• Fawad Mohammadi in Buzkashi Boys

All this month we’ve been reviewing the Oscar nominees for the best animated, live-action, and documentary short films, alternating daily between categories. This is the last entry.

As I wrap up my coverage of this year’s crop of live-action nominees, I’ve somehow managed to save the best for last—as did my colleague Ben Sachs, apparently. At an even 30 minutes, Buzkashi Boys is the longest of the bunch (the others averaged out to around 20 minutes apiece), but director Sam French doesn’t let a second go to waste, displaying a strong command of form and structure.

The film tells the story of two young Afghan boys from different walks of life: Ahmad (Jawanmard Paiz) is a wily, homeless orphan who scrapes by performing magic tricks for the townspeople, while Rafi (Fawad Mohammadi) is the son of a local blacksmith destined to follow in his father’s footsteps. The one thing the boys have in common is their love for buzkashi, the Afghan national sport that’s similar to polo in that it’s played on horseback, but unlike polo in that rather than with a ball, the game is played with a dead goat.