DIRECTED BY: Bryan Buckley (“Asad”), Shawn Christensen (“Curfew”), Yan England (“Henry”), Sam French (“Buzkashi Boys”), Tom Van Avermaet (“Death of a Shadow”)
FEATURING:Gérard Poirier, Shawn Christensen, Fatima Ptacek, Matthias Schoenaerts, Harun Mohammed, Fawad Mohammadi, Jawanmard Paiz
PLOT: Five short stories (each approximately 20 minutes long): a dead soldier works for a shadow collector in the afterlife, an elderly composer struggles with his memories, a suicidal drug addict is pressed into watching the daughter of his estranged sister, two Afghani lads hope to grow up to play Buzkashi, and a Somali boy must decide between becoming a pirate or a fisherman.
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: While the presence of the fantastical, steampunkish “Death of a Shadow” provides an excuse for us to review 2012’s crop of Oscar nominated live action shorts, none of the nominees are of sufficient strangeness to challenge for a spot on the List of the 366 Weirdest Movies of All Time. It’s still well worth your time to check out this slate of shorts if you get the chance.
COMMENTS: You might hope the Academy Awards would rename their “Best Short Film” category to “Best Realist Narrative Short Film” to reflect the fact that experimental, abstract, and surrealist films are not eligible to compete in the category (for boundary-pushing styles, you’ll have to rely on 366 Weird Movies Weirdest Short Film awards). The truth is that Academy probably considers the concepts of “narrative” and “realist” to be inherent in the definition of “Best.” When we think back over the most memorable and influential (post-silent era) short films of all time, titles like “Meshes of the Afternoon,” (1943), “La Jetee” (1962), and “Scorpio Rising” (1964) spring to mind. Naturally, none of these classics were acknowledged by the Academy, who instead consistently nominate competent but boring shorts that disappear into the mists of time. (Even 1956’s “The Red Balloon,” the sentimental story of the friendship between a boy and his helium-inflated buddy, was too “out there” for the squares at the Academy).
That’s why this year’s inclusion of “Death of a Shadow” is an encouraging departure: “Death” is still narrative and realist, but at least it’s magically realist. None of this year’s bundle of shorts innovate much or deviate from standard filmmaking techniques in any meaningful way. And, with the possible exception of “Henry,” none of them are really tuned in to the unique possibilities of the short format—they all look like stunted feature films, or standalone television episodes with artistic ambitions. This is not to say the assembly is bad—far from it, all of the films are of exceptionally high technical quality—but merely to point out that the Academy considers the short film category the minor leagues of feature filmmaking, a place where directors can demonstrate that they have the talent to someday helm a Hollywood movie.
We’ll tackle each of this year’s nominees in the order they appear in the program; by coincidence, the movie of most interest to our readers, “Death of a Shadow,” just happens to be first in the lineup. The premise verges on weird: after his death in WWI, a soldier goes to work for a mysterious shadow collector. He is given a camera he uses to snap photographs of people at the moment of their death, capturing a negative image of their spirit at the moment it leaves the body. Once he supplies the hobbyist with 10,000 postmortem shadows, the ghostly photographer will be allowed to return to the world of the living. He select his subjects from a giant database, half microfiche reader and half primitive punchcard computer. The film’s look is described as steampunk (although it’s not, technically); the in-story explanation for the retro-technology might be that the dead Continue reading CAPSULE: OSCAR NOMINATED SHORT FILMS (LIVE ACTION) (2012)