The Oscars are a celebration of the best that filmmaking has to offer, whether the films run an excessive three hours or a scant two minutes. Everybody knows the big categories, whether it be Best Picture, Best Director, etc. Unfortunately, it seems like society as a whole just isn’t as interested in the short-film categories. This makes sense considering how hard it can be to track these films down. After all, why would you root for a film you had never seen, or even more likely, never heard of?
Now, thanks to Shorts HD, these terrific films are accessible to everybody. The three short film categories (live-action, animation, and documentary) will be released in over 200 theaters across the US, Canada and Europe beginning February 1. Starting February 19, these films will be available On Demand via US cable and satellite distributors and in iTunes Stores in 54 countries around the world. Not only will you see some great films, you’ll be able to have a rooting interest in these categories come Oscar Sunday.
Having been given the opportunity to already see all these films, I can tell you that there are some incredible nominees this year. Sure, I like some better than others, but I can’t think of any in the group that aren’t worth seeing. I’ll just briefly run through the list, give a couple of quick thoughts, and then leave it to you to seek these amazing works out.
There are five nominees in the Animated Short Film category. Interestingly, none of them have any dialogue, allowing for the animation to tell the stories. In my mind, there is no question that the frontrunner is Paperman, a Disney Animation production that screened in the theaters prior to Wreck-It Ralph. An innovative blending of traditional and computer animation, this is a charming story that the Academy is bound to love.
On the other end of the scale is my least favorite film in this category, Adam and Dog. This is the story of the world’s first dog and his initial encounter with the world’s first man, and the eventual heartbreak when Adam rejects the dog upon meeting Eve. It’s an interesting setup for a film, but it really drags. There are REALLY long stretches where nothing happens, and in the end, the payoff just isn’t worth it.
One of the more creative films in the group is also the shortest. Really hard to describe, Fresh Guacamole is nothing but a hand preparing guacamole out of objects ranging from golf balls to poker chips. It’s quirky and fun. It won’t win, but it’s a lot of fun.
Maggie Simpson in the Longest Daycare is a ten minute, wordless Simpson episode. I enjoyed it, but it feels like the odd one out in this grouping. The best part is a new score from Hans Zimmer (who did the soundtrack for The Simpsons Movie). There are some laughs and some good animation, but this could have come straight from the show. Not sure how they snuck this one in.
Finally, Head Over Heels is a stop-motion animated look at an old married couple who are so disinterested in each other that they live on opposite sides of the house. That is, one lives on the floor and the other on the ceiling. Oh, and it’s a flying, spinning house. In their world, neither side is up and neither side is down. They have rigged the house to accommodate these arrangements, and have come to terms that they will spend their days isolated from each other in such a way. As feelings are rekindled, they crashland on solid ground, forcing them to figure out how to live with one trapped floating on the ceiling. It’s very clever and definitely a worthy nominee.
As for the Live-Action films, my favorite was Death of a Shadow. A soldier works for the personification of death, using a supernatural camera to capture the shadows that occur at the exact moment somebody dies. These shadows are then displayed in an endless hallway of morbidity. This combination of creative storytelling and inventive filmmaking puts it at the top of my list.
Curfew was a fun character piece about a suicidal man asked to babysit his niece he hasn’t been allowed to see in years. It’s funny, charming, and contains an extremely memorable musical number in a bowling alley. This was a great film.
Asad tells the story of a boy from a Somali village who wants to be a fisherman, but is being pressured to become a pirate. This is played very seriously with a shocking ending. It’s a very well made film, absolutely worth seeing.
Henry is the story of an elderly concert pianist who finds his world crumbling around him when his wife goes missing. What starts as a mysterious conspiracy thriller ends up a meditation on old age and senility. It’s a beautiful film.
Finally, Buzkashi Boys is a fantastic film about two boys in Afghanistan, one the son of a blacksmith destined to become a blacksmith himself, and the other an orphan who dreams of growing up to play Buzkashi, a brutal variation on polo featuring a dead goat. This is a brutal film, with some heartbreaking moments. The two boys are terrific in their roles, and the payoff is well earned.
While some are definitely better than others, this is a collection of films not to be missed. With the Oscars fast approaching, there is only a limited time to see them prior to the Ceremony. You’ll be glad you did.