Oscar-nominated shorts offer a little something for everyone

"Na Wewe" is among Oscar-nominated live-action shorts.

Oscar shorts are like Jockey shorts: They come in assorted sizes and styles to suit your taste, and they always contain something of live (if not animated) interest.

The two categories of film briefs have become my annual favorites, for their virtues of brevity and unpredictability. Thanks to the Pittsburgh Filmmakers, you'll have a chance to see the cream of 2010's Oscar-nominated crop -- animated and live-action -- digitally projected at the Regent Square, starting today.

Animated shorts

Finest of the lot is "The Lost Thing" (Australia, directed by Shaun Tan and Andrew Ruhemann), in which a bored Aussie lifeguard-dude, "working tirelessly on my bottlecap collection," notices a huge, bulky, bulbous thing on his beach one day. It moves like a crab, with squid-like appendages. What the hell is it, creature or machine? Nobody knows. It seems benign enough. But it's lost and evidently in search of a home. The imaginative animation, shading and lighting -- with transparent birds and flying TV sets -- make this gloriously whimsical, original conception a frontrunner for the Oscar.

"Madagascar, carnet de voyage" (Madagascar, "Journey Diary," Bastien Dubois) layers impressionist colors onto real-movement-based action for dreamy verisimilitude in rendering the Malagasy island's people, lemurs, music and village life -- amazingly similar to Haiti's, it turns out. "Someone has been unburied," we're told at one point. It happens there and in this revelation of a strange gorgeous land.

In "The Gruffalo" (UK/Germany, Jakob Schuh and Max Lang), big names such as Helena Bonham Carter and John Hurt lend voice to the tale of a resourceful mouse, invited to dine with a fox, a snake, et al carnivores. Lest he become (rather than enjoy) lunch, the little guy conjures the threat of a Gruffalo, who has terrible upside-down tusk-teeth and otherwise takes the form of each predator's worst nightmare. But maybe a Gruffalo really does materialize -- ugly as sin -- in this sweet little morality tale.

"Let's Pollute" (U.S., Geefwee Boedoe) provides a satirical history of industrial blight, with exhortations to "Want it! Waste it! Urge your congressman to eliminate all regulation!" The leftist agenda is undermined by heavy-handedness.

"Day & Night" (U.S., Teddy Newton) is a pleasant 6-minute throwaway about fear of the unknown that doesn't belong in the same league with the rest of the nominees.

Live-action shorts

Of the live-action pieces, "Na Wewe" (Belgium, "You, Too," Ivan Goldschmidt) is this year's standout. Set in civil war-torn Burundi, 1994, it's a tense, edge-of-your-seat encounter between a van full of Africans (with a dumb white guy they've picked up) and a party of screaming, heavily-armed rogue soldiers determined to separate the Hutus from the Tutsis -- and slaughter the latter. Panicking for their lives, each potential victim claims a different story. A U2 (or is it a Hutu?) song on a boy's iPod proves pivotal.

"The Confession" (UK, Tanel Toom) is the beautifully acted story of two rural English boys taking instruction at a Catholic school for their first confession. While devout Sam (Lewis Howlett) tries to think of something to confess, surly Jacob (Joe Eales) dismisses the whole idea in favor of stealing a scarecrow from its cornfield cross and putting it in the middle of a road -- causing a terrible accident. The film jumps quickly from cute to very serious. "God knows when you're hiding something," Sam is told. A somber saraband scores and underscores the point.

Just when we and our wrists are ready for the razor blade, along comes "The Crush" (Ireland, Michael Creagh) with a menacing but ultimately delightful account of little Ertel's huge crush on his teacher. He gives her a ring and believes they're engaged until bumping into her on the street with her actual fiance -- a real jerk, whom Ertel challenges to a real duel.

"God of Love" (U.S., Luke Matheny) stars its director as Raymond Goodfellow, a contemporary Cupid in the form of a dorky, dart-throwing lounge crooner. "You can't control who you love or who loves you or why or when," says Ray, whose dreamgirl is in love with his best friend. But an unexpected gift from the Olympus Foundation changes everything in this category's one reliably lighthearted romp.

The final entry, "Wish 143" (UK, Ian Barnes), concerns the bleak-black comic efforts of terminally ill David (Sam Holland) to lose his virginity before departing. Neither the older women who volunteer, nor the nice girls he wants, nor the professional streetwalkers do the trick. But there'll be somebody -- and there'll be tears.

So stop complaining about the frigid weather. It's time to slip into these shorts. How lucky we are to be able to try them on before, rather than after, the winners are announced at the 83rd annual Oscars a week from Sunday.

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