Last week the Academy announced its shortlist for Best Live Action Short, a typically eclectic and international bunch. However, forgive me if I approach this category with a bit more cynicism than Best Animated short, the shortlist for which I broke down last month. The Live Action Short nominees are often pretty easily broken up into types, almost as if the Academy has had strange genre requirements these last few years. They go for stories about cute children in the United Kingdom or Australia or Ireland, often about religion and always with an adorable accent. They also like kids in third world countries, though they prefer them a bit sadder. The list is rounded out by talky New York stories, especially in black and white, and there’s an almost annual spot for a Northern European comedy.
For the last 4-5 years or so, this has been almost a rule.
However, 2012 looks to be a little different, at least initially. There are two oddities right off the bat: there are eleven films instead of the usual ten, yet none of them qualified via the Student Academy Awards. Last year’s Tuba Atlantic, by far the best of the bunch, was a student nominee, as was 2010 winner God of Love. The new group still contains quite a bit of the major “types” of nominees, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t excellent films. Fortunately, most of them have trailers to discover beyond a simple synopsis.
A Fábrica (The Factory), by Aly Muritiba
The first on the list comes from Brazil, where it has won a number of festival prizes. Aly Muritiba also won success on that circuit with his 2008 short, Com as Próprias Mãos, which is available to watch online (if you understand Portuguese). The trailer to A Fábrica also has no subtitles, though now that the short is getting Oscar attention perhaps they will be added. In the meantime, watch it anyway. There isn’t much dialog, and the story is simple: a mother is trying to smuggle a cell phone to her son in prison, any way she can.
Asad, by Bryan Buckley
This short is an example of an interesting new trend in the category, Western filmmakers going out into the world to work. There are four on the list, all of them about children in poverty around the world. Asad comes from Bryan Buckley, whose prior work has mostly been in commercials. He went to Somalia, got a number of the local fisherman to act in his film, and created this coming-of-age tale about a naive boy caught between honest fishing and dangerous piracy.
Buzkashi Boys, by Sam French
Sam French went to Afghanistan in 2008, shortly thereafter founding Development Pictures in Kabul. The production company makes documentaries about the region, commercials and music videos for Afghan organizations and companies. Buzkashi Boys, as a narrative film, is therefore a bit of a departure. It tells the story of two young boys who want to grow up and play Buzkashi, a local sport very similar to polo, with the ball being replaced by a headless goat carcass. The trailer is a bit too much, but trailers for short films are often terrible so let’s not lose hope.
Curfew, by Shawn Christensen
Curfew is one of my favorite short films of the year. I saw it at Tribeca and again at New York Film Festival (review), and I hope to see it playing theaters this February as an Oscar nominee. The film balances an almost cliché story, attempted suicide prevented by a last-minute phone call from a sister in need, with a bold sense of cinematic style. This could easily take the New York spot in the final list of five, though it might be a little too daring to actually win.
Death of a Shadow, by Tom Van Avermaet
Death of a Shadow, meanwhile, is the short on this list I am most excited to see. According to the YoutTube description, Tom Van Avermaet‘s stylish film is the story of a World War One veteran tasked with collecting shadows. He does it by using what appears to be a quirky collection of steampunk cameras and engines, capturing the silhouettes themselves. Matthias Schoenaerts (Bullhead, Rust and Bone) stars.
Henry, Yan England
Yan England, you are a hard man to find. There’s no trailer available, though there is a brief description available on the website of the Cleveland International Film Festival: this is a Canadian film about a concert pianist in crisis. England himself is an actor, primarily on Québécois television. This is his second short film.
Kiruna-Kigali, by Goran Kapetanovic
Taking an international path, similar to that laid out by last year’s nominee Raju, Goran Kapetanovic has paired two distant stories together. A woman is being carried to the hospital in Kigali, Rwanda to give birth to her child. At that exact moment another woman has gone into labor in Kiruna, Sweden. I’d expect it to be about disparities in global healthcare, but also probably about the universality of motherhood.
The Night Shift Belongs to the Stars, by Edoardo Ponti
There’s no trailer for this one yet either, though the website promises one soon. The story is one of implied infidelity, a married woman climbing a mountain in Italy with a fellow enthusiast who is not her husband. She is played by Nastassja Kinski, while her husband at home is Julian Sands. For an Oscar short, that counts as star-studded. This could either be utter schlock or a Hemingway-inflected success.
9 Meter, by Anders Walther
There is currently no information online about 9 Meter beyond the fact that it’s Danish. If you know anything, please leave a comment.
Salar, by Nicholas Greene
Another international production, this features American director Nicholas Greene in Bolivia, making a film about injustice on the salt flats. The protagonist is a salt miner, who refuses to go along with the corporate takeover of the industry by foreign companies looking to exploit local workers. He ends up getting stabbed in the hand.
when you find me, by Bryce Dallas Howard
Lastly, here’s the big story everyone has been talking about. Bryce Dallas Howard directed this short, produced by Ron Howard and ‘inspired’ by a project he’s been doing with Canon. The result is this 24-minute short, a heartfelt narrative of two sisters who have drifted apart over the years. Until recently, it was available in full online. Unfortunately, it’s both sappy and clunky. If last year’s win for Terry Geroge‘s The Shore is any indication, however, that might actually work in its favor. Everyone in Hollywood likes Ron Howard, so this has a decent shot at winning in spite of itself.