This year's collection of Academy Award-nominated live action and animated short films will be presented at Key Cinemas starting Friday, including all the nominees in both categories except for two animated films and one live-action short. Included as a bonus feature is Rex Steele: Nazi Smasher by Alexander Woo, winner of the 2004 student animation Oscar.
Animated short subjects
Ryan, winner of the Best Animated Short Feature Oscar, is a striking computer-animated 14-minute documentary from Canadian Chris Landreth. His subject is Ryan Larkin, a brilliant Canadian artist who received an Oscar nomination for his own work in the '70s before succumbing to drugs, drink and despair. CGI is used to shockingly visualize the effect of emotional blows on the human body. The grotesque images - unlike anything I've ever seen - add considerable punch to the audio interview with Larkin.
Gopher Broke, the American entry, by Jeff Fowler, is a computer-animated cartoon much like standard Looney Tunes fare. A gopher tries to snag food from passing produce trucks - things go wrong. Nothing special here, but Fowler does a nice job giving his characters a sense of proper weight, which is often a problem with CGI.
From Australia comes Birthday Boy, a computer-animated film by Sejong Park. Set in Korea in 1951, it follows a young boy wandering through a nearly deserted wartime village. The short movie belabors an obvious point, but the imaginative, beautifully detailed artwork nearly makes up for the problem.
The aforementioned bonus feature, Rex Steele: Nazi Smasher, is a little ragged around the edges, but packed with energy and enthusiasm. It uses the style of old-time serials to present the daring adventures of a larger-than-life hero and his plucky sidekick. Fun.
Live-action short subjects
Wasp, winner of the Best Live-Action Short Subject Oscar, is a well-executed 23-minute slice-of-life from the U.K. Andrea Arnold's disturbing, moving drama follows an extremely poor young mother as she struggles with her four children. We follow her as she heads into a pub to meet with an ex-boyfriend, making her little ones hide outside while she socializes. Arnold cuts back and forth between Mom's desperate quest for a rescuer and the children's awful evening outside, letting the images do the work. What makes the film so devastating is the fact that, ill-equipped as she is to care for them, the mother clearly loves her kids.
Taika Waititi and Ainsley Gardiner direct this New Zealand feature about - get ready for this - kids left outside while their parents socialize in a pub. As opposed to Wasp, this slight feature, based on the childhood memories of one of the filmmakers, focuses not on neglect, but on fleeting friendships.
Indian director Ashvin Kumar offers Little Terrorist, a 15-minute drama set along the border between India and Pakistan. While playing, a boy inadvertently ends up on the wrong side of the border, pursued by gun-toting guards unaware that he is a child. The story is simple, but effective, except for a strained ending that left me wincing.
From Spain comes 7:35 in the Morning, an ingenious eight-minute feature by Nacho Vigalondo. All I will tell you is that it begins with a young woman entering a café at her usual time one morning for her usual coffee and pastry. What happens next is quite unusual, and what happens shortly after that makes everything clear. Thankfully, Vigalondo stays only long enough to present his startling and mesmerizing story. The cast gets everything right.
For info call Key Cinemas at 317-261-1440 or go to www.keycinemas.com.