Oscar Circuit: Live Action Short

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OscarLiveActonShortsAnd the Nominees are:

  • Asad (South Africa/USA)
  • Buzkashi Boys (Afghanistan/USA)
  • Henry (Canada)
  • Death of a Shadow (France/Belgium)
  • Curfew (USA)

There’s no better platform for up-and-coming filmmakers to show what they’re capable of than the Live Action Short Film Oscar® category. Just ask current Director’s Guild of America president, Taylor Hackford, who in 1979 won the Academy Award for his live action short, Teenager Daughter. Hackford went on to make a splash in Hollywood with films like Ray and Officer and a Gentleman, both of which were heavy awards players in their respective years on top of finding strength at the box office. Furthermore, this category is known for broadening its scope by introducing our home turf to some innovative and talented filmmakers from outside our borders. International cinema has gradually found its footing in the states, but it’s thanks to the embracing arms of such prestigious film bodies like AMPAS that allow these foreign cinematic visions to break through. This year, there is only one full production from the United States while the rest of the shorts are co-produced by other countries. These five nominees are exceptional, perhaps more so than any prior year in recent memory, and truly any one of them are deserving of the grand prize. However, the hard truth is that only one can win come the evening of February 24th, 2013. I’m here to tell you what short film that will be…

The Frontrunners:

article_47b64a549493071e_1349725265_9j-4aaqskSam French, Buzkashi Boys:

Oscar Scene: Rafi looks upon a gruesome accident, a tragic event neither he nor any audience member saw coming.

Accolades received before nomination: 3 (LA Shorts Fest, Raindance Film Festival, Rhode Island International Film Festival)

Sam French’s emotionally heavy Buzkashi Boys painfully demonstrates the lack of human choice in many countries across the world — in this case, Afghanistan. Two young boys, Raffi and Ahmad, have dreams and aspirations, but only Ahmad believes they will someday come true. For Raffi, he is bound to his familial duty of continuing on the blacksmith trade that has been preserved for generations. Ahmad’s homelessness means he is unrestricted by parental control, or even governmental control for that matter. He roams around, without food or shelter, but is nevertheless free and wishes to become the best Buzkashi rider — a jockey in the horse wrangling sport of Buzkashi — there ever was or will be. The film has an incredibly dark twist that will certainly grab hold of one’s emotions and pierce the steeliest of hearts. The serious nature and grim tone of the short film adds to the undeniable significance of it, making it a clear frontrunner for the Academy Award. Sam French’s direction is confident, forthright and often inspiring. My issues with the short lie in the predictability of the final few scenes, but I doubt that will matter to voters who will be moved enough to overlook some minor kinks. Buzkashi Boys might be too obvious a winner, but when has that ever stopped a film from streamrolling the competition? It also doesn’t hurt that there’s an online fundraising campaign to bring the two young actors who played Raffi and Ahmad, into the United States for a trip to the Dolby Theatre on Oscar day.

ASAD_2Bryan Buckley, Asad:

Oscar Scene: Asad confronts one of the town-raiding gunsmen and trades a fish in exchange for the promise that his friend won’t be murdered.

Accolades received before nomination: 6 (Austin Film Festival, 2 at Los Angeles Film Festival, New Orleans Film Festival, Rhode Island International Film Festival, Tribeca Film Festival)

If I had a vote, it would unquestionably go to Bryan Buckley’s definitive portrait of childhood in Somalia: Asad. A non-professional actor in the titular role, Harun Mohammed delivers one of the most honest performances from a young actor I’ve ever witnessed. He presents a fictitious account of a “day in the life” of a Somali boy, but never asks for our sympathy or pity. In Asad, we see that survival is a career in itself, and dilemmas of morality and ethics are as constant as breathable air. And yet through it all, Asad and his fellow Somali countrymen never lose hope. The short asks us for nothing except observation. Lighthearted moments supersede the disturbing ones, which means The Academy could easily confuse their feelings, unsure of how they should respond to Asad and his story. For me, the best directors don’t give out a guiding hand to ensure that their audience feels exactly how they are meant to feel. The art should speak for itself without much formal exposition, but I know that is a bit much to ask for an Academy voter who wants to quickly process the film and commence with voting. Compared to its competition, Buckley’s Asad received the second-most accolades prior to it Oscar nomination — not to mention Buckley’s dearth of DGA nominations and wins from previous projects — that by name alone his film should carry quite a bit of weight. However, the short’s tonal variation and humorous conclusion makes it fall just short of Buzkashi Boys’ emotional gravitas. These two are neck and neck in most respects, but I’d still give the edge to Sam French’s aforementioned tearjerker.

