Short-film nominees for Oscar a fine group


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How to beat this horrendous arctic cold spell? Just slip into your shorts -- the live-action and animated ones nominated for the upcoming Academy Awards. It's a particularly good crop in both categories, and thanks to Pittsburgh Filmmakers you'll have a chance to see them at the Regent Square Theater, starting today.

What I love most is the unpredictable international smorgasbord, and these 2014 short subjects -- miniature movie morsels between 6 and 26 minutes long -- are tastier than usual.

In the animation department, they range from fairy-tale fantasy to flights of futuristic fancy:

• "Room on the Broom" (directed by Max Lang and Jan Lachauer; UK; 25 minutes): The Least Wicked Witch of the East or West has a sweet disposition and joie de vivre unusual for her profession. She's a happy, user-friendly kind of witch, but she keeps losing things in mid-air and having to retrieve them, aided by her faithful feline companion (a ginger Bando) and various critters on the ground, who all ask the same question: Is there room for them on the broom, too? It's an old model, with dubious aerodynamics -- increasingly crowded and problematic. Favorite detail: When the cat reaches into a haystack, searching for her lost hair-ribbon, he pulls out a needle instead.

"Mr. Hublot" (Laurent Witz; Luxembourg/France; 11 minutes): The hero is described as "a withdrawn, idiosyncratic character with OCD." This agoraphobic man-of-the-future -- made of (spare) mechanical parts, wears quadrifocal corrective lenses and an odometer on his forehead with constantly running numbers, like a Duquesne Light electric meter. The invasive arrival of Robot Pet, a stray mechanized dog, disturbs his terrifically drawn dystopia.

"Get a Horse!" (Lauren MacMullen; USA; 6 minutes): Walt Disney checks in from the beyond in this state-of-the-CGI-art homage to early Mickey Mouse. Mick, Minnie, Horace Horsecollar and Clarabelle Cow are having a jolly hay wagon ride when interrupted and menaced by Peg-Leg Pete. Suddenly, the violent Punch & Judy action (not so politically correct these days) spills over from its 1928 vintage black-and-white 2-D screen into 3-D color -- and the movie theater itself! -- as the characters struggle to get back into their old frame. It's a delightfully surreal exercise, running in some theaters as an opening appetizer to the Disney animated feature "Frozen."

"Possessions" (Shuhei Morita; Japan; 14 minutes): It's a dark and stormy night in 18th-century Japan, where a lost traveler takes refuge in a long-abandoned shrine full of discarded objects -- broken umbrellas, remnants of ancient kimonos -- which suddenly come swirling to life, threatening him with their ancient resentments. A Japanese legend has it that, after 100 years, old physical possessions attain souls and demand to be remembered. The weary traveler sets about mending them -- and himself -- in this deliriously didactic dreamscape.

"Feral" (Daniel Sousa; USA; 13 minutes): A wild boy in the woods is discovered and "rescued" by a hunter, who takes him back to civilization. Much alienated in the new environment, he tries to adapt with his animal skills in this morality tale -- drawn in soft-edged, impressionistic style -- that owes much to Francois Truffaut's "The Wild Child."

In the live-action department:

"The Voorman Problem" (Mark Gill; UK; 13 minutes): Supercilious Dr. Williams has been summoned by the authorities to determine the sanity or insanity of a dangerous prisoner who claims to be God. Their colloquy is illuminating but inconclusive, with the straitjacketed prisoner proposing an experiment: Would the doctor believe his divine identity if he made Belgium disappear? A sample of the fabulous dialogue in this little black-comic masterpiece: "How long have you believed yourself to be a god?" the psychiatrist asks. "I might ask you the same," he replies.

"Just Before Losing Everything" (Xavier Legrand; France; 30 minutes): Miriam is desperate to get herself and her two kids out of town in a hurry. We don't know why. Her panic mounts -- as do the terror and danger -- in this intensely realistic, edge-of-your-seat rendering of an all-too-common international crime.

"That Wasn't Me" (Esteban Crespo; Spain; 24 minutes): An even worse international crime is chronicled in the grim, devastating story of Paula and Kaney -- Spanish doctor and African boy -- whose paths cross at the violent intersection of a civil war employing child soldiers. Mindless brutality and bloodlust combine in basic macho theory and practice: The way to get respect is with a gun. The way to get ultimate respect, and prove your manhood, is to kill somebody with it.

"Helium" (Anders Walter; Denmark; 23 minutes): A much sweeter path-crossing takes the form of a dying boy and a feckless hospital janitor meeting late on the road from here to eternity. Is the man feeding him lies or giving him true hope? You be the judge of a beautifully depicted idea.

"Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?" (Selma Vilhunen; Finland; 7 minutes): Finnish moms aren't much different from American (or any other) moms. Sini wakes up in a panic, having overslept for a wedding. Her husband, Jokke, is a joke when getting himself and their two daughters dressed (they put on their Halloween costumes). The wedding gift is missing. There's a fine Finnish-ing touch.

A nice bonus with the animated program is the inclusion of four runners-up "qualifying" (but un-nominated) shorts -- of which "A la Francaise," created by a team of students from the French animation school Supinfocom, is to die for: It's an afternoon in Versailles during the reign of Louis XIV, the aristocrats in sumptuous, eye-dazzling costumes cavorting to classical music. One odd thing: They're all chickens -- a hilariously perfect rendering of vanity and intrigue-most-fowl in the Sun King's court.

The Oscar Short Subjects Animated and Live Action programs are screened consecutively and audiences may stay to see both, but separate admission is required. For screening times and ticket prices, check the Regent Square hotline, 412-682-4111, and the Pittsburgh Filmmakers website: theaters.pittsburgharts.org.

Today and Saturday: 7 p.m. animated; 9:15 p.m. live action.

Saturday and Sunday matinees: 2 p.m. animated; 4:15 p.m. live action.

Monday and Tuesday: 7 p.m. animated; 9:15 p.m. live action.

Wednesday and Thursday: 7 p.m. live action; 9:30 p.m. animated.


Post-Gazette film critic Barry Paris: parispg48@aol.com.

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