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Nominees for Oscar shorts pack a big wallop

Viewers watching the Academy Awards are usually clueless when the winners of short films are announced.

There’s a good reason, of course: few people ever see them.

There was a time, until sometime in the 1960s, when short films such as cartoons, serials and comedies, along with newsreels, were standard-issue programming before double features.

It’s a shame they’re so rarely shown in theaters now, because they are often really good. Luckily for Buffalonians, Dipson Theatres has been presenting the nominees in live action and animation since 2007. This year, Dipson is showing the shorts at the Eastern Hills Cinema. The shorts are broken into two larger showings (with separate admission): Animated Shorts (56 minutes in total) and Live Action Shorts (107 minutes total).

The contenders this year make a trip to the movie theater once again well worth it. The artfully rendered and often exceptionally made nominees range from tragic heartbreakers in war-torn areas to whimsical space flights of fancy.

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences defines a short film as being an original picture no longer than 40 minutes long, credits included. That’s made to order for people with short attention spans, or those who look forward to a variety of viewing experiences in one sitting.

These films, after all, are small only in terms of their length.

Here’s a look at the shorts, in order of preference.

Animation shorts

“Bear Story,” directed by Gabriel Osorio, Chile, 11 minutes.

This beautiful and bittersweet 3-D film centers on a tin toy bear who has been dragged from his family and forced to perform in a circus. The meticulously animated story is viewed through the diorama inside a wooden wonder box shown by an old bear on a street corner. With great sound effects.

“We Can’t Live Without Cosmos,” directed by Konstantin Bronzit, Russia, 16 minutes.

Two friends are put through rigorous trials to become cosmonauts under the watchful eyes of men in white coats in this terrifically animated film. Excellent sound here, too.

“Sanjay’s Super Team,” directed by Sanjay Patel, USA, 7 minutes.

This Pixar Animation Studios film created by one of its longtime animators has shown in local movie theaters. The film begins with Sanjay, an Indian boy who reluctantly sits next to his father for a religious meditation in front of a Hindu shrine. Gripping a superhero toy, Sanjay is suddenly catapulted into a temple where Hindu gods as superheroes do battle with monsters in flashy sequences.

“Prologue,” directed by Richard Williams, United Kingdom. 6 minutes.

This powerful short short consists of a bloody and violent battle scene between four men shown in full frontal nudity. Not for the squeamish, or children.

“World of Tomorrow,” directed by Don Hertzfeldt, USA, 17 minutes.

This short film with simply drawn characters is about an emotionally stunted and confused adult clone – her love interests include a rock and a fuel pump – explaining her confused life to a cute toddler clone in a Big Brother world.

Note: There were four nominated films not on the screener available for review. They are:

“If I Was God,” directed by Cordell Baker, Canada, 9 minutes.

A 12-year-old boy speculates what he would do if he was God while dissecting a frog in biology class.

“The Short Story of a Fox and a Mouse,” directed by Hugo Jean, France, 7 minutes.

A hungry gray fox gets more than expected when confronted by no ordinary mouse.

“The Loneliest Spotlight,” directed by Bill Plympton, USA, 6 minutes.

The life and times of a neglected stoplight, voiced by Patton Oswalt.

“Catch It,” France, 5 minutes.

Meerkats scuffle with a vulture in the savannah.

Live-action shorts

“Shok, directed by Jamie Donoughue, Kosovo/UK, 21 minutes.

The danger of trading with Serbian soldiers catches up with two Albanian boys in this brutal and tragic story based on true events. A child’s bike may not look the same after watching.

“Stutterer,” directed by Benjamin Cleary, United Kingdom/Ireland, 12 minutes.

Typographer Greenwood has a severe stuttering problem, and is thrown into a panic when the woman he has a six-month Internet relationship with announces she is in London – and wants to meet. The ending alone is worth the price of admission.

“Everything Will Be OK,” directed by Patrick Vollrath, Germany/Austria, 30 minutes.

Michael, a divorced father, picks up his 8-year-old daughter, Lea, for a trip to the fair. But he has something else in mind in what turns quickly into a gripping thriller as experienced by the girl’s growing unease.

“Ave Maria,” directed by Basil Khalil, Palestine/France/Germany, 15 minutes.

Five nuns following a vow of silence in a Palestinian convent receive unexpected visitors when an orthodox Jewish family’s car breaks down on the Sabbath. Oy vey! Surprises await.

“Day One,” directed by Henry Hughes, USA, 25 minutes.

An Afghan-American interpreter working her first day with U.S. military forces in Afghanistan is quickly confronted by the horrors of war. That includes a pregnant woman who is married to a captured bomb-maker and will die unless her baby can be delivered.


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