The two standouts in this year's field of five Oscar-nominated live-action shorts sift through the strain of growing up in a world tarnished by war, and both are strong in their assertion that the most glamorous path is rarely the right one.
In Asad (pictured), writer/director Bryan Buckley leads a cast of real-life Somali refugees in a taut, lively tale of the precocious title boy (Harun Mohammed), torn between joining his young friends on pirate skiffs or following the virtuous footsteps of poor-but-proud fisherman Erasto (Ibrahim Moallim Hussein).
Filmed on location in Kabul through the nonprofit Afghan Film Project, Sam French's Buzkashi Boys is the most visually beautiful of the nominees, detailing the dreams of two youths (Fawad Mohammadi and Jawanmard Paiz) whose fates already seem to be sealed.
American screenwriter and musician Shawn Christensen stars in his own winner, Curfew, following his suicidal character's unexpected New York City day with his incisive niece (Fatima Ptacek).
Matthias Schoenaerts, the gifted star of 2012 foreign standout Rust and Bone, brings a distinct energy to Death of a Shadow, an imaginative, steampunk-influenced tale of a World War I soldier wedged between life and death.
The most problematic of the nominees might be Yan England's Henry, which explores age and loss in a manner that squanders an early sense of intrigue.