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A grab bag with gems set in Gambia and Gaza

Liv Ullman narrates "The Danish Poet," which follows the title character on a journey to Norway. (MAGNOLIA PICTURES)

Just in time for you to more knowledgeably fill out your office Academy Awards ballot, the 10 nominated live-action and animated shorts have once again been helpfully gathered together into two alternating programs. So "The 2006 Oscar Nominated Shorts," which the Coolidge Corner Theatre will be showing in two separate programs, is valuable even if all its wares aren't necessarily good.

These can't be easy categories for serious short filmmakers to sit through during the telecast. In both, the preference is often for cute, cute, cute. But once is a while, something excellent happens. In the live-action category, this year that something is Javier Fesser and Luis Manso's "Binta and the Great Idea." It's narrated in a loud voice by a 7-year-old Gambian girl who's in a marvelously post-colonial frame of mind. Sure, it's cute, but powerfully so.

The movie serves as an optimistic parable for the many upsides of education (for girls, especially) and the downsides of wealth. Young Binta wants her older cousin to be able to attend school over her ignorant father's wishes. So a play is written, rehearsed, and performed for the entire village. This is a pleasure, its social value remaining on par with its flourishes of filmmaking. Even in its naiveté, it's moving. Palm trees, for instance, make exciting stand-ins for fireworks, and children make their own most impassioned advocates.

Ari Sandel's "West Bank Story," is a timely, sub-Mel Brooks musical farce set in Gaza about warring fast-food joints and the forbidden crush between a Palestinian cashier and an Israeli soldier. Neither side can even agree on how much of the split screen to share. It's absolutely silly (a dancing menorah!) but it's not completely frivolous either. Oh, and it's funny and will probably win.

Peter Templeman's "The Saviour" is pleasant enough comedy about a door-to-door Mormon elder, the married women he sleeps with, and the increasingly desperate measure he takes to win her for good.

The remaining two movies are ickily determined to reinforce the bonds of family. The inconsequential "One Too Many" is about a husband who convinces his mother-in-law to play housekeeper for him and his son after his wife leaves him. (He thinks the arrangement might bring her back.) In Soren Pilmark and Kim Magnusson's "Helmer & Son," a businessman's father locks himself in an armoire. Heartwarming nudity ensues.

In earlier years, the animated wing included idiosyncratic work by the Hubleys, Ryan Larkin, Bill Plympton, and Don Hertzfeldt and, recently, the outstanding "Ryan" and "The Moon and the Son." The most interesting is Torill Kove's "The Danish Poet," a fractured fairy tale without the fairies. A Danish poet goes to Norway looking for inspiration. Narrated by Liv Ullman and drawn on paper with computer rendering, it's a balmy piece of Scandinavian lore.

More often than not, the nominating committee succumbs to the vogue for wink-wink critter action that drives feature-length animated pictures. It's been that way since Walt Disney started dominating the category when it was created back in 1932. This year the category is infested with stuff from the major studios. Besides "The Danish Poet," the only other nominee with people is a version of "The Little Matchgirl" (yes, another one), and its title heroine is drawn like the ones from recent Disney classics. As it happens, the director Roger Allers wrote a bunch of those and directed "The Lion King."

Géza M. Tóth's "Maestro" is a clever 3-D animated piece about an opera-singing bird preparing for a performance. It comes with a punch line, hinted at by the halting way the camera moves around his dressing room.

From the Oscar-winning soundman Gary Rydstrom, via Pixar, comes "Lifted." It's a nearly five-minute joke about a kid alien training for a human abduction. It's amusing, and it's professionally made (in 3-D animation with impeccable sound). And it'll probably win (making it Rydstrom's eighth Oscar), but it just feels like a scene from a longer Pixar movie.

Then there's "No Time for Nuts," which practically is a scene from a movie, one of the "Ice Age" pictures. This one features those movies' squirrelly, ratty Scrat trying to bury his acorn, only to find himself being dragged around the world and across time via time machine. You get the impression that adult Oscar voters are giving this portion of their ballot to their kids or their friends' kids. If that's the case, it's Scrat over Rydstrom by a whisker.

Wesley Morris can be reached at For more on movies, go to