Oscar-nominated shorts will screen at Music Box Theatre

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In time for the edification of serious Academy Award aficionados, the Music Box Theatre will host showings of live-action and animated short-film nominees beginning Friday. The two categories will be shown at alternate times, with separate admissions.

Live action: "Auf Der Strecke" ("On the Line") *** 1/2

Germany/Switzerland/ 30 minutes/ 2007/ Reto Caffi

This bittersweet tale of vigilance and missed connections features a department store security guard (Roeland Wiesnekker, channeling Ernest Borgnine in "Marty") who keeps an eye on the book department and its comely clerk (Catherine Janke) for more than professional reasons. When his romantic feelings overcome his law-enforcement instincts, the repercussions are irreparable.

"Grisen" ("The Pig") *** 1/2

Denmark/ 22 minutes/ 2008/ Dorte Hogh

Humorous and pointed, "The Pig" tackles cultural difference and the meaning of tolerance through the eyes of Asbjorn (Henning Moritzen), who enters the hospital for minor rectal surgery that turns major. He finds solace in the spartan room's sole decoration, a portrait of a bemused pig (whose smile he likens to the Mona Lisa's). Back from the operating room, Asbjorn's aghast to find the portrait gone at the behest of the Muslim family of his new roommate, and he's ready to fight for his right to free speech. It ends with an ironic twist.

"Manon Sur Le Bitume" ("Manon on the Asphalt") ****

France/ 15 minutes/ 2007/ Elizabeth Marre, Olivier Pont

An accident derails the mundane, wonderful world of Manon (Aude Leger), a young woman out on her bike to mail some letters. Sprawled on the pavement, surrounded by strangers, she narrates as her life passes before her eyes. Writer-directors Marre and Pont dreamily flash back and forward to flesh out a full existence in a quarter of an hour.

"New Boy" *** 1/2

Ireland/ 11 minutes/ 2007/ Steph Green

Based on a short story by Roddy Doyle ("The Commitments," "The Van," "The Snapper"), the boy of the title is Joseph, played by Olutunji Ebun-Cole, an African immigrant new to an Irish school, where he endures the jibes of two class bullies (one of whom calls him "Live Aid") by thinking back to warmer times in his home school, taught by his supportive father. Charming young actors (including a spot-on Sinead Maguire as class brown-nose Hazel O'Hara) match this effectively compact tale.

"Spielzeugland" ("Toyland") *** 1/2

Germany/ 14 minutes/ 2007/ Jochen Alexander Freydank

A poignant tale of the Holocaust that goes in an unexpected direction at the close: A mother (Julia Jager) tells her son that his little Jewish friend and his family are headed to "Toyland," a temptation the Aryan child can barely resist. When the neighbors disappear and her son is nowhere to be seen, the mother is off on a desperate journey to head off disaster.

Animation "Lavatory-Love Story" *** 1/2

Russia/ 10 minutes/ 2007/ Konstantin Bronzit

A lonely woman attendant at a men's bathroom collects coins and cleans while she dreams of companionship. The spare black-and-white line drawings brighten when an unknown admirer begins to leave colorful bouquets for her.

"Le Maison En Petit Cubes" ("Pieces of Love, Vol. 1") *** 1/2

Japan/ 12 minutes/ 2008/ Kunio Kato

An old widower keeps adding stories to his home to avoid a rising tide; when he drops his pipe, he dons a Diver Dan suit and travels back through his past, to a time when he cared for his ailing wife, to when their daughter brought her children to their home, to when she was a little girl and back further into the past. The most touching of the animated offerings.

"Oktapodi" *** 1/ 2

France/ 3 minutes/ 2007/ Julien Bocabeille, Francois-Xavier Chanioux, Olivier Delabarre, Thierry Marchand, Quentin Marmier, Emud Mokhberi

Two octopi are chilling in a store tank when a customer chooses one for slaughter. The other bounds out into the streets of a Greek village to battle a truck driver for the life of a friend. Short and sweet.

"This Way Up" ****

U.K./ 9 minutes/ 2008/ Christopher O'Reilly, Smith & Foulkes

A funereal palette can't dull the fun when two long-faced morticians attempt to lay to rest the corpse of an elderly woman. Beset by a troublesome boulder, among many other things, they will fulfill their duties or die trying.

"Presto" *** 1/2

U.S./ 5 minutes/ 2008/ Doug Sweetland

Those who saw "WALLE" will remember this Pixar short about a magician and his hungry rabbit assistant. The Pixar touch abounds in the personality of the famished rabbit; slapsticky violence might be a little much for the very young.

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