Unrated (some adult themes)
This year's crop of Oscar-nominated live-action and animated shorts -- five in each category, shown in two programs requiring separate tickets -- are a hodgepodge of quality, country of origin and artistic intent.
One of the brighter bulbs on the live-action marquee is the eerie, stylish Belgian vignette Death of a Shadow. It stars Rust and Bone hunk Matthias Schoenaerts as Nathan, a WWI casualty on a one-year reprieve from death. The grim reaper admires Nathan's skill as a photographer, employing him to snap amusingly composed silhouette pictures of mortals at the moment of their demise. When Nathan's service is over, he can return to the realm of the living. Unfortunately, he develops tender feelings for one subject, putting his resurrection in jeopardy.
The other live-action entries, in decreasing order of interest:
Buzkashi Boys is set in war-ravaged Kabul, Afghanistan, where two street kids imagine becoming sports heroes. The athletes they revere play Buzkashi, a bruising horseback game of capture the flag, where the flag is a dead goat.
Asad, from Somalia, is another story of youths in a violent region, directed with tight efficiency. The title character is a boy from a seaside village whose main occupation has shifted from fishing to piracy.
Curfew gives us a morose New York City hipster who's called to baby-sit for his precocious 9-year-old niece on the worst night of his life. Limping along at the tail of the live-action field is Henry, a lachrymose French-Canadian tale of an aged concert pianist who is losing the power to distinguish between life and memories.
From cartoon land, the best is Disney's Paperman, a black-and-white charmer about an office worker in a midcentury metropolis and his efforts to catch his dream girl with a squadron of paper airplanes.
There's a big-studio polish to the hand-drawn Garden of Eden pooch tale Adam and Dog, too. The visually ravishing film explores the links of affection, shame and sympathy that make man, woman and their best friend such a great team.
The Fox entry, Maggie Simpson in 'The Longest Daycare', is a five-minute gag-fest with a so-so hit-to-miss ratio. Dropped off by Marge at the Ayn Rand School for Tots, Maggie tries to rescue a butterfly from the mallet of her malicious nemesis, uni-browed Baby Clarence. The short reflects the long, slow creative decline of the classic TV series.
Head Over Heels, a claymation story about a broken marriage, is nicely produced, shot and edited, but it's overwhelmed by its visual gimmick. After ages of drifting apart, he lives on the floor and she lives on the ceiling. At 10 minutes long, it overstays its welcome by five.
Finally, there's the trippy but trivial Fresh Guacamole, a stop-motion throwaway that imagines a recipe for party dip involving sliced hand grenades, chopped baseballs and diced dice. Tastes ... gimmicky.
Exclusive: Landmark Magnolia, Dallas; plays Feb. 15-17 at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth
-- Colin Covert,