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Taking the Short Route to an Oscar Nomination

MOVIE REVIEW
2009 Oscar-Nominated Shorts

4
Disney/Pixar

Shorts International continues the annual pre-Oscar tradition by releasing the entire staple of Academy Award nominated shorts in two separate programs, namely live-action and animated. This is a valuable service for two reasons: First, it’s a great way to experience a form of filmmaking typically exclusive to festivals, special screenings and the Internet. Second, it’ll help you get a leg up on your competitors in this year’s Oscar pool. The days of randomly selecting the most awards-worthy sounding title as your pick in both short film categories are now over.

The animated offerings demonstrate a mastery of the short-film format that their live-action counterparts largely fail to match. The five selections feature a wide range of tones and styles, and they make careful use of the medium’s advanced visual possibilities. “La maison en petits cubes” from Japanese director Kunio Kato stands apart from the pack with its unique, grainy look, haunting score and surprising emotional weight. It follows a downtrodden old man as he collects valuables from his flooded home and flashes back to happier moments in the different waterlogged rooms.

Competitors are “Lavatory,” a line drawn love story; “Oktapodi,” about two octopi desperate to stay together; “This Way Up,” in which undertakers experience a series of obstacles as they bring a casket to its grave; and “Presto,” a Pixar effort about a magician and his hungry rabbit. The latter film, blithe and charming, will most likely win the Oscar. One should never underestimate the company’s appeal or the impact of the short’s exposure in front of “Wall-E” during its theatrical release.

In just 30 minutes, “Auf der Strecke (On the Line)” memorably evokes feelings of guilt, obsession and lust, develops a classical, well-rounded narrative, and puts forth two interesting characters. From director Reto Caffi, the best of the live-action shorts meets the stiffest challenge of all by coming across as weighty and substantive as a quality feature. Chances are its makers will leave Oscar night empty-handed, however, as the pictures faces a Holocaust-set competitor (and automatic prohibitive front-runner) in “Spielzeugland (Toyland).” Other entries in the category – varying widely in quality – are the satiric “The Pig,” the socially conscious “New Boy” and the romantic “Manon on the Asphalt.”

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