Academy Award Nominated Shorts: As Usual, the Cartoons Are Better

  Among the five live-action shorts in this 137-minute compendium, Hollywood will find two films that hew perfectly to the clever, O. Henry–style shorts favored by festival juries and award voters: the sweet Belgian Tanghi Argentini, about Tango dancers; and the aw-shucks French comedy The Mozart of Pickpockets, about two bumbling thieves who adopt a cute kid as their partner in crime. (Don't be surprised if their directors are at the helm of the next Full Monty/Mostly Martha–style indie charmer.) The other three are a mixed bag. The Substitute is a lively but ham-fisted high-school comedy that suggests a Roberto Benigni–directed episode of My So Called Life. The Tonto Woman is a long, expensive, calling-card short with excellent production values and zero soul. At Night depicts a "you-go-girl sleepover" in a Danish cancer ward, with ladies as beautiful (of course) as they are ill (of course). It's a well-meaning, terminal bore, but "serious" enough to walk away with the statuette. More impressive is this year's batch of animated shorts, totaling 90 minutes in length. Four of them feature truly poetic visuals; and the fifth, a rather prosaic riff on Prokofiev's musical tutorial, Peter & the Wolf, is hard to dislike. I Met the Walrus is a virtuosic illustration (using morphing, stream-of-consciousness images) of a 1969 interview with John Lennon. Both the Canadian Madame Tutli-Putli and the French Even Pigeons Go to Heaven are quirky, haunting stories with dazzling tableaus and endearing characters that will, with any luck, earn feature projects for their creators. Most notable, though, is 1999 Oscar winner Alexander Petrov's Moya Lyubov (My Love), a romantic coming-of-age story based on a 1927 Russian book that springs to life as a shimmering impressionist painting. Not just a slideshow of pretty pictures, Petrov's imagery is both dramatic and fluid, propelling a 26-minute short that possesses the emotional impact and depth of a novel or feature film.

 
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