This year’s crop of Oscar-nominated live-action and animated shorts — five in each category — are a hodgepodge of quality, country of origin and artistic intent. They range from experimental whimsy to brutally realistic Third World drama. Some are original and intriguing, seemingly made by people with a passionate need to express what’s on their minds. Others are conservative and dutiful, as if their career-minded creators are hoping to catch studio executives’ eyes.
One of the brighter bulbs on the live-action marquee is the eerie, stylish Belgian vignette “Death of a Shadow.” It stars “Rust and Bone” hunk Matthias Schoenaerts as Nathan, a World War I casualty on a one-year reprieve from death. The grim reaper himself admires Nathan’s skill as a photographer, employing him to snap amusingly composed silhouette pictures of mortals at the moment of their demise. Mr. Death hangs the prints in a macabre gallery, savoring the images like a connoisseur. When Nathan’s term of service is over, he can return to the realm of the living. Unfortunately, he develops tender feelings for one subject, putting his resurrection in jeopardy. The atmosphere is suitably mysterious, the production design darkly luscious and the plot machinations suspenseful until the fade-out.
The other live-action entries, in decreasing order of interest:
The short reflects the long, slow creative decline of the classic TV series. Somebody tell the writing staff that jokes about annoying security screenings are about nine years out of date.