Editor’s note: This is part of a 32-part series dissecting the 85th Academy Awards, brought to you by the Large Association of Movie Blogs and its assorted members. Every day leading up to the Oscars, a new post written by a different LAMB will be published, each covering a different category of the Oscars. To read the other posts regarding this event, please click here. Thank you, and enjoy!
By Dylan of Man, I Love Films
It’s funny. Every year, we bemoan January as a terrible month for film. The truth is, February is the true downer; sure, the new feature films for January are generally cover-your-eyes awful, but it’s in the first month of the new year where we’re able to catch up on the barrage of films released around Christmas. Included in that (if you’re lucky enough to live in a large-enough market) is the annual release of the Short Film programs (Live Action, Animated, Documentary). I am, and I attempt to see as many of the programs as I can each year, and with good reason…
I raved about this on a podcast recently, but it bears repeating: short films are filmmaking at their purest. Devoid (almost always) of big names in acting, directing, or writing, and often with shoestring budgets, these films are passion projects first and foremost, made by filmmakers either just getting started, just having fun, or just with a story that needs telling. This year’s nominees are solid-if-unspectacular; almost every year, there’s one or two that stand out from the rest (i.e. 2010′s Instead of Abracadabra and 2011′s winner, God of Love), but that didn’t seem to be the case this time around. As such, it’s all the more difficult to handicap the race for an Oscar.
Here’s the rundown:
Tom Van Avermaet’s dark fantasy is by far the most inventive, striking, and creative of the bunch. A man dressed as a soldier walks down an empty street holding a strange contraption that looks mostly like a camera. The moment hits and he snaps into action, apparently taking a picture. But (of course), not all is what it seems. It’s hard to say that this was the most fun of the shorts featured – considering its subject matter – but it’s certainly the one that you’re most likely to get engaged with. It will pique your curiosity as it presents its mysteries. Though I ultimately was let down by the simplicity and predictability of the story, its filmmaking prowess and cinematography will be enough to separate it from the pack and make it my pick to win the Oscar (even if it’s not my favorite in the bunch). ★★★☆
Curfew is the short that’s leading the betting odds for the Oscar (there’s not a ton on information to be found, but there is some), and it’s not tremendously hard to see why. While some of the other film contain elements of multiple genres, Curfew perhaps meshes them together better, blending tragedy and comedy along with such themes as reconciliation, rejuvenation and coming-of-age. What’s perhaps most impressive is how much of a one-man show it appears to be: Shawn Christensen stars, directs, wrote it, and probably did the craft services as well. It was a bit formulaic for my tastes, but it also featured some beautifully set-up shots, with the stand-out being a fantasy sequence occurring in a bowling alley. ★★★
Is it better to dream the impossible dream or take pride in a predestined future? That’s the question Buzkashi presents at its core, but unfortunately it ultimately cops out of an answer, attempting to have and eat its cake, answering “yes” to both sides of the equation. It tells the tale of two boys coming-of-age in Afghanistan confronting the harsh realities that lie ahead of them. Although effective at portraying the somewhat grim living conditions in Kabul, I was never able to connect to either of the leads, finding both the naive exuberance of one and the trepidation of the other hard to grasp. ★★☆
More coming-of-age – this time set in Somalia. Asad touches upon many of the same universal themes as Buzkashi, but handles the subject matter much more deftly. Asad is a young boy just trying to get by – stuck in his pre-teens, he finds himself wanting to join the older boys as they play their reindeer games – er, attempt to hijack nearby ships for oil or other commodities. Left out of the party, he seeks to be of use by fishing, told by a local fisherman that he’s destined to be a great fisherman. Where Asad goes from there is not quite what you’d expect, and writer-director Bryan Buckley handles the subject matter with humor and grace, creating memorable characters in a short period of time. ★★★☆
Diversion is at play in interesting ways in Henry as well. Writer-director Yan England leads you down a genre path only to pull the rug out from under you quickly. Fact is, it’s not difficult to see where Henry is going from the start, but framing the story as a mystery worked in spite of that, attempting to place the audience in Henry’s shoes rather than as a casual observer, effectively taking what could have been a trite, sappy story and wrenching all of the heart out of it. I should warn you, though, that my experiences with family in the recent past have perhaps clouded my ability to judge this as objectively as possible; your mileage may vary. ★★★☆