Each year a dozen or more films under 40 minutes in length are nominated for Academy Awards alongside "The Lord of the Rings," "Chicago" and "Gladiator," and the makers of these shorts walk the same red carpet trod by Russell Crowe, Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson -- albeit with less attention from Joan Rivers. Often their acceptance speeches are the most touching and wittiest of the evening. But aside from screenings on the Sundance Channel or IFC, it's not usually easy for most of us to see them.
The "2004 Academy Award-Nominated Live Action and Animated Shorts," Apollo Cinema's annual compilation of some of these films, is an opportunity to see in a theatrical setting what talented filmmakers from around the world can do in a limited amount of time.
The strongest piece in the program and the winner of the best animated short Oscar is Adam Elliot's "Harvie Krumpet," an epic tale of an uncommonly common man's life told in 22 minutes of claymation. Harvie resembles a large, gray potato with blinking cue-ball eyes, and his life is not an easy one.
Born in 1922 Poland to a lumberjack father and a lead-poisoned miner mother, he has Tourette's syndrome which makes him an easy mark for ridicule and a willing candidate for home-schooling. Personal tragedy and invading Germans prompt Harvie to immigrate to Australia, where things are no easier but he does briefly find love and meaning to it all.
Elliot's animation and storytelling skills make Harvie a singular character of indomitable spirit without being maudlin or sentimental. Geoffrey Rush narrates with just the right tone of solemnity, leavened with a touch of the fairy tale.
Canadian Chris Hinton's "Nibbles" looks something like the inky illustrations of Ralph Steadman as it spins the tale of a father-and-son fishing trip. Its frenetic pace and ambitious sound reveal fresh amusements in multiple viewings as the pair makes many stops on its sojourn.
Among the live-action films, "(A) Torsion," by Slovenian Stefan Arsenijevic, gathers an amateur choir in a barn as it awaits clearance to leave war-torn Sarajevo via a makeshift tunnel. A local man enlists the aid of an intrepid, unlicensed veterinarian to help with his cow's difficult birth. Arsenijevic credibly creates a fleeting sense of community among the temporarily displaced travelers as exploding bombs and uncertainty surround them.
Florian Baxmeyer's "The Red Jacket" opens in Germany but also finds its way to Sarajevo as it follows the title garment after it is discarded by a grieving father. The film pursues a tragic circle of life to its somewhat implausible but nonetheless touching conclusion.
Like a Gallic Neil LaBute, Lionel Bailliu's "Squash" pits two business associates in an increasingly unfriendly match that unfolds in more-or-less real time. The sweat and blood fly as this testosterone-dipped drama becomes passive-aggressively violent.
A bonus to the program is Kimberly Miner's clever "Perpetual Motion," the 2003 Student Academy Award winner for animation. In less than 90 seconds, Miner's mock science doc synthesizes the ideas that cats dropped from any height will always land on their feet and dropped toast will always land jelly side down. So how will a cat with jellied toast strapped to its back land?
Come see for the results.
'2004 Academy Award-Nominated Live Action and Animated Shorts'
MPAA rating: Unrated
Times guidelines: Serious subject matter; recommended for mature teens and older.
Laemmle Theatres present an Apollo Cinema release. "Harvie Krumpet," director Adam Elliot, Australia, 22 mins. "Nibbles," director Chris Hinton, Canada, 5 mins. "(A) Torsion," director Stefan Arsenijevic, Slovenia, 12 mins. "Squash," director Lionel Bailliu, France, 28 mins. "The Red Jacket," director Florian Baxmeyer, 20 mins. "Perpetual Motion," director Kimberly Miner, U.S. 1 min., 26 seconds. Program running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.
Exclusively at Laemmle's Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood, (323) 848-3500; and Laemmle's Playhouse 7, 673 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 844-6500.