The Oscar Nominated Short Films open Friday at Landmark's Keystone Art Cinema, bundled into two separate packages: Live Action and Animated.
Asad: Set in war-torn Somalia and featuring a cast made up entirely of Somalian refugees. "Asad" is the tale of a young boy in a fishing village who must decide whether to follow the path of many of his peers and become a modern-day pirate or become a fisherman. The well-done story features fine performances from all, particularly the kid and the old man who mentors him. Solid work all around on this one.
Buzkashi Boys: The national sport of Afghanistan is Buzkashi, a polo-style game played with a dead goat. Yes, you read right. The story follows two boys, one a street urchin who dreams of becoming a Buzkashi player, the other the son of a blacksmith who disapproves of the friendship. The boys are charmers and the tale of the costs of realizing a dream is touching. The best of this year's nominees, even with the dead goat business, Buzkashi Boys was also nominated for Best Short Film, Live Action at the 2012 Heartland Film Festival.
Curfew: A suicidal man gets a call from his estranged sister asking him to babysit his nine-year-old niece for the evening. The story ain't subtle, and it goes exactly where it looks like it's going, but the dialogue is sound and the acting between the adult man and the young girl is so spot-on that the structural flaws are forgivable.
Death of a Shadow: This sorta steam punk feature is the most romantic of the nominees. Nathan dies as a soldier in World War I, but an otherworldly collector captured his shadow and cut him a deal: he gets a second life in exchange for capturing 10,000 shadows. Nathan dreams of reuniting with his beloved Sarah, but discovers she is in love with another man and ... The Twilight Zone tone of the feature seems at odds with the romantic elements of the story, but it all comes together in the end.
Henry: Concert pianist Henry is thrown for a loop when Maria, the love of his life, disappears abruptly and he starts flashing back to earlier points in his life. Strong acting and a sure directorial hand steady the familiar entry.
Adam and Dog: Man and dog bond for the first time in this in this delightful story set in the Garden of Eden. The artwork is fresh and attractive without feeling overthought. The story is crisp, clean and gently moving.
Fresh Guacamole: The shortest of the animated nominees shows how to make guacamole out of a diverse set of ingredients ranging from a hand grenade to dice. Is the filmmaker making a statement with his choice of ingredients? I didn't have time to analyze the feature. I just sat back and watched the zippy computer-generated preparation of the imaginative dish.
Head Over Heels: The most poignant and visually arresting of the films is this tale of a married couple who have grown so far apart that he lives on the floor and she lives on the ceiling of their floating home. The story is effectively told, but the images are the strongest part of the story. I especially admired the clever use of shoes by the wife during the roughest part of the marital journey. Head Over Heels won the 2012 Heartland Film Festival Grand Prize for Best Short Film.
Maggie Simpson in "The Longest Daycare": Plucky Maggie gets dropped off at the Ayn Rand Daycare Center, where she tries to protect a cocoon from butterfly-smashing unibrow baby Gerald. Charming, poetic and funny.
Paperman: Black and white story of a NYC office worker who encounters Miss Right and tries to reconnect with her. Nice retro drawings, though the paper airplane hijinks look machine made. A diverting minor offering.
NOTE: Because the nominees are all less than ten minutes, the animated features package will include three bonus noncompeting shorts.