In the realm of short films, these are the lucky ones. Their status as 2005 Academy Award contenders ensures they'll get bundled into a package and shipped to movie theaters, a venue at which such works rarely get a fighting chance. This year's selections are split into two 90-minute programs, one highlighting the animated films and the other live-action shorts.
"The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation" (28 min.), directed by John Canemaker and Peggy Stern, won the Oscar in the animated-shorts category. Incorporating archival photography, family snapshots and dialogue with hand-drawn sequences, Canemaker explores his difficult relationship with his father, an Italian immigrant who settled in upstate New York. The animation is often scrawly, and its likeness to a child's angry drawing is surely intentional. But "Moon" isn't Canemaker's pity piece (though it surely feels cathartic). He allows his father to relate his own troubled story, and thus we are reminded that families are imperfect creations that bind nonetheless.
A beautifully detailed three-dimensional quasi-Victorian world is populated by highly expressive silhouettes in Anthony Lucas' "The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello" (Australia, 27 min.). With its themes of exploration and science vs. morality, the story clearly owes a debt to H.G. Wells, but "Morello" finds its own melancholy niche, and features exquisitely rendered machinery.
Two primarily black-and-white shorts have an easy resonance. In "Badgered" (U.K., 7 min.), directed by Sharon Coleman, the titular creature just tries to get some sleep in a noisy, disruptive environment. In Bill Plympton's sweet "The Fan and the Flower" (U.S.A., 7 min.), a ceiling fan and a potted plant fall in love. ("Fan," which was not nominated, is a bonus). Finally, there's Pixar's "One Man Band" (4 min.) about two buskers, and "9" (U.S.A., 11 min.), a wordless, digitally animated short in which a metal-mesh creature in a dark dystopia takes on a predator.
The winning live-action short, Martin McDonagh's "Six Shooter" (Ireland, 27 min.), is a beautifully shot, sharply acted dark comedy-drama, in which a recent widower (Brendan Gleeson) takes a very disturbing train ride. "Shooter" is rife with that deadpan, slightly gloomy humor peculiar to the Irish: A bald-headed just-dead baby is blithely and matter-of-factly compared to "him from the Bronski Beat." McDonagh's film laces the banality of an afternoon (even amid tragic circumstance) with jarring off-kilter moments.
Ulrike Grote's "Ausreisser" (Germany, 23 min.), about a mysterious child, trades on both sentimentality and spookiness, but it's comprised of material oft-tread. So too is Rob Pearlstein and Pia Clemente's "Our Time Is Up (15 min.), a short comedy about a Los Angeles psychiatrist fed up with his patients.
In Ríºnar Ríºnarsson and Thor Sigurjónsson's spare, gorgeous drama, an elderly man spends his last day on a remote Icelandic farm. The scenery alone is worth a viewing, but "The Last Farm" (15 min.) also delivers a love story as unsentimental and simple as the stark but enduring landscape. Meanwhile, fans of workplace comedy will find laughs in Sean Ellis and Lene Bausager's exploration of a supermarket night shift in "Cashback" (U.K., 19 min.). Narrated by a stock boy-slash-art student, the film shifts nimbly between slapstick, a meditation on time, and the frank contemplation of the naked female form.
Much as short stories are unlike novels, short films deserves to be considered on their own merits. But they can also serve as entry points for filmmakers who aspire to larger works. Already two of this year's Oscar entries are headed for wider exposure: "9" is being developed as a feature film, and a full-length version of "Cashback" is in post-production. Short and sweet, indeed.
7:30 p.m. (animated program) and 9:15 p.m. (live-action), Fri., March 17, and Sat., March 18. 3 p.m. (animated) and 4:45 p.m. (live-action), Sun., March 19. $6 (includes both programs). Melwood