Review: Oscar-nominated shorts are long on quality
It's one of the cooler programs that Magnolia Pictures and Shorts International present every year: a compilation of the short films nominated for the Academy Awards.
Besides giving viewers a leg up in Oscar pools, the programs serve up a wide variety of what the world has to offer in tiny packages.
The marquee name in the animated program is Pixar's latest short, director Enrico Casarosa's wordless "La Luna," about a boy who gets indoctrinated in the family business: tending to the light of the moon. It's utterly charming, as are two nostalgia-tinged entries from the National Film Board of Canada: "Dimanche/Sunday," a line-drawn tale of a family dinner; and "Wild Life," a painterly look back at an Englishman-turned-cowboy.
The weirdest of the animated shorts, "A Morning Stroll," also played at the just-completed Sundance Film Festival. It's a bizarrely rendered tale of a guy and a chicken, told over a century. (It's the one animated short that might be too gross for the kiddies.)
The best of the animated lot is "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore," a dialogue-free story about the love of words. Its main character is a Buster Keaton-like figure who is blown from his New Orleans home into a strange land where books are alive and they welcome him as their new caretaker. The short is directed by Branden Oldenburg and William Joyce, the children's book author responsible for the whizbang creations of "Rolie Polie Olie" and "Robots."
(The five animated shorts add up to about 52 minutes, so Magnolia and Shorts International will be adding a few shorts as filler.)
On the live-action side, the fare ranges from cute to darkly dramatic.
The funny comes from "Time Freak," writer-director Andrew Bowler's wry take on the troubles of time travel, and Peter McDonald's Irish period piece "Pentecost," in which a soccer-mad boy must prove himself as an altar boy.
In the touching "The Shore," directed by Terry George ("Hotel Rwanda"), a man (Ciaran Hinds, last seen in "The Woman in Black") returns from America to his Northern Ireland hometown to make amends with his childhood friend. Another trans-Atlantic parting is played out in the absurd Norwegian story "Tuba Atlantic," as an irascible and terminally ill man (Edvard HÃ¦gstad) tries to make contact with his brother in New Jersey.
But the strongest film of the live-action program is the German drama "Raju," directed by Max ZÃ¤hle. It follows a German couple (Wotan Wilke MÃ¶hring and Julia Richter) who travel to Kolkata to adopt a 4-year-old boy but just as they're about to leave for Germany with him, they learn an uncomfortable secret.
Oscar-nominated animated shorts 2011
Oscar-nominated live-action shorts 2011
Two programs of fine films that prove it's not size or running time that counts.
Where •Tower Theatre, 876 E. 900 South, Salt Lake City
When • Opens Friday, Feb. 10.
Rating • Not rated, but each program is in the PG-13 range.
Running time • Animated program is 80 minutes; live-action program is 110 minutes, some of the shorts are subtitled.