One is tongue-in-cheek black humor, while four more are quite sober in their themes and reflections of the world.
Color bursts from a hand-drawn Garden of Eden in one, while another is in black and white, with just a dash of lip rouge. Yet another features a wildly popular character from television.
We’re talking about the Oscar-nominated short films, a varied lot playing again at Film Streams’ Ruth Sokolof Theater at 14th and Mike Fahey Streets. You get to vote on your favorites before the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences announces its winners Feb. 24.
The five animated shorts and five live-action shorts opened Friday, while the documentary short subjects will be added this weekend.
For families, this year’s animated shorts are a don’t-miss lineup, likely among the best new openers for the entire month of February. And the whole program is just 45 minutes long.
>> Let’s start with my favorite, “Adam & Dog.” In the Bible’s lush Garden of Eden, Director Minkyu Lee imagines the first time the paths of dog and man cross, beginning a friendship to last through millennia. Lee (“Wreck-It Ralph”) has a great feel for nature, and his use of color is stunning as dog and man explore their new world.
>> A close second on my list: “Paperman,” which many film fans saw as the warmup to the animated feature “Wreck-It Ralph” in theaters. It’s proof again that black-and-white has its effective place in animation, as it does in live-action. In “Paperman,” a young office worker crosses paths with a pretty girl on his commute, loses her, then spies her again. Paper airplanes become his way to try to reconnect, and the silent storyline evokes romance.
>> Another familiar sight to many will be “Maggie Simpson in ‘The Longest Daycare,’” which played in theaters before “Ice Age: Continental Drift.” I’m not a huge Simpsons fan, but the cartoon makes fun of TSA airport-type security as Maggie is dropped off at the Ayn Rand Daycare Center. Once there, she tries to save a butterfly from her hammer-wielding nemesis, Baby Gerald.
>> “Head Over Heels,” a stop-motion claymation work, looks at a married couple who have drifted apart, to the point that she lives on the ceiling of their home, he on the floor. The house seems to be drifting through space, much as Dorothy’s house did in “The Wizard of Oz.” But when it lands they have to deal with some of their issues.
>> The whimsically imaginative “Fresh Guacamole” — barely two minutes long — celebrates pop-art surrealism. Video artist Adam Pesapane (he goes by PES) reimagines ingredients for the dip by substituting other items. A baseball stands in for an onion. A hand grenade represents the avocado.
The live-action shorts are led by a pair of poignant stories starring children in war-torn countries. The acting is superb.
>> “Buzkashi Boys,” set in Kabul, Afghanistan, features best pals Rafi, son of a stern blacksmith, and street urchin Ahmad, surviving on handouts. The boys long to one day play Buzkashi, an Afghan sport played on horseback. It looks kind of like polo, except the players are fighting over a goat. Harsh realities intrude on the boys’ dreams of a future.
>> “Asad” finds a poor boy in Somalia torn between life as an honest fisherman or becoming an open-seas pirate, like the boys he looks up to. An old fisherman trying to mentor the boy tells him he will have an amazing catch one day, and he does. The cast is entirely made up of Somali refugees.
>> I also loved “Henry,” a French Canadian film about an elderly concert pianist caught in mental confusion as he searches for his wife. If you’ve experienced dementia or Alzheimer’s disease in your life, as I have, you’ll find “Henry” particularly moving. Piano music by Mascagni enhances the heartache. The film is inspired by the director’s grandfather.
>> “Death of a Shadow,” a French-Belgian sci-fi piece, stars Matthias Schoenaerts from “Rust & Bone” as a WWI soldier killed in battle. He tries to ransom his soul from Death by photographing profiles of people as they die. The soldier hopes to return to the girl he loves, but fate intervenes.
>> “Curfew,” written and directed by Shawn Christensen, stars himself as a hipster on the verge of suicide when his sister calls in need of a babysitter for his precocious niece. The film is uneven in tone, as brother and sister clash one minute and bowlers break into dance the next.
Documentary shorts, the longest program at 3½ hours, tackle life in a retirement community (“King’s Point”), a beauty salon for women in chemotherapy (“Mondays at Racine”), a homeless undocumented immigrant artist (“Innocente”), people in New York City surviving by collecting cans and bottles (“Redemption”) and Rwandan children with heart disease seeking treatment in the United States (“Open Heart”). I didn’t get to preview those before press time, but you can bet they’re something to see.