So you’re sitting watching the Oscars. You’ve seen a majority of the nominated films, or at least heard of them, and have your own opinions over who should or should not get that golden bald man statue. And then they come to the short films. Chances are you have never heard of any of them, and even after the winners are announced, they are not coming to a multiplex near you anytime soon. Until now, that is.
Metropolitan Theatres has finally secured the rights to bring the touring program of Oscar-nominated shorts to Santa Barbara, showing at the Arlington starting today and running through the rest of the month. Two programs will be offered: A live-action selection and an animated selection, topping out at 90 minutes. Because the nominated shorts are a shorter total runtime, three additional films that did not make the Academy cut will be added (including a Pixar short).
It’s clear the Academy voters had their work cut out for them this year, especially in the live action category. There are strong entries here from directors who have fine control over their actors and cameras.
“Miracle Fish” is on top of the pile. Australian Luke Doolan’s film begins as a schoolyard tale, with a likable but shy and bullied 8-year-old (played by Karl Beattie). He’s the kind of kid who hides on the playground to enjoy his lunch, and who sneaks into the nurse’s office to have a nap. When he awakes, he finds the school has changed, and to say anymore would be to ruin this dreamy and sometimes chilling short. With a résumé that includes work with Baz Luhrmann and George Lucas, Doolan knows exactly how to win our sympathies, and to lead our eyes.
“Instead of Abracadabra” will remind many of the glassy-eyed comedy of “Napoleon Dynamite,” but it has its own kinks. Writer-director Patrik Eklund introduces us to an amateur magician who believes in his own hype, until he really has to prove himself in front of his parents and a cute neighbor. Lead actor Simon J. Burger is resolute in his silliness throughout.
The other films include Juanita Wilson’s apocalyptic “The Door,” Gregg Helvey’s exposé of child labor in India, “Kavi,” and Joachim Back’s black comedy “The New Tenants.”
Too many computer graphics feature in the Academy’s choice for Animated Shorts, with weak storylines. I wasn’t too thrilled with the comic set-ups of Nicky Phelan’s “Granny O’Grimm” or Fabrice O. Joubert’s Jacques Tati-like “French Roast,” or Javier Recio Gracia’s “The Lady and the Reaper.” The question for all these holds: would these lose something if designed in 2-D with traditional animation?
The answer would be yes, however, for the spectacular “Logorama,” which sets a Tarantino-esque story of a psychotic bankrobber loose in the streets of Los Angeles, in a world made entirely out of corporate logos. Production company H5, out of France, has used thousands and thousands of idents, logos and characters to make this headrush of a film, which can probably only be appreciated one frame at a time. And by the by — the psychotic is played by Ronald McDonald.
That leaves us with the long awaited fifth Wallace and Gromit film, “A Matter of Loaf and Death.” Aardman Animation and director Nick Park do not disappoint, employing brilliant action set pieces and small touches (Gromit’s dog-based record collection, or just the way the characters move and react). No plot description is necessary, really. These two are old friends by now (21 years and counting!), and whatever they do will be irresistible. Will the Academy agree? Check out these two programs and by the time the awards roll around, you’ll have your own opinion.
THE OSCAR NOMINATED SHORT FILMS 2010
Where: Arlington Theater, 1317 State St.
When: Runs through Feb. 29
Animated (1:30 and 5:30 p.m. Friday, Tuesday and Wednesday; 5:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; 1:30 p.m. Monday and Thursday)
Live Action (3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Friday, Tuesday and Wednesday: 7:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday: 3:30 p.m. Monday and Thursday)
Length: 90 minutes each