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Oscar-hopeful short films at turns fun and engaging

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By Robert Horton
Herald Movie Critic
A couple of filmmakers are going home with Oscars this year who are little known to the public and even the industry.
We're talking about the short film category, a noble cause for the Academy Awards even if they probably don't generate much interest in the show's TV viewership.
As in previous years, the nominated shorts, animated and live-action, are traveling around in a package for theaters in the days leading up the Academy Awards ceremony. It's an ingenious idea for giving visibility to short films that otherwise might fall through the cracks of a distribution system that emphasizes feature-length movies.
The animated section has a couple of high-profile items in the mix. In fact it almost seems unfair, in a David vs. Goliath way, for "The Simpsons" and the Disney team to compete against smaller fish.
"Maggie Simpson in 'The Longest Daycare'" is the Simpsons entry, a very funny and rather ominous little number about the baby of the family having a rough go of it during an afternoon at the Ayn Rand Daycare Center.
Disney is represented by "Paperman," which you may have seen before "Wreck-It Ralph" last year. A black-and-white fantasy about the various uses of paper, this one has a nice old-school quality about it, an idea that could only be played out in animation.
I suppose those are the favorites, but it would be cool if "Fresh Guacamole" won the Oscar.
This one comes in at under two minutes, but uses stop-motion animation so that the making of the green condiment becomes an incredibly clever exercise involving dice, a Christmas light and a grenade, among other goodies.
There's a high level in the other animated pictures: "Adam and Dog" is a lovely daydream about what might have happened if a dog had been in the garden of Eden, and "Head Over Heel" is an elaborate claymation piece about a couple who exist in the same house but on different planes of gravity.
The live-action films are longer, and the whimsical tone disappears. In fact, things are downright heavy: "Asad," made in South Africa, looks at a displaced Somali boy facing choices and challenges in a seaside community beset by pirates and other thugs, and "Buzkashi Boys," follows the equally difficult challenges facing two boys in Kabul, Afghanistan.
A magical element enters two other titles: "Henry," from Canada, is about an elderly man whose travels through different times in his life (a situation that becomes clear from the early moments and tends to repeat itself), and "Death of a Shadow," a French-Belgian production, is about a photographer with an odd steampunk camera that allows him to photograph the murders of the past.
That one gets extra credit just for the sheer curiosity of its idea, and for its impeccable art direction, a world not quite real and not quite sci-fi. Finally, "Curfew" is U.S. look at a suicidal man whose young niece needs his help, like most of these live-action efforts, an idea that might be just a little too obvious for a longer treatment, but stays bearable in the short run.
"Oscar-nominated Short Films 2013" (3 stars)
This year's collection of both animated and live-action short films that garnered Academy Award nominations. The latter tend to be a heavy and somewhat obvious bunch, but the animated films are a real delight this time.
Rated: Not rated; probably PG-13 for violence.
Showing: Harvard Exit.
Story tags » Movies

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