IF THIS YEAR'S Oscar nominees for best short films represent the best the global film community has to offer, it begs the question: What the hell happened to live-action short filmmaking? Did all the really clever filmmakers defect to animation? With the Hollywood Theatre showing both the Oscar-nominated live-action shorts and the nominated animated shorts, the contrast between the categories is striking: The live shorts are a trite, unimaginative bunch, while the animation shorts vary excitingly in style, substance, and theme.
The unofficial theme of this year's live-action shorts: Boys with Problems. A little British boy wishes for something to tell the priest at his first confession—be careful what you wish for, little British boy. A Brooklyn hipster prays the girl he loves will fall for him, too—be careful what you wish for, Brooklyn hipster. A kid with cancer prays to get laid before he dies—well, you see where this is going. The only real thematic deviation in this category comes from an African film about a pack of Hutu soldiers hell-bent on weeding out the Tutsi members of a traveling party. Turns out, it's not so easy to tell friend from foe! Sigh.
There's far more imagination and audacity on display in the animated shorts category. Exhibit A, of course, is Pixar's outstanding Day & Night animation (you probably saw it at the beginning of Toy Story 3) in which two blobby cartoon characters on different dimensional planes struggle to interact. With typical Pixar-short aplomb—this might, in fact, be their best to date—Day & Night justifies the entire existence of 3D film technology in about three minutes. (Too bad, then, that the Hollywood will be presenting it in 2D.) And then there's Let's Pollute!, a tongue-in-cheek send-up of old-school educational films that documents the heavily polluting world we live in: "Today, polluting is better and more convenient than ever!" it cheers. It's tough to pick a favorite from the animated shorts, because they're all so charming; it's tough to pick a favorite from the live-action shorts, because they're all so mediocre.