The Potential Spoilers:

side300_henryYan England, Henry:

Oscar Scene: Henry meets his daughter for the first time…again.

Accolades received before nomination: None

Yan England’s Henry will either be swept up in the Amour love-fest, or rejected altogether for being thought of as a pale imitation of Michael Haneke’s most beloved accomplishment. I’d lean toward the latter, but never underestimate the power of a feeble old man losing control of his mind as age steals it away from him. The film’s chaotic sensibility and lightning pace make it easier to digest than Haneke’s sluggishly-mobile awards darling, but that’s also a sign of youthful direction that could be seen as wildly unrestrained. Henry’s story about an elderly pianist who believes his wife to be kidnapped has a prestigious and elegant quality to it amidst its frenetic narrative, but the shorts above it seem more original and, most importantly, significant. With no accolades coming into the Oscars, Henry has only the strength of its direction and AMPAS’ adoration of Amour to keep it afloat in the race for gold.

a-curfewShawn Christensen, Curfew:

Oscar Scene: The randomly adorable musical number at the bowling alley.

Accolades received before nomination: 13 (3 at 24fps International Short Film Festival, Athens International Film and Video Festival, Brussels Short Film Festival, Clermont-Fernand International Film Festival, Cleveland International Film Festival, Granada International Festival of Young Filmmakers, Nashville Film Festival, Stockholm Film Festival, Toulouse Film Festival, Woodstock Film Festival)

As you can see from above, Shawn Christensen’s short film, Curfew, fought tooth and nail to get an Academy Award nomination. Unbeknownst to probably many of you, Christensen is attempting to make some sort of a comeback. His big Hollywood intro was as a screenwriter for the Taylor Lautner-helmed action flick, Abduction, which we all know was one of the most critically-reviled embarrassments of 2011. It’s great to see a young talent prove everyone wrong with this unique and quirky story of a man about to commit suicide, only to find his whole world flipped around after his sister asks him to babysit her daughter for one evening. And what an evening that is! Filled with strange explorations and deep discussions, it turns out both Shawn — who stars in the film — and young Sophia help each other halfway in enjoying the perks of youth and adulthood. The short itself is far too nuanced and “out there” for the Academy to fall head over heels for, but there’s an undeniable charm that’s impossible to ignore. What also hurts Curfew is that it is the only USA-based production that has zero collaboration with an outside country. Voters now tend to shy away from going the obvious route and handing the win to the American short, especially one so offbeat. Still, an Oscar win® certainly wouldn’t be unwarranted — Curfew is hypnotic bliss that is simultaneously intelligent, innovative and profound.

Just Happy to be Nominated:

shadow__fullTom Van Avermaet, Death of a Shadow:

Oscar Scene: Nathan’s selfless final act.

Accolades received before nomination: 1 (L.A. Shorts Fest)

Tom Van Avermaet’s Death of a Shadow pushes the boundaries on what the cinematic imagination can accomplish. The film’s Steampunk leanings are there mostly out of respect for an ancient sci-fi trend, but the subgenre hardly limits the short’s technical accomplishments. What Avermaet is able to do with both computer and non-digital effects is nothing short of miraculous, especially in his time traveling sequences involving the capture of shadows. Matthias Schoenaerts plays a ghost trapped inside the home of a curator who collects shadows. After capturing the deaths of 10,000 shadows via retro camera, Schoenaert’s Nathan Rijckx can be set free. A generic love story muddles the narrative up a bit, much to my annoyance, but I do hope The Academy appreciates the technical marvel and postmodernism at work in Death of a Shadow. My guess is that voters will be awed more than moved, which usually means they won’t give the film a second thought after screening. The science fiction genre alone is too divisive, but with the added challenge of making sure voters can wrap their head around a plot that’s made sensible by the film’s uninviting production design and mise-en-scene? That’s an even bigger hurdle to jump over, and it’s a miracle the short film even managed to land an Oscar nomination in the first place. Avermaet should be extremely proud that the Short Film’s branch of The Academy recognized his live action short, because I highly doubt all other voting bodies of AMPAS will feel anything more than confusion when watching.

Final Predictions: Buzkashi Boys takes home the Oscar®

Most Egregious Snub: Bryce Dallas Howard’s immaculately constructed when you find me.

Check out my complete reviews of each of the nominees if you haven’t already. Please dispense your thoughts and opinions below in the comments section!