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MOVIE REVIEW

2010 Oscar Shorts

Oscar shorts, from wonderful to watchable

“The Lady and the Reaper’’ is the computer-animated Spanish nominee for best animated short film at next month’s Oscars. “The Lady and the Reaper’’ is the computer-animated Spanish nominee for best animated short film at next month’s Oscars. (Kandor Graphics/Associated Press)
By Ty Burr
Globe Staff / February 19, 2010

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It’s just about impossible to see the “2010 Oscar Shorts’’ programs starting today at the Coolidge as merely collections of good short films. Somewhere in the back of your head you’re filling out a ballot for your office betting pool, grinning evilly at the thought that you now have a leg up over Bob in Marketing. Or maybe you’re just wondering: Is this really the best there is?

Granted, the rules for short-film eligibility winnow a lot of wheat with the chaff - to be considered, a short has to have been shown commercially in LA for three consecutive days or has to have won an award at a competitive film festival - but this year’s bag seems more mixed than usual. There are real gems among the two separate programs (one for animated shorts, one for live-action; the animated films will also screen at the ICA through March), but there are just as many ordinary, decently made offerings.

The live-action category is highlighted by the 17-minute “Miracle Fish,’’ from Australian writer-director Luke Doolan. It’s a deceptively quiet tale of a little boy (Karl Beattie), impoverished and bullied by his schoolmates, whose resilience is tested by an encounter with a school shooter (Brendan Donoghue). What sounds tasteless turns out to be both brutal and touching in the playing.

More drolly enjoyable are Norway’s “Instead of Abracadabra,’’ about a gawky grown-up magician (Simon J. Berger) still living at home - it’s like “Napoleon Dynamite’’ with added sweeteners - and “The New Tenants,’’ a surreally funny farce about slacker roommates (David Rakoff and Jamie Harrold) sucked into the escalating crime melodrama of their new neighbors (Vincent D’Onofrio, Kevin Corrigan, and Helen Hanft).

The remaining live-action shorts wear their social consciences on their sleeves: “Kavi,’’ about a boy and his parents in India who are slaves to a rural brickmaker, and “The Door,’’ an Irish-made chamber tragedy about the fallout from the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. Both are affecting while primarily moved by agenda.

Over in the animated category, by far the most ingenious short is “Logorama,’’ a dazzling French-made hardcore action movie that takes place in a world made up entirely of corporate logos - unlicensed ones, at that. It deserves the award but there’s no way it’ll win, since thousands of in-house lawyers are waiting to pounce. (Not least McDonald’s, whose mascot Ronald McDonald is hilariously cast as a foul-mouthed, gun-toting killer clown.)

My money’s on Spain’s computer-animated “The Lady and the Reaper,’’ which boasts Antonio Banderas as a coproducer but is most notable for its exuberant battle between the Shadow of Death and a superstud young doctor for the soul of a little old lady. It’s “The Seventh Seal’’ reimagined as a Merrie Melodie, and the closest thing to Pixar here. (Just to be on the safe side, though, the Coolidge is tossing in that company’s unnominated “Partly Cloudy,’’ last seen playing before “Up,’’ and “The Kinematograph,’’ from Polish animation master Tomek Baginski.)

“Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty’’ and “French Roast’’ are cute, minor vignettes from Ireland and France, respectively, the first a twisted take on the classic fairy tale, the second a wordless comedy set at a corner cafe. The heavyweight here is “A Matter of Loaf and Death,’’ the latest Wallace & Gromit adventure from Aardman maestro Nick Park. It’s fun but a little too silly, even if Wallace does get to utter the deathless line, “Help me, Gromit, I’ve got a bomb in me pants!’’ I like Wensleydale as much as the next guy, but Park already has four Oscar wins in this category, and it may be time to share the wealth. Just not with the lawyers.

Ty Burr can be reached at tburr@globe.com. For more on movies, go to boston.com/movienation.

2010 OSCAR SHORTS

At: Coolidge Corner, ICA

Running time: 92 minutes (live-action program); 97 minutes (animated program)

Unrated (language, violence)

In English and various other languages, with subtitles

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