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Oscar Nominated Shorts: Live Action - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Oscar Nominated Shorts: Live Action
Death of a Shadow: B
Curfew: A
Henry: A-
The Buzkashi Boys: B+
Asad: A

"ShortsDH," the organization that has been releasing all the Oscar Nominated Shorts theatrically since 2006, has taken a slightly new direction with their presentations this year: they are having past Oscar winners in the category host. At the ShortsHD website, it appears they release Live Action shorts, Animated shorts, and Documentary shorts, but the Documentary ones never seem to come to our local Landmark Theatres here in Seattle. Shouldn't we talk to someone about that?

Anyway, you would think the most logical person to host would be the previous year's winner, but maybe they were all either too busy or not interested. Who knows. It's not exactly a bad thing that for the Live Action presentation, they chose Luke Matheny, winner for God of Love at the 2011 Oscars.

To say he "hosts" is honestly kind of misleading. The program does begin with him offering a very brief introduction, but thereafter, we just see clips of him in his tux, black background, holding his Oscar, talking about what it was like being nominated, experiencing the time between then and the awards ceremony, and ultimately winning. They are always brief, though, and actually serve well as transitions between the shorts. He's rather charming in his telling, and does offer a bit of insight into what the whole experience is like, especially for someone in this category, almost never someone famous or even at all plugged into the Hollywood establishment.

I hope they keep doing it this way from now on.

Death_Of_A_ShadowThe overall crop of Live Action films this year is quite strong, but that said, Death of a Shadow (France/Belgium, 20 minutes) is the weakest. It has an almost steampunk quality to it, with a World War I soldier stuck in an industrialized afterworld in which his job is apparently to take pictures of people's deaths. It's an intriguing concept, as when the soldier is walking around the world of the living, he goes unseen, and he sees only the shadows of the living -- unless he looks through his camera, in which he sees everyone. He takes his picture at the moment of death, capturing the silhouette, which he brings back to the netherworld, or wherever it is it's supposed to be. A creepy bald old man offers his take on the silhouettes' artistic quality as he hangs them like paintings on the walls of a long corridor. We find out the soldier died just after accepting a kindness from a local woman, and he figures out a way to meet her again once he researches when another man, her true love, dies. I won't reveal more except to say that his is a relatively standard love story couched in a rather unconventional context. The production is much more memorable than the story.

CurfewIn Curfew (USA, 19 minutes), the opening shot is of a young man in a bathtub, having just slit his wrists. There's an attention-getter. The attention never wanes, though, as this short mixes darkness and humor with unusual finesse: the man gets a phone call; it's his estranged sister asking in an emergency for him to look after her daughter and can he be there in 20 minutes. So, most of the short is of deadbeat uncle and adorably precocious niece spending a day getting to know each other. If not quite realistic, it's always believable -- even when there's a dance interlude at a bowling alley. Curfew is by turns funny and sad, surreal and touching. I have a hard time deciding if this or Asad is precisely the best one. But this one was my favorite, as it spoke to me the most directly, and it gets my vote for the win.

HenryFrench-Canadian Henry (21 minutes) takes a while to quite get. But then it becomes clear that we are experiencing Henry's age-related dementia right along with him. On a clearly limited budget, it's very well done. Given that we see everything only as Henry sees it, this is something that could have been done with special effects, but this is entirely done with lighting and location sets. Who is Henry's wife and is she dead? For how long? And his daughter? Henry experiences heartbreaking confusion as his lucidity only slips in and out. We experience it right along with him, and it is effective.

The_Buzkashi_BoysThe Buzkashi Boys (Afghanistan, 28 minutes) is the kind of movie you might expect to win this category in other years, as it has the ingredients: a setting and insight into another culture. The refreshing part about this one is that there is no commentary on war or American interference; instead, we see the day to day living of a young boy and his blacksmith father. But when a local beggar boy befriends the blacksmith boy and they go to watch a game of a local horse riding sport called Buzkashi, they are filled with lofty hopes and dreams that ultimately turn tragic. I can't say that this is particularly uplifting, but it's a frank look at day to day Afghani living.

AsadAsad (South Africa, 18 minutes) is one I would struggle to pick as opposed to Curfew. It has the best of both worlds: the darkness and humor plus the frank look at squalid living on the other side of the world. Here the title character, a young boy, wishes to go out pirating with the local men, but instead sticks to unlucky attempts at fishing with a local old man. There's some stuff here that is arguably scarier than anything in the other shorts -- and yet a reflection of African realities -- but it still ends with some charmingly surreal humor. This one has a little something for everyone, which makes me think it's the most likely for the win.

Luke Matheny, host of this year's Live Action Oscar Nominated Shorts program, accepts the Oscar for best live action short film for 'God of Love' at the Academy Awards in 2011. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Overall: A-
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