Free from the conventions of long-form narrative and the arbitrary and commerce-driven requirement of a two-hour running time, well-made short films can feel like a breath of fresh air — when you can find them. The annual showcase of Oscar-nominated short films deserves to be celebrated simply because it's the only short-film program widely distributed to theaters in the U.S. Divided into live-action, animation and documentary categories, this year's Oscar shorts are a predictably mixed bag, but one worthy of proper presentation on the big screen.
The 105-minute live-action program goes around the world with five tales well-suited to compact storytelling. Set in Kabul, Afghanistan, Buzkashi Boys portrays the misery of street life through the lives of two boys taken with the national sport of Buzkashi, in which athletes play polo with a dead goat. Death of a Shadow offers a visually arresting steampunk fantasy, and Henry gets deep inside the mind of an Alzheimer's patient. The animated program comes in at a modest 40 minutes but displays an abundance of wit and charm. In Head Over Heels, an estranged married couple occupies a metaphorically divided house where he lives on the floor and she's on the ceiling. Fans of The Simpsons won't want to miss The Longest Daycare, in which Maggie Simpson suffers countless indignities while stuck at the Any Rand Daycare Center. — KEN KORMAN