Because they're crafted outside the Hollywood system, you might assume that this year's Oscar-nominated live-action and animated shorts stand in sharp defiance to conventional mainstream cinema. But the best of these 10 entries are, in some ways, the most familiar, their most radical element being that they operate in popular genres that usually don't get much Academy Award attention. The live-action nominees can be neatly divided into serious films about imperiled children and darkly comic movies about goofy adults. Writer-director Gregg Helvey's Kavi dully follows the Dickensian plight of a poor Indian boy who longs to end his indentured servitude so he can attend school. Much better and subtler, writer-director Juanita Wilson's The Door delivers a bruising true-life account of a Russian family's attempt to survive the Chernobyl disaster and save their ailing daughter. The smart, idiosyncratic Miracle Fish combines coming-of-age tale, fantasy drama, and even sci-fi horror for a story of an unpopular eight-year-old boy who hides out from bullies at school, only to wake up from a nap to realize that everyone has disappeared. The New Tenants boasts the category's biggest names -- Vincent D'Onofrio co-stars, Roman Polanski's cinematographer Pawel Edelman shot the film -- but, alas, this aggressively quirky tale of two men's horrible experience with their bizarre new neighbors drowns in its own irreverence. The pick of the litter is Swedish writer-director Patrik Eklund's sublimely goofy Instead of Abracadabra, about an inept magician who dreams of wooing his lovely neighbor. This "loser comedy" is the sort the Academy rightfully never honors when it stars Jack Black and is stretched to feature-length, but at 20 minutes (and aided by Eklund's confident, sympathetic treatment), it's immensely funny.
The shorts program also runs at Opera Plaza Cinema.
Feb. 19-25, 2010