No nonsense 

Oscar shorts show the power of brevity

The Roxy is offering cinema fans a special treat this week by presenting the 2016 Oscar-nominated short films in both the animated and live action categories. Of the many shorts made every year from around the world, the Academy can usually be counted on to pick a few good ones, and it's particularly true this year. Long story short: I really want you to go see these movies.

This year's Pixar entry, Sanjay's Super Team, is my second favorite of the animated films. It's adapted from filmmaker Sanjay Patel's real life experience of trying to get his American-born son interested in Hindu traditions. It's undeniably touching and the animation is expert. Whichever Disney and/or Pixar movie has been nominated often wins in the animated category, so this is probably your overall safest bet in an Oscar pool.

My favorite animation, World of Tomorrow, comes from Don Hertzfeldt, whose work you're probably familiar with, even if you don't know his name. He draws squiggly stick figures in hilarious, often adult situations. (The short Rejected and his 2007 critically successful trilogy are widely available on YouTube.) In World of Tomorrow, a little girl named Emily gets a visit from her clone twice removed, and from this we learn that the future is very strange and bleak indeed.

Other films in the animated category include the Russian production We Can't Live without Cosmos, about a couple of brothers in space, and Bear Story, out of Chile. The UK's mostly underwhelming Prologue comes with a special parental advisory. I guess you could usher the little ones out of the theater for a few minutes if you don't want them to see a warrior disemboweled with a sword, but I think it's just fine. (You may be shocked to learn that I don't have any children.)

click to enlarge “Twinkle, twinkle little square.”
  • “Twinkle, twinkle little square.”

This year's live action shorts are particularly thrilling. The best short films are about one crushing thing. They are like short stories in this way; there's an economy of storytelling and the characters are defined by their choices and actions. My favorites are a two-way tie between the German/Austrian film Everything Will Be Okay and the U.S.'s Day One.

In the first, we follow a divorced father as he takes his daughter on their usual weekend visitation, until the visit starts to look more like a kidnapping. Is this man bad to the core or has the love for his daughter just stretched him to desperate action? The movie's not saying, and so we're left with nothing but raw emotion and pity. In Day One, we meet an American interpreter on her first mission in Afghanistan, where translating for the soldiers becomes the least of her responsibilities and every task asks more of her than she originally supposed. (For example, there's a pregnant woman in a hut with a baby coming out breech). Day One succeeds in particular by showing us several complicated characters in such a brief space.

Other films include the maybe too precious Stutterer (UK/Ireland), about a guy who stutters, and Ave Maria (Palestine/France/Germany), wherein the lives of an Israeli family intersect with a group of nuns in the West Bank. The film Shok (Kosovo/UK) tells the story of best friends torn apart by war, and my cursory research suggests this is the category's frontrunner.

"I haven't seen any of these movies" is an Oscar party's most tired and frequent refrain. Luckily for these two categories, it's a disease with an easy cure.

The Roxy screens its program of Oscar-Nominated shorts starting Fri., Jan. 29. Visit the theroxytheater.org.>

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