For the eighth year, you can sample the next generation of filmmaking talent—and gain a valuable edge in your Oscar pool—by seeing the Academy Award–nominated short films theatrically. Arts appreciation and gambling addiction have rarely gone so well together.
Although we were able to see only four of the five documentary shorts—one, “God Is the Bigger Elvis,” isn’t in the theatrical program—it appears to be this year’s strongest of the three categories, with a series of wrenching films about trauma and healing. In “Incident in New Baghdad,” an Iraq War veteran details his troubles with PTSD. In “The Barber of Birmingham,” one of the foot soldiers of the civil-rights movement celebrates Obama’s inauguration. And in the overwhelmingly powerful “The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom,” Japanese survivors of last March’s catastrophic tsunami find the strength to rebuild. If this remarkable film about the fragility and the durability of human life doesn’t win the Oscar, something has gone very, very wrong.
In Best Animated Short, there’s a heavy (in some cases toxic) emphasis on whimsy, magic and weirdness. There are two clear standouts. “La Luna,” from the wizards at Pixar, is a typically (and, in this case, literally) stellar fable that concerns three generations of men on the moon, but it doesn’t pack the emotional or comedic wallop of the studio’s past mini masterpieces. That leaves the door open for “A Morning Stroll,” a three-part movie about a man and a chicken that showcases not only a deft sense of humor but a sure hand with multiple styles of animation, from hand-drawn to CGI.
Live Action is dominated by quirky comedies like “Time Freak,” centered on a time-traveling scientist, and “Pentecost,” about a soccer-loving altar boy. The front-runner, though, must be “The Shore,” which stars Ciarán Hinds as an Irishman who returns home from America for the first time in decades. Poignant and charming, it has the blend of crowd-pleasing warmth and social relevance that Oscar loves.