Oscar-nominated short films play more like audition pieces

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Friday, February 11, 2011 12:01am
  • Life

Now that there’s less time between the announcement of the Academy Award nominations and the ceremony itself, the organizers of the annual theatrical run of the Oscar-nominated short films really have to hustle to get their packages together.

But here they are, in plenty of time to beat the Feb. 27 awards date. Split into two programs, one for animation and one for live action, the slates gather all the nominated short films, and a couple of bonus cartoons to fill out the animated roster to 90 minutes or so.

You may have seen “Day & Night” before screenings of “Toy Story 3.” It’s a simple but ingenious piece about two blobs — one reflecting daylight, one reflecting night — who are wary of each other because of the difference.

That one’s got a nice message. There’s way too much message in “Let’s Pollute,” a heavy-handed parody of social-instruction films.

“The Gruffalo” is a half-hour tale, originally broadcast as a BBC special, about a mouse that invents a fearsome forest monster to scare off predators. It’s cute, with no shortage of name actors in the cast (Helena Bonham Carter and John Hurt among them), although it might have moved along a little quicker.

A nerd factor often runs through animated shorts, and “The Lost Thing” fulfills that function here; a man discovers a hard-to-describe object and incorporates it into his life.

“Day & Night” will probably win the Oscar, but Bastien Dubois’ “Madagascar, a Journey Diary,” from France, is the most original piece. It’s like looking through someone’s sketchbook (but with audio, too) on the subject of a trip to Madagascar — the real one, not the Hollywood version with cartoon lemurs.

In live action shorts, the “short” part also applies to the size of the actors: Childhood seems to be a popular subject in this field. “The Confession,” from England, is a somber piece about two boys whose prank goes fatally wrong. It’s superbly mounted, but the story is pat. Even the surprises aren’t surprising.

“The Crush,” from Ireland, begins in a whimsical key — the old one about a lad who idolizes his pretty teacher — and then gets a little odd as the boy challenges his teacher’s fiance to a duel.

“God of Love ” is a goof about a small-time singer “who melts hearts while he throws darts,” played by director Luke Methany, a sort of frizzy-headed Jeff Goldblum with crack comic timing. The black-and-white is a great look, and Methany’s fairy-tale idea — about a magical love spell carried by Cupid darts — is amusing.

“Na Wewe” comes from Belgium, but the setting is Africa, specifically, Burundi in 1994, in the period of ethnic slaughter. Director Ivan Goldschmidt takes a decidedly offbeat approach to a tense moment: A group of travelers is caught by a Hutu militia, who seek to kill any Tutsis they find.

The problem with many of the live-action shorts is how much they look like audition pieces for bigger things. The only one with an indie vibe, “God of Love,” also is the best. Maybe that says something, and maybe the voters could try getting a little edgier next time.

Oscar-nominated shorts

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