Movie review: Oscar-nominated shorts are long on beauty
Review • Animated program is full of great wordless stories.
Published: February 5, 2013 10:06AM
Updated: May 21, 2013 11:31PM
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Shorts International An image from the Oscar-nominated animated short film "Maggie Simpson in 'The Longest Daycare.'" David Silverman/Matt Groening | 20th Century Fox/courtesy

Most years, Shorts International’s presentation of the year’s Oscar-nominated short films is a great way for movie buffs to get a leg up on the competition in the office Oscars pool.

This year, it’s more than that. The Live-Action compilation has some good stuff — while the Animation program is possibly the best thing you’ll see on a movie screen all month.

In these five short films are a wide variety of animation styles, ranging from broad comedy to surreal visuals to stirring romance. And each of them does it without uttering a word.

Two of the shorts might be familiar to moviegoers, especially those with kids. “Maggie Simpson in ‘The Longest Daycare’ ”— in which the youngest member of the Simpsons clan tries to save a butterfly from a bullying baby —played in front of “Ice Age: Continental Drift.” And John Kahrs’ “Paperman,” a sweetly rendered black-and-white office romance, was the opening act for Disney’s “Wreck-It Ralph.”

The other three animated shorts are also delightful. Minkyu Lee, a character designer at Disney, creates a luminous Garden of Eden in the gentle “Adam and Dog.” British animator Timothy Reckart’s stop-motion tale “Head Over Heels,” about a feuding couple in a topsy-turvy house, is winsomely romantic. And “Fresh Guacamole,” a two-minute wonder from the video artist Adam Pesapane (who goes by the moniker PES), cleverly reimagines household objects — from Monopoly houses to dice — into a spicy combination.

The live-action show isn’t as consistently brilliant as the animated offerings, but there are some beautiful films here.

The weak sister is the one English-language entry, “Curfew,” a thin New York drama about a suicidal screw-up (played by Shawn Christensen, the film’s writer-director) called upon to babysit his precocious niece (Fatima Ptacek).

Two quietly observant films also focus on children, both in war-torn nations: Bryan Buckley’s “Asad” centers on a Somali lad (Harun Mohammed), who goes fishing as his older friends join the pirates; and Sam French’s “Buzkashi Boys” uses the Afghan sport of buzkashi (in which men on horses fight over a goat carcass) as a backdrop for two boys torn between dreams and obligations.

The best two live-action shorts mix surreal touches into the drama. Yan England’s French-Canadian tearjerker “Henry” follows an aged pianist (Gérard Poirier) as he walks through fading memories of his life and marriage. And Belgian filmmaker Tom Van Avermaet’s science-fiction tale “Death of a Shadow” is the best of the bunch, a trippy tale of a slain soldier (Matthias Schoenaerts, from “Rust and Bone”) tasked with collecting the shadows of 10,000 deaths for a mysterious curator so he can regain his life.

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The Oscar-Nominated Short Films 2013: Animation

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The Oscar-Nominated Short Films 2013: Live-Action

A mixed bag of live-action shorts, but a stellar array of animated gems.

Where • Tower Theatre.

When • Opens today.

Rating • Not rated, but probably PG-13 for each show, for cartoon nudity (in the Animation collection) and some violence and language (in the Live-Action show).

Running time • Animation, 41 minutes; Live-Action, 107 mins.