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In the modern film world, producers of short films have few of the mass distribution options afforded the makers of Benjamin Button or WALL-E. But comparing the nominated feature films with the nominated shorts, it’s the unfamiliar faces behind those 15-minute bursts of brilliance that truly deserve to win big this year. And the nominees are…

Live-Action Shorts

  • Auf Der Strecke: Screenwriter/directo Reto Caffi’s film follows a German department store security guard who falls for a bookshop clerk. Rolf follows the object of his CCTV voyeurism from screen to screen, bookshelf to till, and clocks out in time to share the same train home from work with her, where he again watches her from a distance. But one night, she boards the train with another man, a few fights take place, and Rolf makes a fateful decision that changes the way his love interest sees him, and the way he sees himself. In it’s 30–minute runtime, Auf Der Strecke has more suspense, subtle character development and gorgeous cinematography than most of the feature nominees.
  • Manon on the Asphalt: When a car sends Manon, on her way to meet her boyfriend, flying from her bicycle to the cobbled street, she narrates the events immediately following and leading up to her death. How will the paramedics identify her? Who will call her friends and mother? What are they doing when they answer the phone—or don’t? What was the last thing she said to her mother? This French short from writers/directors Elizabeth Marre and Olivier Pont is a light take on heavy introspection.
  • New Boy: Perhaps the most relatable of all the nominees in this category, Roddy Doyle’s short story turned Steph Green’s short film chronicles the fist day of a new African student’s fist day in an Irish grade school. Weaving flashbacks of sun-soaked African schooldays with his father/teacher into the gray, unfamiliar first day narrative, Green’s film is a 10-minute lesson in tolerance, patience and, ultimately, new friendship.
  • The Pig: When a Danish elderly man is checked into hospital for surgery “in the butt,” as he so readily reveals to any and everyone, he develops a strange fondness for a banal painting of a pig. But although the pig is on par with the Mona Lisa for him, when his Muslim roommate moves in for surgery, the removal of the pig painting snowballs into a clash of cultures.
  • Toyland: In 1942 Germany, a woman tells her young son that their Jewish neighbors and friends, the Silbersteins, are leaving tomorrow for Toyland. He vows to go with his best friend’s family, even though his mother tells him he cannot. When her son is missing the next morning, the young, single mother runs to the train station to save her son from the Silberstein’s fate. Writer/director Jochen Alexander Freydank tells a tale of deception, mistaken identity and sacrifice both heartwarming and heart-rending.

Animated Shorts

  • This Way Up: This characteristically British short marries dark humor with slapstick comedy as an father-and-son-undertaker-duo try their darndest to transport an elderly woman’s casket from home to grave. “Laying the dead to rest has never been so much trouble,” is the film’s tagline. The men battle flattening boulders, thorny heaths, and dancing skeletons on the River Styx on what turns out to be an eerily touching bonding trip. The animation is a mix of Pixar’s immaculate CG style and Disney exile Tim Burton’s creaky, lanky and gaunt graphics a la Jack Skellington. With plenty of Presto‘s intelligent slapstick, Oktapodi‘s lovingly arduous journey and Lavatory-Lovestory‘s sophisticated characterization, Adam Foulkes and Alan Smith include all the positives of their fellow animated nominees in their wholly original short.
  • Oktopodi: This French nominee offers a comic look at invertebrate love, and the lengths the octopi will go to be together. Running from a chef, the two lovers bounce, squirt and fling themselves all over the tiny Greek island in a slapstick “true love shall prevail” odyssey directors Julien Bocabeille and Francois-Xavier Chanioux leave hilariously open-ended.
  • La Maison en Petits Cubes: A Japanese film animated in traditionally French style, La Maison is a geometric, impressionistic visualization of examining one’s past. While undoubtedly beautiful, the film is serious and a bit too morose (the terrible lonely-clarinet music certainly doesn’t help) and heavy handed in pushing its allegorical agenda compared to its fellow nominees to garner serious consideration.
  • Lavatory-Lovestory: When a bored, lonely men’s room attendant discovers she has a secret admirer, she searches the stalls high and low for her beloved. Using minimalist animation reminiscent of Red Bull commercials, Russian writer/director Konstantin Bronzit’s love story shows you don’t have to search far for love.
  • Presto: Pixar’s latest short follows Alec Azam, a magician’s rabbit grown tired – and hungry – from the old carrot-and-stick spiel. Refusing to be pulled from the magician’s hat, a dizzying behind-the-scenes battle between Alec and his boss becomes the magician’s most successful, if self-destructive, show to date. Witty and impeccably animated, Presto may very well give This Way Up a run for the Oscar.