Oscar Nominated Shorts: 2013
Whether because comedy is harder than drama, or because the Academy simply rewards it disproportionately, these shorts are overwhelmingly sad and gritty. We also see a lot of children as the focal point of films, something which may be simply because planning a short around children is far less of a headache than trying to plot a feature around one.
I try to avoid spoilers, but though the headings link to the Oscar information/trailer page for each short, I strongly advise avoiding trailers, especially for “Curfew” and “Death of a Shadow,” if you plan to see the shorts.
In order of our viewing:
If the short film category were broken down into subcategories for acting, editing, sound mixing, etc., this would easily win cinematography and set design. It looked impressive, it had a lot of hand-crafted detail, and it had a consistent color scheme which used rich golds and red in scenes with death and shadows, and cool blues and grays in the land of the living.
The concept was fascinating, though it was apparent within the first five minutes how it was going to end. That’s fine when you have a feature’s-length of film to make us care about the characters, but when we don’t have time to fall in love with them, *and* we know exactly where it’s going, looking expensive and well-shot isn’t enough.
This film was fine, no more, no less. The lead actor was good, but this story has been told a hundred times, and this short did nothing to improve on the story. I understand why they used hand-held camera for most of it, but I was not overly impressed with the color, or the editing. 2012’s Milwaukee Short Film Festival featured “Nach Hause” by Janos Menberg, which did a similar story and used music in a similar way, but was better all around. So why is this one at The Oscars? It’s all about who you know.
The only American entry, this film starts as cliche, but contains two pleasant surprises (in terms of filmmaking, not necessarily character happiness), and honestly had me wondering for a moment how it was going to end. At the least, I’d give this short Best Editing, and the cinematography would be a close second to Death of a Shadow. The depth of field choices, particularly, are good.
It’s good the MPAA doesn’t strictly regulate shorts, because this one film would have surely given the whole cluster an R rating, and there are a lot of things in this group that teenagers would do well to be exposed to.
I like lingering on a beautiful shot as much as the next director, but this was 28 minutes, and should have been ~23. When the camera focuses on a tight shot of a ladder rung, we know a hand is about to come out and grasp it, but it takes an interminable amount of time for it to happen. Instead of holding shots and using so much b-roll, the film could have tightened its narrative to make one think and feel more about the two main relationships, rather than the general surroundings.
Speaking of the two main relationships, they and their motivations are strong. Much is made about how this nomination is a boost for the Afghan Film Industry, and I hope they can use the attention to bolster creation of more such stories.
Short films generally feature sparse dialogue, and though “Curfew” was close to the pacing of a feature or TV show, this is the only film with a fairly steady stream of dialogue or at least background chatter. It also elicited the most laughs; it was made with cast and crew mostly composed of Somalian refuges and contains shooting, knifing, starvation, drought, child soldiers, and death.
That list should tell you something about the general things the Academy likes this year.
So, who would I vote for?
The only one I would be disappointed about winning is “Henry,” though sadly it’s probably the one appealing to the most Academy members. Fourth I would place “Buzkashi Boys,” simply because it’s bogged down by its own grandeur. Third is “Death of a Shadow,” as it’s pretty but too predictable.
Second and first both feature children coming of age too soon for different reasons. Both made me smile and ponder and feel appropriately sad. Both have many good aesthetic and technical points. I don’t want to vote for either simply because one has characters more relatable to me (and the most notable female character in the whole set), or because the other has the emotional appeal of Somali refugees playing people doing their all to survive. The acting is solid, and in a year filled with talented child actors, we see two very disparate acting techniques working perfectly within their genres.
It comes down to “Curfew” working better overall. If they were in context for short story or screenplay, I’d definitely give it to “Asad.” But as a film, “Curfew”‘s pacing, editing, shot composition, and narrative surprises all work beautifully together.
4) Buzkashi Boys
3) Death of a Shadow
Agree? Disagree? Let me know why in the comments. Nothing we say will change the outcome tomorrow night, but it’s fun to hope.