Where does “Death of a Shadow” take place? DON’T ASK QUESTIONS.
Need a good cry? An Academy Award-nominated short film is a shortcut to catharsis. With one exception, this year’s live-action and animated honorees are emotionally manipulative in the best of ways. Some are flat-out heartbreaking; others are moving or achingly sweet. See them at Landmark E Street Cinema (555 11th St. NW; 202-452-7672) from Friday through Feb. 14, or on iTunes and various on-demand services beginning Feb. 19. Happy weeping!
Death of a Shadow (20 minutes) Don’t ask too many questions or you’ll ruin this one. A depressed, deceased World War I soldier captures moments of death with a crazy steampunk camera that records only shadows. He brings these afterimages to his weirdo captor, a collector who will give the soldier back his life once he retrieves 10,000 shadows. Are they souls? Stop asking stuff! The woman he loves complicates matters. Weep Level: “12 Monkeys”
Asad (18 minutes) Deadpan snarker Asad wants to be either a pirate or a fisherman. Despite dark, dark moments, the film’s tone is light, even jaunty. Until you get to the credits, because everyone in “Asad” is a Somali refugee. Weep Level:“Stand by Me”
Buzkashi Boys (28 minutes) Two Afghan kids, a ragamuffin and a blacksmith’s son, bond over Buzkashi, a polo-like game with a dead goat as the ball. (The goat’s not on screen for long, thank heaven.) They run around Kabul, getting into trouble and chasing the Buzkashi dream. Weep Level: “Bridge to Terabithia”
Henry (21 minutes) Look at the expression on Henry’s face. He’s lost and confused and old! He’s wondering where his wife disappeared to and why he’s in a nursing home and how he keeps going back in time! More reasons this one’s a five-alarm hankie-fest: Writer-director Yan England based the film on his grandfather’s final moments. And Henry is a pianist and his wife a violinist, so brace yourself for duets of unrelenting poignancy. Weep Level: “Up”
Curfew (19 minutes) A destitute failure is busy slitting his wrists when his estranged sister calls and begs him to baby-sit his niece, whom he hasn’t seen in years. Nine-year-old Sophia is as insightful, adorable and bratty as is necessary to salvage her uncle’s will to live. Expect tears when you find out why she’s named Sophia. Weep Level: “About a Boy”
Fresh Guacamole (2 minutes) This sneeze of intense color and surprising imagery reimagines guac-making, with grenades standing in for avocados, red dice for cubed tomatoes and poker chips for tortilla chips. Hungry (for a casino) yet? Weep Level: Chopping onions
Paperman (7 minutes) It’s love at first sight for a lonely Disney man (not a prince; his nose is too big) and a pretty Disney lady. But she gets on a train! He sees her again from afar and starts throwing paper airplanes to get her attention. Weep Level: “Sleepless in Seattle”
The Longest Daycare (5 minutes) Maggie Simpson does time in the Ayn Rand Daycare Center, where she tries to save a butterfly from Baby Gerald, aka the baby with the black unibrow. “Gentle fable” and “The Simpsons” don’t usually go together. Maybe that’s why this got an Oscar nomination? Weep Level: “Bambi”
Head Over Heels (10 minutes) Mr. Unhappy Marriage lives on the floor, right-side up. Mrs. Unhappy Marriage lives on the ceiling, upside down. (Or is it the other way around? By the end, you won’t know.) The missus, a former ballerina, still does the chores, cranking her husband’s chair upward (downward?) so she can vacuum over her head/under his feet. Will they meet in the middle — or at least make eye contact again? Weep Level: “The Notebook”
Adam and Dog (16 minutes) Anything with “dog” in the title has the potential to evoke a geyser of tears. “Adam and Dog,” about the Earth’s first couple (Eve comes later in this version), proves dogs will follow you anywhere if you give them snacks — even past the Fall of Man. Weep Level: “Lassie Come Home”