It's good to know I'm not the only one who's become an annual fan of the Oscar-nominated short films.
Once a well-kept secret accessible to only a few on the coasts, the animated, live-action and documentary shorts have become one of the most successful independent film releases nationally. Last year they took in nearly $2.2 million at the box office, up 28 percent in one year.
Locally, the Oscar shorts are an annual offering at Film Streams, Omaha's nonprofit art-house movie theater. Animated and live-action nominees, five films each, began screening here Friday as two separate programs and will run for at least three weeks. A third program of five documentary shorts opens next Friday. Generally longer and less popular, the documentaries will be here one week.
The nominees come from countries that span the globe and represent an incredible range of artistic styles and subject matter. Watching them ahead of the Academy Awards on March 2 makes the telecast that much more interesting — and gives hard-core Oscar pool entrants an edge in the annual guessing game.
Here's a brief overview after happily getting a sneak peek.
“Feral,” USA, 13 minutes. A hunter saves a wild boy in the woods from being devoured by wolves and takes him back to civilization. The boy's survival strategies don't work so well at school. Almost devoid of color, the animation is in broad, vivid strokes that skip detail but capture restless movement. No dialogue.
“Get a Horse,” USA, 6 minutes. If you saw “Frozen” in a theater, you also saw this hand-drawn Disney short that bridges the black-and-white style of early Mickey Mouse cartoons with today's vivid color. Mickey, Minnie and Clarabelle Cow face off with Peg-Leg Pete, bursting through a movie screen and into the theater. Think “Purple Rose of Cairo,” in which Woody Allen's characters step off the screen and into life.
“Mr. Hublot,” Luxembourg/France, 11 minutes. Mr. Hublot, a fussbudget, lives in a world of characters made of mechanical parts. When he rescues a mechanical dog, his well-ordered world is turned upside down. The dog simply won't stop growing. And the three-dimensional, detailed nature of this machine-world is amazing. No dialogue.
“Possessions,” Japan, 14 minutes. A warrior seeking shelter from a storm enters a shrine in a forest, where he encounters ghostly creatures that bring inanimate objects to life. Strong contrasts in light and shadow and in the use of color distinguish the action-cartoon-style animation. Subtitled.
“Room on the Broom,” United Kingdom, 25 minutes. Based on a children's book by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler, this is a magical tale about friendship. Clever rhyming dialogue enlivens the gentle tale of a witch who makes room for a cat, dog, bird and frog before running afoul of a dragon. Delightful for all ages, and a personal favorite. Simon Pegg narrates, and Timothy Spall voices the dragon.
“Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?” Finland, 7 minutes. A wife and mother is frustrated when the family oversleeps and she's afraid they'll be late for a wedding. Her husband and two young daughters can't seem to help make up for lost time. Instead, the list of things that go wrong snowballs in this silly comedy. Subtitled.
“Helium,” Denmark, 23 minutes. A touching tale of a dying young boy and the hospital janitor who befriends him, giving him hope in place of fear about life in the next world. The janitor uses the boy's love of blimps and balloons to invent an afterlife in “Helium.” Loved this heart-tugger. Subtitled.
“Just Before Losing Everything,” France, 30 minutes. A woman who works in a large supermarket uses her workplace as a staging area to gather her kids and flee from an abusive husband. When he unexpectedly turns up, the film effectively builds anxiety and suspense. Subtitled.
“That Wasn't Me,” Spain, 24 minutes. A Spanish doctor's chance encounter with a child soldier in a war-torn African country changes both their lives forever. The harrowing story includes disturbing images of casual murder and rape, but also a deeply moving ending. Some English, profanity, subtitled.
“The Voorman Problem,” United Kingdom, 13 minutes. A prisoner (Tom Hollander, “Pirates of the Caribbean”) says he's God, and fellow inmates believe him. A psychiatrist (Martin Freeman, “The Hobbit”) has a tough time in his attempt to rid the prisoner of this notion.
No room to detail all the documentary shorts, but one is of regional note. “Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall” was shot at the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison. It focuses on a convicted murderer and decorated WWII veteran cared for in the prison hospice by fellow convicts.
Other topics in this category: a gay-bashing victim left for dead who later recognizes and forgives his attacker; an artistic carver of sandstone caves; Arab Spring protesters attacked by the government in Yemen; and the world's oldest Holocaust survivor.