With two weeks left before this year's Oscar ceremony, moviegoers in major US cities have the opportunity starting today to see The 81st Academy Award-Nominated Short Films in local theaters. According to press notes, the theatrical release of each year's nominees since 2005 has experienced a 223% increase in attendance.
I had the opportunity to screen these shorts in advance and highly recommend seeing them. Not only will you have a better shot at winning your Oscar pool, but each live-action and animated film nominated this year is a gem. They hail from Russia, Japan, France, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, Ireland and the good ol' US of A.
Each of the animated nominees is wordless, and I'm always impressed by filmmakers' ability to tell a compelling story without dialogue. In addition to the sweet Lavatory Lovestory, there are the hilarious This Way Up (about an undertaker and his son's misadventures as they transport a body) and Disney/Pixar's Presto, which ran before WALL-E in theaters last summer. My personal favorite is Oktapodi, which delightfully shows in a mere three minutes the lengths love will go to between two separated octopi.
The likely Oscar-winner among the animated shorts, though, will likely be La Maison en Petits Cubest (House of Small Cubes). It is a beautifully animated and ultimately poignant tale about an elderly man reviewing his life as floodwaters overtake his home.
The live-action nominees are Auf der Strecke (On the Line), which recounts the tragic consequences of a love-struck security guard's refusal to involve himself in a fight aboard a subway train; Grisen (The Pig), an amusing story about a hospitalized man's infatuation with a unique painting; New Boy, based on Irish writer Roddy Doyle's story of a young immigrant's struggle for acceptance at his new school; and Manon sur le Bitume (Manon on the Asphalt), about the repercussions of a bicycle accident.
I'm partial to the fifth live-action nominee, and I think Oscar voters will be too. Spielzeugland (Toyland) follows a German mother's search for her missing son in the wake of their Jewish neighbors' deportation. It is harrowing but features an unpredictable, moving denouement one cannot — and shouldn't — easily forget.
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.