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Amherst Cinema showcases Oscar-nominated shorts

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(Courtesy HIT Entertainment)

Editor’s Note – This is an updated version of an earlier story published February 25, 2010.

Every year, the Oscars come and go. You root for the one or two films with artistic integrity that have been nominated, and you laugh as “Thank You” speeches are abruptly cut short. And yet, one category always seems to pass by unnoticed: the short films.

Fortunately, Amherst Cinema is screening both the Live-Action and Animated short films nominated for Oscars before the ceremony airs on March 7. For your benefit, here is a guide to the Animated Short Film Oscar nominees for 2010.

1. “French Roast” (Dir: Fabrice O. Joubert): This quirky and warm morality tale is told predominately without dialogue. It begins with the story of an upper-class cafe patron overly concerned with saving face when he misplaces his wallet. The humorous outcome doesn’t leave too much of an impression in one’s memory, but still manages to leave a smile on one’s face.

2. “Granny O’ Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty” (Dir:  Nicky Phelan and Darragh O’Connell): Bringing to mind such stories as “The Stinky Cheese Man,” this all-too-brief cartoon features a cantankerous grandmother and her take on the classic story of Sleeping Beauty. Although slim, the laughs this film inspire are something to contend with. And with an effective combination of hand-drawn animation and CGI, this may in fact end up being the dark horse of the category.

3. “The Lady and the Reaper” (Dir: Javier Recio Gracia): This Spanish parable of mortality feels more slight than it probably should. “Reaper” is the story of an elderly woman ready to pass into the next life; it comes to a head when the specter of death finds himself at odds with a doctor with a Matthew Shepard-esque degree of obligation to patients. Although it solicits a chuckle or two from the audience, “The Lady and the Reaper” feels like little more than a Saturday morning cartoon when it reaches its close.

4. “A Matter of Loaf and Death” (Dir: Nick Park): It’s not surprising that the new Wallace & Gromit is the most deserving of these nominees for the Oscar. What is surprising is that, with his latest effort, Nick Park has surpassed himself artistically on almost every level. He has gone past simply paying homage to Alfred Hitchcock with his dog and inventor main characters. Instead, he has created something almost on the same level of quality. It is difficult not to be won over by this world of high-flying action and joy.

5. “Logorama” (Dir: Nicolas Schmerkin): Although it’s easy to see what’s laudable about this film, it is nothing that this reviewer would like to stand behind. What we have here is an empty satire, which populates Los Angeles entirely with logos and mascots from recognizable companies. From there, director Nicolas Schmerkin proceeds to manipulate these images into a typical Los Angeles-based action film, complete with an earthquake at the close which knocks the city into the ocean. The conclusion of the film seems to be about consumerism and its contributions to the recession. But as a whole, it does little but leave a sour taste in one’s mouth.

Rounding out the program were three shorts which were described as “highly commendable” by the Cinema’s staff. The most recognizable of these was Pixar’s “Partly Cloudy,” which you may remember as the introduction to last year’s “Up,” which is currently nominated for best picture. The other two, “Runaway” and “The Kinematograph,” were divergent, covering the realms of energetic slapstick-based British comedy and powerful, would-be naturalistic drama, respectively.

It is surprising that none of these films were nominated, especially with the clout that Pixar has been holding around Oscar-time every year. One would think that, with their at least partial manipulation of form for their own purposes – which is something that much of the nominees for this year lack – they would practically be shoo-ins for the Academy.

But that is neither here nor there. If you feel like an incredibly entertaining night of animation, this is a program you shouldn’t miss. You will laugh, be moved and maybe even be won over by the bitter satire of “Logorama.” But be forewarned: If you are planning on bringing your children to this program, be sure to leave before the last short (“Logorama”) begins. It contains vulgar language and graphic comic violence. You will probably be better off, as it is without question the weakest of the nominees.

Mark Schiffer can be reached at mschiffe@student.umass.edu.

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