Short, less than sweet: The 2013 Oscars

As an adorable Valentine’s Day surprise, the boyfriend bought us tickets to go see the 2013 Oscar-nominated Live Action Short Films at the Ritz at the Bourse. (There were also gorgeous flowers and chocolates involved in this surprise, which proves that we are not entirely immune to tradition and also that my boo is basically the awesomest. Feel free to cringe.)

Some of you may know we have a history with the Oscar shorts, both live action and animated, that stemmed from a class I really, REALLY didn’t want to take but loved the content anyway. (Watching movies was my homework; who the hell could complain?) That year our favorites (God of Love and The Lost Thing) won in both categories so I thought it appropro to talk about what made this year’s live films so unique, which short was my personal favorite, and which film I think could win. (This year, they are not the same.)


First up was the French(highly original) film Death of a Shadow (2012). IMDb uses this description:

Soldier Nathan died during World War I. A strange collector imprisoned his shadow and gave him a new chance: a second life against 10000 captured shadows. It is love that guides him, as his purpose is to meet Sarah again, the woman he fell in love with before he died. But then he discovers that she’s already in love with someone else, jealousy clouds his mind and pushes him towards a bitter decision, not without consequences.

The film has quite the bittersweet ending, which I refuse to ruin for you here. I can tell you, however, that this film is beautifully shot, employs seamless CGI, and the three lead actors (Nathan, his love Sarah, and the creepy shadow collector) were pretty brilliant in their sparsely worded scenes. Remember, one of the main caveats of a short film is you have very little time to create emotional connection and build an effective story; this film accomplishes both with gut wrenching aplomb.


Next up was French Canada’s (like it’s its own country) Henry (2011), another tearjerker about what it may be like to live in the mind of someone with Alzheimer’s. Henry and the love of his life, Maria, met over a shared passion for music. Now, as an institutionalized old man, Henry searches for Maria daily, becomes exacerbated with the strange younger woman asking him questions (spoiler alert, it’s his friggin’ daughter), and lives in memories of the day he first saw Maria perform, a memory that is slowly being destroyed. I was drowning in the MOST morose heavy-snot cry during this one. Not cool, Oscars.

There is a passionate IMDb reviewer who think’s this will be this year’s victor, but I’m not convinced. There were several shorts in this category that were incredibly strong, and it’s the best problem to have.


My personal favorite this year was the American short, Curfew (2012). OMIGAWD. First off, this film has the highest IMDb rating, which may prove I’m not alone. The story goes like this: Total fuck-up Richie is sitting in his bathtub with nothing to live for, hacking away at his wrists (so graphic, I felt like I was watching Dexter) when the phone rings. So, obviously, he answers it – the first sign that maybe Richie is looking for something to feel connected to life. On the phone is his sister, who’s in a bind and needs a babysitter RIGHT NOW even though she and Richie are obviously estranged. Richie agrees, and spends an adorable couple hours taking his niece Sophia bowling. The child actress who plays Sophie, Fatima Ptacek, is STUNNING. Emotive and sweet and funny without being cloying. Richie is obviously baffled by her and she endears herself to him effortlessly. Richie takes her to a questionable-looking crackhouse after their bowling date, and you as the audience member automatically go “HI RICHIE, I THOUGHT WE WERE GOING TO START MAKING GOOD CHOICES” until they reveal that he used to live there, and wanted to go pick up a set of flipbooks he used to make that his sister loved, that he thought Sophie might like too. Say it with me now: Awwww. The film ends on a sweet note, one of two in this batch of shorts that do.


Next we have my least favorite: Buzkashi Boys (2012). IMDb sums it up like this:

Set against the dramatic landscape of contemporary Afghanistan and the National sport of Buzkashi – a brutal game of horse polo played with a dead goat – Buzkashi Boys tells the coming of age story of two best friends, a charismatic street urchin and a defiant blacksmith’s son, who struggle to realize their dreams as they make their way to manhood in one of the most war-torn countries on Earth. Shot on location in Kabul city by an alliance of Afghan and international film makers, Buzkashi Boys is a look at the life that continues beyond the headlines of war in Afghanistan.

And first, let me just admit that I am harder on politically-driven shorts that try to crunch mind-numbingly complex socio-political situations driven by years of oppressive history into a 28-minute short. A little subtext is necessary. A boatload of subtext makes me antsy. This is basically the short film version of The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. Actually, it’s set in the same city, Kabul. The two title child actors are impressive, and the scenery is CRAZY AMAZING, but other than that this film left me a little unsatisfied, especially considering its stronger competitors. As the film was made by a Canadian, the Ottawa Citizen has more informative things to say on this one than I do.


The final short is another war-ridden, politically charged one, but with better structure and message: Asad (2012). Again, maybe I just can’t pass up the endorphin rush of a happy ending (or at least a hopeful one). Asad is a young Somali boy struggling to “make it, ” being pulled in two directions by opposing forces: his pirating, bad-influence peers and an upstanding old fisherman betrayed by his aging body and the young delinquents ruling the waters. Asad wants to be good, but he’s also a terrible fisherman. Still, he makes the best possible choice in helping the fisherman after the pirates beat him – even if all he can catch is a (totally legit) Grumpy Cat he finds on a raided yacht. This story was sweet and a little silly, with a message of hope for Somali refugees, who made up the cast of the film.

There you have it, movie buffs, your 2013 Live Action Short Film Oscar Nominees. My pick for the winner? While I would be ecstatic if Curfew took it, I pretty firmly believe Death of a Shadow may come out on top. I invite you to view the films before Sunday (at a local arty theater or via morally corrupt download) and share your opinion in the comments.

With all that said, are you at all surprised I’m psyched for the Academy Awards, as usual? Oh, dress. Oh, speeches. And of course, the vehicle by which it all happens: the movies.

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