They come in various lengths, diverse formats and from around the globe, so the 10 Academy Award nominees for best short films are always a mixed bag. Let’s just say that, while eminently watchable, this year’s batch is, um, baggier than usual. Especially the five animated nominees.
The inevitable Pixar entry, “La Luna,” is, reliably, a gorgeous bit of computer-generated animation. An old fella and a younger one row out to sea in a rowboat, accompanied by a toddler who verges on Keane-painting cuteness with his big, wet eyes. A full moon rises, and the sailors hook it with an anchor, climb up and tidy its star-strewn surface. All of this is accomplished with the characters burbling to one another in a fake non-language. (It’s an Esperanto-like approach shared by all but one of the animated entries, extending their appeal to countries of all languages.) Lovely to look at, but not much there.
There’s not much to “Dimanche,” either, and it’s not so lovely — a minimalistically drawn sketch about a young boy’s travails, plodding through the boring rituals of a Sunday (church, a visit with granny, grown-ups talking their weird, dull talk).
“A Morning Stroll” finds the fantastic in a similarly mundane scenario. Set in 1959, 2009 and 2059, this snappy short shows us three encounters between a man and a chicken on a busy urban sidewalk. Very different types of animation serve each iteration of this shaggy-chicken story, and if that whets your appetite, let it be known that zombies play a role in two segments.
“The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” announces its forcefully whimsical intention with its title. A silent chap with the compact gestures of Buster Keaton is interrupted in his reading by a windstorm that takes him to a mysterious house peopled by books that fly and wander around on itty-bitty legs. The short includes nods to “The Wizard of Oz,” silent film stars and New Orleans post-Katrina, blended with touches of Lewis Carroll and a faux-European flavor. It’s pleasant, with a good message — books are awesome! — but it feels a little ersatz, like a paint-by-numbers homage to the wistful, shifting Gallic moods of films like “Amélie” or “Triplets of Belleville.”
“Wild Life” manages to juggle its multiple moods with more ease. Starting off as a tongue-in-cheek field guide to young Britons seeking their fortunes in Canada circa 1909, it becomes a comic ode to one fellow’s inability to do much of anything on his “ranch” (a shack in the middle of nowhere). Then, carried along by beautiful, old-fashioned animation that resembles watercolors, the movie takes a surprising, and surprisingly moving, turn.
On the live-action bill, “The Shore” is a loving, tidily made drama about the reunion of two Irishmen with a troubled past. Ciarán Hinds (terrific) brings adult daughter Kerry Condon from America to see his homeland for the first time, and there she learns the story of his former bandmate (Conleth Hill) and the woman (Maggie Cronin) who came between them. Or did she? Written and directed by Terry George (“Hotel Rwanda”), this is a slight but emotionally generous tale.
Far wackier — and delightful — is Norway’s “Tuba Atlantic,” starring Edvard Hægstad as a loner who, after learning that he has only six days to live, spends his time creatively killing the seagulls that encroach on his wintry seaside home. He also tries to fend off perky young Ingrid Viken, a volunteer with a social services group that helps the terminally ill ease off this mortal coil. “I’m your local Angel of Death,” she announces. As the old man considers contacting his long-estranged brother in America, the film maintains a buoyantly absurd sense of humor that still can embrace real emotion.
In the global civics lesson called “Raju,” an attractive German couple fly to Kolkata to adopt an adorable young boy, only to discover that third-world adoption politics can be complicated. The movie is well made, but more well-meaning than memorable.
Seen through the eyes of a clumsy altar boy, the Irish “Pentecost” is a short, one-joke flick (even if it’s a good joke) that equates the preparation and performance of a Catholic Mass with that of a soccer game.
Finally, if the guys who made the 2004 geek sleeper “Primer” had a sense of humor, the result might be something like “Time Freak.” Michael Nathanson plays a nerdy college-age inventor, and John Conor Brooke is the levelheaded roommate who becomes concerned when he never comes home. It seems that Nathanson has created a time machine, and — without giving anything away — this is probably the most accurate demonstration of what the average person would do with such a gadget. Funny and fleet, it has the feeling of one of Woody Allen’s gemlike stories from the 1970s.
“The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2012: Live Action.” Works from the United States, Ireland, Northern Ireland, Germany/India and Norway. Unrated. 107 minutes. At Landmark Midtown Art Cinema.
“The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2012: Animation.” Works from the United States, Canada and Britain. Unrated. 79 minutes. At Landmark Midtown Art Cinema.