Oscars: nominated short films 2009

The Oscar shorts offer a more accurate, more complete glimpse of the state of cinema than the features. The shorts did not enter the world on a cushion of prestige or a vapor trail of hype, and they offer concentrated doses of visual ingenuity and narrative discipline. Not all are masterworks, by any means, but each at least rewards the modest investment of attention it demands.

The most interesting live-action candidates — “New Boy” and “The Pig,” from Denmark — are concise, witty excursions into complicated contemporary realities. Both deal with the growing pains of multicultural Europe, and they do so with more wryness than didacticism. Rather than teaching lessons in tolerance, they show how tricky such lessons can be, to teach or to learn.

If the live-action shorts are characterized by realism and local knowledge — each offering a few moments of immersion in the particulars of individual or family life — their animated siblings explore the universality of film language. The five (“This Way Up,” from England, and the French jeu d’esprit “Oktapodi” complete the field) employ various visual techniques, traditional and newfangled, but what they have in common is an almost complete lack of dialogue. They provide a reminder of how expressive, how moving, pictures can be. “Lavatory Lovestory,” an arrangement of black lines on a white screen with a few judicious touches of bright color, is a charming little romantic poem, perfect in its small proportions.

A program of short films. The animated “Lavatory Lovestory” by Konstantin Bronzit, Russia; “La Maison en Petits Cubes (House of Small Cubes)” by Kunio Kato, Japan; “Oktapodi” from Gobelins, l’École de l’Image, France; “Presto” by Doug Sweetland, United States; and “This Way Up” by Alan Smith and Adam Foulkes, Britain. The live-action “Auf der Strecke (On the Line)” by Reto Caffi, Switzerland and Germany; “Grisen (The Pig)” by Dorthe Warno Hogh, Denmark; “Manon Sur le Bitumen (Manon on the Asphalt)” by Elizabeth Marre and Olivier Pont, France; “New Boy” by Steph Green, Ireland; and “Spielzeugland (Toyland)” by Jochen Alexander Freydank, Germany. Released by Shorts International and Magnolia Pictures. Total running time: 2 hours 11 minutes. These films are not rated.

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