At a time when some best picture nominees are clocking in at 150 minutes (Lincoln) or 157 minutes (Zero Dark Thirty), you may be relieved and elated to learn some awards contenders run as little as 2 to 16 minutes long.
They are the Oscar-nominated animated shorts (***1/2, PG in nature) and the live-action shorts (*****, PG-13 in nature for mature themes and subtitles). If you see both, you will need to purchase two tickets.
The five animated shorts and three bonus shorts run 88 minutes, while the live-action program is 114 minutes long. A snapshot look at them, in alphabetical order:
Adam and Dog — When Adam wants some alone time in the newly created world with Eve, he throws a stick really, really far to distract the dog who has become his faithful companion. Minkyu Lee paints an idealized, imaginatively detailed Eden with hand-drawn, beautiful backdrops.
Fresh Guacamole — Director Adam Pesapane, known for blending a pop-art sensibility with touches of surrealism, transforms familiar objects such as a grenade, baseball and pin cushion into fresh guacamole. The dip is paired with chips in the most economical (2 minutes) of nominees.
Head Over Heels — As Ladies Home Journal might ask: Can this stop-motion marriage be saved? Walter lives on the floor and Madge on the ceiling and they use pulleys, tethers and other tricks to maneuver and avoid each other, until their world flips upside down, courtesy of clever animator Timothy Reckart.
Maggie Simpson in The Longest Daycare — At the Ayn Rand School for Tots, Maggie is labeled “average intelligence” by a machine from Often Wrong Technologies. The gifted room is paradise but that’s lost to Maggie who just wants to save one budding butterfly in five of the funniest minutes around. Even if you saw this short with Ice Age: Continental Drift, you may have missed some of the cerebral gags.
Paperman — This John Kahrs short is almost entirely in black and white, except for a red lip print accidentally left on a business form by a woman on a train platform. A nearby man is captivated and tries to win her attention with a fleet of paper airplanes in this whimsical, old-fashioned entry that preceded Wreck-It Ralph in theaters.
Asad — Bryan Buckley, maker of 40-plus Super Bowl commercials, here directs an all-Somali refugee cast (detailed in the credits) in a coming-of-age fable about a boy, youthful pirates who dream of being “as rich as Jay-Z” and an elderly fisherman who predicts Asad will bring back the greatest catch the village has ever seen.
Buzkashi Boys — Buzkashi is the national sport of Afghanistan, a game played by men on horseback with the carcass of a headless goat. For young Ahmad and Rafi, aspiring to be a buzkashi rider is like an American hoping to be an NFL quarterback, but one is a street urchin and the other training to be a blacksmith. Dreams take tragic or unexpected turns in this atmospheric film from director Sam French.
Curfew — The live-action nominees are so dark (not to mention male-dominated) that this is the most upbeat and it opens with a phone call interrupting a suicide. Richie’s estranged sister is desperate for someone to watch her 9-year-old daughter for the evening. Five hours, a trippy dance in a bowling alley and a reappraisal of the past and present make for a winner from director Shawn Christensen, who also plays Richie.
Death of a Shadow — Matthias Schoenaerts (Bullhead, Rust and Bone) is a World War I soldier marooned between life and death. He was shot to death in 1917 but has a chance to live again if he can collect 10,000 shadows of dying men and women at the behest of a sinister sort of jailer. But love and life may prove elusive in director Tom Van Avermaet’s fantasy.
Henry — Actor turned director Yan England closes his moving, French-language film about an 84-year-old pianist with a quote from his late grandfather: “The worst thing about old age is the awareness of being an old man losing his memory.” The worst thing for loved ones might be hearing him ask, in a cloud of confusion, “Do we know each other?”
A Magnolia Pictures release. Running time for animated shorts program: 88 minutes. Running time for live action shorts: 114 minutes. Separate ticket required for each program. In Miami-Dade only: Coral Gables Art Cinema.