If you want to really take names in your Oscar pool, you really have to know your way around the short film categories. Most people simply choose blindly in those three races, often favoring the most pleasing or the most serious sounding title in the lineup.
That may have worked five or 10 years ago, but there’s no longer any excuse not to be exposed to these movies if you’re really serious about winning (or, you know, if you’re serious about seeing movies the Academy has deemed among the year’s best). That’s because ShortsHD and Magnolia Pictures have been compiling the nominees annually for a few years now in an increasingly popular series of anthology releases.
Uptown Theater will be presenting the ten movies nominated in the short animated film and short live action film categories this Friday, and the Riverview is bringing the five documentary shorts to the Twin Cities one week later. So there’s no excuse to enter your pool uninformed.
Here is my take on all 15 nominees and some educated guesses as to which ones will win. But seriously, don’t take my word for it. See them all for yourself.
Best Live Action Short
|Asad (Bryan Buckley & Mino Jarjoura)
One of two entries this year about the trials and tribulations of plucky young preteen boys navigating their way through grim third world environments. This one’s cast is made up entirely of Somali refugees and asylum seekers, and boasts a wryly humorous undercurrent.
|Buzkashi Boys (Sam French & Ariel Nasr)
And this is the other third world preteen drama, only this one has two boys who hope to transcend their destiny (the two hope to grow up to become dashing buzkashi riders). Attention to detail and sobering cinematography set this one apart from the more improvisational Asad.
|Curfew (Shawn Christensen)
A suicidal adult who refuses to grow up, his jaded sister and her precocious daughter — who are all mutually estranged from each other — make a breakthrough one particularly vanguard evening. An impromptu new wave bowling alley dance number helps move the catharsis along.
|Death of a Shadow (Tom Van Avermaet & Ellen De Waele)
Matthias Schoenaerts (whose roles in Bullhead and Rust and Bone are turning into the art house sex symbol of the moment) stars in this steampunk sci-fi fantasy about an enslaved soul who travels through time photographing the shadows of others the moment they die. Yeah, it’s kinda tricky.
|Henry (Yan England)
This short, about a concert pianist who can’t seem to figure out what happened to his concert violinist wife and also can’t seem to escape the restraints strangers have put him in, comes off like a shorter, blunter version of Amour with none of the Michael Haneke film’s nuances.
Will Win: Though some may find Curfew‘s hopeless hipster ‘tude and rabid self-involvement a total turn off when held against the likes of, say, Buzkashi Boys, no other nominee here hits as many different emotional notes. Never mind that none of them cohere; it’s the effort that counts.
Deserves To Win: Death of a Shadow rises to the top of this mostly even playing field on the strength of its production design and its faint Chris Marker-ish undercurrents.
Best Animated Short
|Adam and Dog (Minkyu Lee)
Man and man’s best friend establish a bond while God establishes original sin. Lee’s evocative, handmade animation is probably the most notably old school in the entire lineup.
|Fresh Guacamole (PES)
But one of the many extraordinarily short films by PES, an artist whose knack for snappy visual metaphors and instantly recognizable pop culture reference points have already landed him a forthcoming Garbage Pail Kids feature.
|Head Over Heels (Timothy Reckart & Fodhla Cronin O’Reilly)
An elderly couple’s estrangement is rendered through a simple visual cue — she dances on the ceiling while he dwells on the floor below. The directors of this short are playful with gravity in a way that sometimes suggests Pixar’s Up.
|Maggie Simpson in “The Longest Daycare” (David Silverman)
Maggie returns to the Ayn Rand School for Tots in The Simpsons‘ first Oscar-nominated effort. Though consigned to the “nothing special” room, Maggie’s attempted rescue for an endangered butterfly becomes an epic struggle between her and her nemesis, the unibrow baby.
|Paperman (John Kahrs)
The prelude to Wreck-It Ralph in theaters last fall, Paperman dips to greyscale to set an oppressive tone as two working stiffs seek love in a thankless world of office cubicles. Their only hope: a little bit of trademark Disney® magic.
Will Win: No one is going to miss Head Over Heels‘ visual metaphor. It’s obviousness and heartening ending will probably push it to the head of this pack, though this category has historically shown a resistance toward stop motion.
Deserves To Win: Adam and Dog‘s character design is, ahem, a little floppy in spots, but it’s got the most scope of any nominee here, and the shifting planes of motion are breathtaking. (Although Guacamole did have me reaching for the chips.)
Best Documentary Short
|Inocente (Sean Fine & Andrea Nix Fine)
A quirky girl who lives in San Diego illegally with her mother strives to accentuate the positive, even after her abusive father is deported. She copes by painting wildly colorful canvasses, pieces that may end up being her ticket out when she lands a prestigious fundraising art show.
|Kings Point (Sari Gilman & Jedd Wider)
Widows and widowers alike navigate the twilight years of their lives at a retirement community in Florida. Kings Point never sentimentalizes their situation, even when some of them surmise that they are most definitely not living out the best years of their lives anymore.
|Mondays at Racine (Cynthia Wade & Robin Honan)
A salon on Long Island opens up shop once a month to shave the heads of breast cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. Their tearful stories of coping with mastectomies and the strain their disease has put on their relationships become the fabric of this documentary.
|Open Heart (Kief Davidson & Cori Shepherd Stern)
Rheumatic heart disease, which now logs a zero percent mortality rate in the U.S., still puts an alarming number of African children at death’s door. One clinic in Rwanda seeks to offer open heart surgeries for a limited number of children whose cases require urgent attention.
|Redemption (Jon Alpert & Matthew O’Neill)
Because cans and bottles earn back a 5 cent deposit at recycling centers in New York City, a number of people with no other viable job options spend their days trudging through the streets and stuffing giant garbage bags full of them. Redemption tells multiple collectors’ stories.
Will Win: In this category, efficacy always counts. I don’t mean to be gauche when I say that Open Heart‘s terminally ill third world children are a sure bet.
Deserves To Win: Open Heart is also undoubtedly the fullest and most heartwarming of the nominees, but I have to give some respect to the denizens of Kings Point for daring to suggest that love is truly for the young.