the most whimsical of the five, despite its beginning.

Buzkashi Boys (Afghanistan/Persian, 28 minutes) – Two boys in Afghanistan, a blacksmith’s son and an orphan living on the streets, dream of winning a popular and fierce polo match. Directed by Sam French and Ariel Nasr.
In many ways, Kabul, Afganistan itself is the star. Can you get out of this bleak place, or are you stuck by birth to your destiny? Very magnetic lads, especially the one playing the orphan. The ending is vaguely unsatisfying, but it was still a good film.

Asad (South Africa/Somali, 18 minutes) – A boy from a poor Somali village must decide between piracy and life as a fisherman. Directed by Bryan Buckley and Mino Jarjoura.
The pirates are some scary dudes who our young hero has to deal with, which he does with great skill. Then he is put to another test. An interesting, somewhat peculiar story, though I’m not sure of the ending belongs in this film, which, not incidentally stars a cast of actual Somali refugees.

All in all, a good crop of films worthy of nomination.