The Short on Shorts

My press email about this year’s crop of Oscar shorts notes that all the animated shorts are rated approximately PG, except “Prologue,” which is described as “not suitable for children.” I would go a step further and say it’s not suitable to be a nominee; it’s more of a five-minute demo reel for someone who clearly has talent but little to say. Thankfully, the rest of the animated shorts are much better, though it’s amusing to imagine a child’s response to “World of Tomorrow,” a peculiar and playful tale about a clone who comes from the future to talk to her original — who’s about 4 years old. An almost Douglas Adams-y sense of humor suffuses the film, which is not going to win (it’s too quirky and weird and dry), but which is perfectly suited to the short medium. 

Sanjay’s Super Team
World of Tomorrow
Bear Story
We Can’t Live Without Cosmos

Overall, the animated shorts seem actually intended to be, well, short, while the live action pieces feel like shrunken features into which an abundance of sentiment has been infused. On the animated side, “We Can’t Live Without Cosmos,” a melancholy, wordless piece from Russia, imagines the connection between two astronauts-in-training; the stunningly detailed “Bear Story” from Chile is a story-within-a-story involving a bear and the family he lost when he was kidnapped by the circus. It’s probably the frontrunner against the lovely epic-in-miniature that is Pixar’s entry. The animation giant’s record at the Oscars is hit or miss, but “Sanjay’s Super Team,” in which a superhero-loving young boy and his more traditional father find common ground via the father’s meditation and the boy’s imagination, is right in the Pixar sweet spot.

The animation nominees are largely a delight; the live-action, not so much. Melodramatic, blandly traditional storytelling dominates, from the sleek, coolly shot “Everything Will Be OK,” in which a father tries to extend his time with his young daughter, to “Day One,” another well-made but treacly entry in the human-side-of-war canon (the cast in this one is particularly good, but the movie takes an interesting premise and makes it somehow too familiar). “Shok” starts out in a worrying way — scrappy kids in wartime — but it offers a look at a war American audiences have seen little of onscreen, and its practical sense of everyday horror makes it surprisingly affecting. 

“Ave Maria” is this year’s lone humorous entry, and its endearing quirks battle for dominance with three clichéd characters and a looseness that verges too close to nonsense (why does the family in the car run into the statue? Because plot, that’s why). “Stutterer,” while very nearly too cute, infuses its romantic premise with the inner life of its stuttering main character, who narrates clever snap judgments about the strangers he sees — and judges himself even more harshly. Like most of the other entries, it’s crisply shot, beautifully lit and ultimately underwhelming, but even this cynic has to admit it’s probably the winner of the bunch. (Bijou Art Cinemas & Bijou Metro)