Seeing all the films nominated for Oscars takes days of work. But being an expert on the Oscar-nominated short films can be accomplished in an evening. The live-action and animated contenders screen in two programs. The live-action films are reviewed below.
Asad. With a cast of Somali refugees, writer/director Bryan Buckley sets this oddly hopeful tale in Somalia's disintegrating pirate-state. Asad is a nervy — but luckless — young fisherman: He lands an unlikely catch thanks to a brutal collision between the First World and the Third. In Somali, with subtitles
Buzkashi Boys. Rafi, the son of a Kabul blacksmith, is tempted to dream of glory by a street-urchin friend and the horsemen who play buzkashi, Afghanistan's national sport. But co-writers Martin Desmond Roe and Sam French (who directed) seem wary of excess ambition — a trait that can be fatal in Afghanistan. And just try spotting a female on screen. In Dari, with subtitles
Curfew. Shawn Christensen writes, directs and stars in the story of Richie, a drug addict whose suicide is interrupted when his estranged sister needs a babysitter. A bit of dark humor adds needed tartness to an otherwise too-sweet story of a precocious fourth-grader and a babysitter who can barely care for himself.
Death of a Shadow. This Dutch film, about a photographer on assignment from Death itself, is the most inventive of the bunch. Writer/director Tom Van Avermaet's boy-hopes-to-meet-girl plot never quite lives up to its visuals, but this is the film you'll want to watch twice. In Dutch, with subtitles
Henry. Henry is an aging concert pianist whose life suddenly takes a Kafkaesque turn. Or does it? Writer/director Yan England keeps you guessing for a few minutes, though not much longer. This Quebec-made film's conclusion is poignant, but not as painful as you might expect. In French, with subtitles
The program of animated shorts was unavailable for screening. Entries include: "Head Over Heels" (Timothy Reckart, U.K.), which relates the travails of a longtime couple — he lives on the floor, she on the ceiling — via claymation; "Maggie Simpson in ‘The Longest Daycare'" (David Silverman, USA), in which the baby of America's favorite cartoon family goes to the Ayn Rand Day Care; "Paperman" (John Kars, USA), a wordless Pixar creation about match-making via a floating piece of paper; "Fresh Guacamole" (Adam Pesapane, USA), featuring an unusual guacamole recipe; and "Adam and His Dog" (Minkyu Lee, USA), speculating how the dog became the first man's best friend, in the Garden of Eden. In addition to the five nominated films, three other animated shorts round out the program.