There is nothing immediately apparent about this collection of five Oscar-nominated short films that makes them so obviously deserving of Academy distinction. That shouldn’t be misconstrued as meaning these shorts are inferior or ill-made – it’s just that there’s little that distinguishes them as the very best short films the world had to offer last year. Although it’s a very entertaining piece of work, I’m not sure what makes Adam Elliot’s Australian claymation cartoon "Harvie Krumpet" last year’s ultimate animated award winner. It tells the story of a sad sack with Tourette’s who moves from Poland to Australia and turns his life story from a lump of coal into a surprising diamond in the rough. Oscar winner Geoffrey Rush (Shine)
narrates the tale, and perhaps some of his Hollywood tinsel rubbed off on the project. The animation is technically routine, although the story’s cavalier tone ("Life is like a cigarette. Smoke it to the butt") has a winning edge. This collection of films leaves out half the nominees, presumably due to difficulties with rights and credits. While the program is a welcome opportunity to see rarely screened short-format films in a theatrical setting, it’s difficult for the viewer to come away with any real perspective on the Academy decisions without seeing the entire field of choices. Other animated shorts presented here include Chris Hinton’s "Nibbles" from Canada and the 2003 Student Academy Award Winner for Animation, "Perpetual Motion" by Kimberly Miner. The live-action shorts are all strong pieces. Florian Baxmeyer’s "The Red Jacket" from Germany tells the story of a child’s coat that leaves its grieving father’s hands in Bavaria and makes it to Sarajevo before cosmically returning to the father’s hands. "(A)Torsion" by Stefan Arsenijevic from Slovenia is another story that takes place in a war-torn setting. As the sound of shells rages in the near distance, a farmer’s cow goes into a breech labor, and a choral troupe waiting for a train tentatively rehearses in the barn in order to help block out the sound of the mortars. Finally, Lionel Bailliu’s "Squash" from France is a pas de deux on a squash court between businessman. Ingenious camera angles in the cramped confines of the court help make this subtle power play between a boss and his employee riveting to watch. Years from now when all these filmmakers go on to do longer and more widely seen work, you’ll be able to say you saw them all back when.