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The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2012: Animated and Live Action

A mixed bag of short films

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore" is a tale of literary apocalypse." (Author/illustrator William Joyce)
By Ty Burr
Globe Staff / February 10, 2012
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To keep it short: There are strong years for short films at the Oscars and there are weaker years, and 2012 appears to be one of the latter.

The 10 films nominated for the best animated short and best live action short - five in each category - are showing at the Kendall Square starting today in two separate programs (with separate ticket purchases required). They are all accomplished works that do their makers proud. Precious few, though, rearrange your head and demonstrate the sort of lightning-bolt inspiration of which the format is capable at its best. (A third program of Oscar-nominated documentary shorts opens today at the Coolidge - see separate review on Page 13 - and all three programs will play at the ICA starting Feb. 20.)

The entries in the animated category are so brief that four extra, non-nominated films have been tacked on to pad out the running time; these were unavailable for review. Of the official nominees, only the one with the mouthful of a title carries any real punch. “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore,’’ from the Shreveport, La.-based Moonbot Studios, is a digitally animated wonderment that casts a Buster Keaton lookalike in a fanciful tale of literary apocalypse. It has heart, it has wit, and it has depth, and it packs more invention into 15 minutes than most features do in two hours.

By contrast, the second-strongest title, “A Morning Stroll,’’ is just a really good shaggy-dog story. Or maybe it’s a shaggy-chicken story, one involving zombies, iPods, and a clever array of differing techniques from line-drawing to Flash animation. “La Luna’’ is a surprisingly flat contribution from Pixar: a gorgeously animated wisp about three generations of fishermen cleaning the stars off the moon . . . or something. The National Film Board of Canada usually has a high Oscar batting average - six wins over the years - but Patrick Doyon’s “Dimanche (Sunday)’’ and “Wild Life,’’ a tale of an effete British immigrant on the high plains, marry funky homemade visuals to meandering narratives.

The live action shorts have more oomph. Peter McDonald’s “Pentecost’’ is the standout here - a very funny story of an altar boy (Scott Graham) torn between churchly duties and his beloved Liverpool Football Club, it features a hilarious pre-mass pep talk by a priest and a devilish final twist. Also from Ireland is the more sentimental “The Shore,’’ from “Hotel Rwanda’’ director Terry George, in which an aging prodigal son (character actor Ciarán Hinds) comes home from America to confront his best friend (Conleth Hill) and the woman (Maggie Cronin) he left behind.

“Time Freak’’ is the semi-required wacky American entry (à la last year’s winner, “God of Love’’), a fun if thin romp about a frazzled time machine inventor (Michael Nathanson) trying to get one day just right. More serious is “Raju,’’ from Max Zähle, about a German couple (Wotan Wilke Möhring and Julia Richter) who travel to Calcutta to adopt a child (Krish Gupta) who may have other claims on him. It’s a slick but engrossing moral drama.

“Tuba Atlantic,’’ by contrast, is just plain strange - but amusingly so. Edvard Haegstad plays a terminally ill Norwegian crank who likes to shoot seagulls with a machine gun and who has built a giant tuba to bellow out over the ocean and bring his brother back from America. It’s the most eccentric entry in a pair of programs that, for all their art, could have used more creative weirdness.

Ty Burr can be reached at tburr@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @tyburr.

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THE OSCAR NOMINATED SHORT FILMS 2012: Animated

THE OSCAR NOMINATED SHORT FILMS 2012: Live Action

At: Kendall Square

Running time: 79 minutes (animated), 107 minutes

(live action)

Unrated (as PG)

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