Not every story needs two hours to tell, and some of the best — like the 10 films nominated in the animated and live-action short film categories for the Academy Awards — offer snapshots that can intrigue, beguile and leave the audience wanting more.
In the animated section, the likely Oscar winner has the biggest star power: “Dear Basketball,” in which former Disney animator Glen Keane creates a luminous sketchbook of Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant’s career, with Bryant reading his farewell letter to the game as the narration.
My favorite of the five animated shorts is well known to family audiences: “Lou,” directed by Dave Mullins, a clever and sweet Pixar production about a sentient pile of playground items teaching a bully a lesson. (It played in theaters alongside “Cars 3” last summer.)
The animated program is dominated by the 29-minute British tale “Revolting Rhymes,” which presents Roald Dahl’s nicely twisted variations of Little Red Riding Hood, Snow White, and the Three Little Pigs — all told by a wise wolf (voiced by Dominic West). This one has an Oscar pedigree, since it’s directed by Jakob Schuh (who co-directed the 2011 nominee “The Gruffalo”) and Jan Lachauer (who co-directed the 2014 nominee “Room on the Broom”).
Also nominated are: the poignant stop-motion story “Negative Space,” by Max Porter and Ru Kuwahata, in which a man recounts bonding with his father over packing luggage; and the slightly nauseating French computer-animated “Garden Party,” in which frogs reclaim the habitat of an abandoned mansion pool. Three more animated shorts, none of them nominated, round out the program.
It’s always difficult to tell what Academy voters are thinking with the live-action shorts, as the range of options goes from quiet drama to offbeat comedy to violent message movie.
Perhaps the most headline-grabbing of the five is “DeKalb Elementary,” in which an Atlanta school’s receptionist (Tarra Riggs) must keep her cool when an unstable young man (Bo Mitchell) enters her office with an assault rifle and a backpack full of ammunition. Writer-director Reed Van Dyk creates maximum tension in a confined space.
Two based-on-a-true-story dramas show the effects of racism and hate on their victims. Katja Benrath’s “Watu Wote / All of Us” depicts a 2015 incident in Kenya, where Muslim bus passengers protected Christians on their bus from Al-Shabaab terrorists. And Kevin Wilson Jr.’s “My Nephew Emmett” is set in 1955, as preacher Mose Wright must protect his nephew, 14-year-old Emmett Till, when racists want to punish him for whistling at a white woman.
The comic relief comes from Australia, where director Derin Seale sets “The Eleven O’Clock.” This funny sketch focuses on two men (played by Josh Lawson, who wrote it, and Damon Herriman), one of whom is a psychiatrist, the other a delusional patient who thinks he’s a psychiatrist.
But the best of the five, and possibly the most heartbreaking, is director Chris Overton’s “The Silent Child,” about a deaf 4-year-old (Maisie Sly) whose world opens up when a social worker (Rachel Shenton, who wrote it) starts teaching her sign language. More than any other film in these two programs, “The Silent Child” is the one that practically has you demanding to know what happens next.
Oscar nominated animated shorts
Oscar nominated live-action shorts
Ten short films, from offbeat comedy to searing drama, in bite-size chunks.
Where • Area theaters.
When • Opens Friday, Feb. 9.
Rating • Not rated; one animated short may be PG-13 for images of violence; two of the live-action shorts may be R for violence.
Running time • The animated shorts program is 83 minutes; the live-action shorts program is 97 minutes.