If you’re a perennial fan of the Oscar-nominated short films, you’ll immediately notice something different compared to last year: No comedies among the live-action nominees (except one that’s not very amusing) and no obvious winner in the animated category, which is full of whimsical marvels. All 10 nominees are best appreciated on the big screen, so here’s your chance. The winners will be announced at the Academy Awards ceremony Feb. 24.
“Fresh Guacamole” (Adam Pesapane, U.S., 2 minutes): This colorful film was meticulously animated by Pesapane, whose previous shorts “Roof Sex” and “Western Spaghetti” went viral on YouTube. It looks simple as two hands chop familiar objects into the ingredients for guacamole, but the stop-motion technique is so painstakingly exact that all you can do is marvel at the patience that went into its creation.
“Maggie Simpson in ‘The Longest Daycare’ ” (David Silverman, U.S., 5 minutes): This “Simpsons” spinoff, which played theatrically with last year’s Oscar-winning hit “The Artist,” delivers constant sight gags as perpetual toddler Maggie survives a typical day at The Ayn Rand School for Tots. It’s almost an instant classic.
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“Paperman” (John Kahrs, U.S., 7 minutes): A brilliant debut by one of the animation supervisors on Disney’s 2010 hit “Tangled,” “Paperman” offers an old-fashioned, black-and-white “meet cute” involving a lovestruck clerk and the girl of his dreams. Without a single line of dialogue, it charmingly reminds us that traditional 2D animation will never go out of style.
“Adam and Dog” (Minkyu Lee, U.S., 16 minutes): Painterly and zenlike, the film tugs at the heartstrings when “the dog of Eden” is separated from his newfound master Adam, setting the stage for a quiet, warmly sentimental conclusion.
“Head Over Heels” (Timothy Reckart, United Kingdom, 10 minutes): Crafted in a stop-motion style reminiscent of Czech animator Jan Svankmajer, this whimsical tale follows a long-married couple as their home floats and tumbles in midair, causing him to live on the floor and her on the ceiling … or is it the other way around? Very clever, not unlike the gadget-based comedy of “Wallace & Gromit.”
“Henry” (Yan England, Canada, 21 minutes): The French-Canadian short powerfully externalizes the confusing and terrifying effects of Alzheimer’s disease, visualizing the vanishing memories of the 84-year-old title character, a former concert pianist played with heart-wrenching authenticity by Gérard Poirier.
“Asad” (Bryan Buckley, South Africa/U.S., 18 minutes): In a war-torn Somali village, the young boy Asad (Haroun Mohammed) faces a high-pressure choice between the dangers of ship-raiding piracy or the honest life of a traditional village fisherman. It’s been said that children are often wiser than the grown-ups around them; “Asad” embraces that sentiment with no-nonsense practicality.
“Buzkashi Boys” (Sam French, Afghanistan/U.S., 28 minutes): Two boys in war-torn Kabul yearn to play buzkashi, an Afghani variant of polo played with a dead goat. Like René Clément’s 1952 classic “Forbidden Games,” the film views war and its aftermath through the eyes of children — still, and always, the most heartbreaking perspective on humanity’s dark side.
“Death of a Shadow” (Tom Van Avermaet, Belgium/France, 20 minutes): Imagine Guillermo del Toro and David Fincher collaborating on a steampunk fantasy and you’ll get some idea of what to expect from this moody visual feast, in which a dead World War I soldier gets a second lease on life from a photographer with a very unusual camera.
“Curfew” (Shawn Christensen, U.S., 19 minutes): This is a semi-comedic misfire that follows a carefree slacker (played by writer-director Christensen) who’s recruited by his estranged sister to baby-sit his 9-year-old niece. The kid is smarter, wiser and more responsible than her aimless uncle, and that’s pretty much the extent of Christensen’s “comedy.” Some viewers will love the scene in which lanes full of bowlers break into a funky dance routine, but for me it fell flat.