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'Oscar Shorts'

'Oscar Shorts' is a tasty sampler of little films

Friday, May 17, 2002

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Movie Critic

"Oscar Shorts" is not a new line of men's underwear but, rather, the Academy Award-nominated "little films" -- live-action and animated short subjects -- we never get to see.

'Oscar Shorts'

RATING: Mostly PG-13



Thanks to Pittsburgh Filmmakers, we get to see 'em this year -- 10 in all, among which treasures abound. A sampling:

"The Accountant" (38 min.): Ray McKinnon wrote, directed and plays the title role in this Southern Gothic black comedy about bickersome brothers Tom and Dave (Walton Goggins and Eddie King), who disagree on how to save their flopping family farm. Enter the chain-smoking, hard-drinking Accountant, whose steel-trap mind is so sharp he can tell by one drugstore receipt that Dave's wife has been having an affair. His creative book-keeping suggestions include arson, murder and self-mutilation. Enron and Arthur Andersen would've snapped this guy up. Shot in Georgia, it's a heavy-handed hoot -- the longest of the batch, and the one that copped the live-action Oscar.

"A Man Thing" (26 min.): By total contrast, this Polish entry is the most tragic and deeply compelling drama among the nominees -- a wrenchingly, beautifully acted drama about a boy (Bartosz Idczak) whose only refuge from an abusive father and soccer coach is the local pound with a doomed dog he loves. Flawlessly directed in black-and-white by Slawomir Fabicki, it's a slice of gritty Lodz life that will break your heart (and should've won the Oscar, in my Slavophilic opinion).

"Speed for Thespians" (29 min.): Speaking of Slavs, this is a bizarre, lovely rendition of Chekhov's "The Bear" -- performed entirely on a New York City bus! Sounds absurd, and is. But then, so, essentially, is the play. Somehow it works, thanks to superb (obliviously theatrical) performances by Denis Holmes and Camilla Enders as a guy demanding repayment of a debt and a woman who won't give it to him. Their supporting actors consist of fellow passengers on the bus -- which hurtles along, never stopping, as they fuss with each other. Hence the title, and the sophisticated fun, from director Kalman Apple.

"Gregor's Greatest Invention" (11 min.): Sweetest of all these mini-pix is this perfect little German fantasy by Johannes Kiefer about a young man determined to keep his grandma out of an old folks' home. Determined, more specifically, to devise a way for her to fly -- since she can't walk. Her nattering neighbor ladies say it can't be done. Gregor thinks otherwise. The images are terrific and the message gratifying.

"Stubble Trouble" (4 min.): An animated short that's done by the time you make a soft-boiled egg, this delightful bagatelle by Joseph E. Meredith depicts the monumental efforts of an amorous caveman to get a girl by getting rid of his Richard Nixonesque fiveo'clock shadow.

"Give Up Yer Aul Sins" (5 min.): A little Irish schoolgirl's hilarious telling of the John the Baptist story (complete with Dance of the Seven Veils) is used, verbatim, as the soundtrack behind childlike animated visuals. A great, charming oddity -- with the most mellifluous (and slightly chilling) child's voice.

"Strange Invaders" (8 min.): Strange indeed, and very amusing, is this Canadian cartoon about childless Doris and Roger who suddenly become the foster parents of an E.T. that's not quite as cute as the Spielberg one. Instead of Reese's Pieces, it eats plates, and its favorite nuts are the kind that go with bolts. Another little gem from director Cordell ("The Cat Came Back") Barker.

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