Oscar-nom live-action shorts prove length is a non-issue

"Death of a Shadow" is a gorgeous short that handles the poignance of death masterfully. Will it take home Oscar gold? Photo from Entertainment Weekly.

“Death of a Shadow” is a gorgeous short that handles the poignance of death masterfully. Will it take home Oscar gold? Photo from Entertainment Weekly.

The short film is an underrated treasure.  Shoving the same amount of originality and visual aestheticism into films one-third the length (if not less) of the average, commercial movie requires a completely different level of story-telling ingenuity. And when it comes to the world of entertainment, there’s nothing better than an excellent story.

Competing for Best Live Action Short Film at the 2013 Academy Awards are five films that thoroughly deserve their nominations.

“Asad,” Bryan Buckley and Mino Jarjoura 

Childhood innocence meets harsh reality in "Asad," one of five incredible Oscar-nominated shorts. Photo from Much Too Indie.

Childhood innocence meets harsh reality in “Asad,” one of five incredible Oscar-nominated shorts. Photo from Much Too Indie.

Asad is a young Somalian fisher boy whose bravery and bad luck results in catching the ultimate prize and an even greater lesson. The film is a simple “day in the life” tale that walks viewers through the life of Somalian refugees plagued by poverty and gangs, but united in hope. The film evokes a wonderful sense of strength through Asad’s character, and balances an innocent sort of humor with a harsh reality. However, “Asad” lacks the level of complexity its competitors maintain, making it an unlikely winner.

Speakeasy Rating: B+

“Buzkashi Boys,” Sam French and Ariel Nasr

“Buzkashi Boys” is a seemingly inspirational, coming-of-age tale of friendship and big dreams set against the unique cultural backdrop of Kabul, Afghanistan. Rafi is a blacksmith’s son who is close friends with an orphaned street urchin, Ahmad. Though the cinematography is beautiful, the story comes very close to being a typical, boyhood tale with the added element of buzkashi — a game played on horseback. However, the film’s redeeming quality may be its rather somber ending. The Academy may find the twist appealing, but the short still lacks the originality (both narratively and artistically) that the other films embody.

Speakeasy Rating: B+

“Curfew,” Shawn Christenson 

"Curfew's" dark humor and superb cinematography make it an obvious pick, but is it enough to win? Photo from Chicago Reader.

“Curfew’s” dark humor and superb cinematography make it an obvious pick, but is it enough to win? Photo from Chicago Reader.

Channeling Wes Anderson and even a bit of the Coen Brothers, “Curfew” revolves around a rehabilitating, suicidal man coerced into baby-sitting his niece, a task reluctantly asked of him by his estranged younger sister. “Curfew” is cleverly written, a black comedy that maintains its dignity by being straightforward about the film’s dark world, simultaneously evoking a quirky sense of humor. The film excels at detail and simplicity throughout its structure, also appealing to the audience’s soft side. This one has a real shot at Oscar gold.

Speakeasy Rating: A-

“Death of a Shadow/ Dood van een Schaduw,” Tom Van Avermaet and Ellen De Waele

Arguably the most original short film among the nominees, “Death of a Shadow” is a fantastically morbid film that invites audiences to see the true beauty of death. Novel, artistic and romantic, the short revolves around a dead soldier who captures the shadowed death scenes of victims through a camera. The cinematography of the film is gorgeous, and the lighting instantly gives the short a whimsically grim and industrial ambiance. Though at first it’s difficult to understand the rules of the world, the beautiful visuals and unique narrative of “Death of a Shadow” make it one of the top contenders for the Academy Award.

Speakeasy Rating: A

“Henry,”Yan England 

"Henry" handles the reality of Alzheimer's remarkably well, capturing sentiment without being overly sappy. Photo from Indiewire.

“Henry” handles the reality of Alzheimer’s remarkably well, capturing sentiment without being overly sappy. Photo from Indiewire.

A poignant story of an elderly man facing memory loss, “Henry” tugs at the heartstrings and grants viewers a visually expressive ride through the steady decline of an Alzheimer’s patient. The film is lilting and tragically romantic, but not sickeningly sweet – a triumph in itself when it comes to films this sentimental. Music is the sinew that holds the film together and serves as a captivating composition alongside the masterful cinematography. “Henry” is among the best of the shorts nominated and a great testament to those familiar with the effects of losing a loved one.

Speakeasy Rating: A

The nominees for this category are tough to beat – all are winners in their own right. Which short will the Academy choose as the champion? Hopefully, the one that deserves it the most. Tell us your picks in the comments or @SpeakeasyMag!

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