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Oscar shorts: This year's animated and live-action nominees

"Piper," directed by Alan Barillaro, is one of Pixar's best in recent years because of its extraordinary technical sophistication. (Pixar Animation Studios/TNS)

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By TIRDAD DERAKHSHANI | The Philadelphia Inquirer | Published: February 16, 2017

This year's Oscar-nominated short films in the animated and live-action categories range from the cute to the transcendent, from love stories to probing political dialogues about immigration and racial identity.

ANIMATED SHORTS

North America dominates the animated-shorts category – three out of the five nominated films are U.S. productions, one is from Canada, and the fifth is a joint Canadian-British production.

"Borrowed Time." Directed by Andrew Coats and Lou Hamou-Lhadj. (USA, 7 mins). This visually impressive, lushly textured CGI entry is one of two entries from Pixar, which hasn't won an Oscar in this category for 15 years. A simple but nicely rendered visual poem about memory, loss, and regret set in a Monument Valley vista straight out of a John Ford western, it's about an aging, austere-looking sheriff who contemplates memories of his father as he stands perilously close to the edge of a high cliff.

"Piper." Directed by Alan Barillaro. (USA, 6 mins). If Pixar's first offering seems unusually dark, this sometimes charming, sometimes sickeningly saccharine short is very much in tune with the usual Pixar pic. A sandpiper teaches a recent hatchling how to fend for herself at the edge of the sea. The film is one of Pixar's best in recent years because of its extraordinary technical sophistication. The birds are rendered with such detail, you'd swear they were real animals captured on film.

"Blind Vaysha." Directed by Theodore Ushev. (Canada, 8 mins). Adapted from a fable by Georgi Gospodinov, this gorgeously realized digital creation is about a woman who cannot see what's in front of her. Her left eye sees only the past, while her right sees only the future. Ushev, known for his work in linocut block printing, fills each frame with gorgeous swirling van Gogh skies and wild, flaming trees, while his characters have cubist faces that look as if they were carved from wood.

"Pearl." Directed by Patrick Osborne. (USA, 6 mins). Osborne, who won a 2015 Oscar for directing Disney's animated short "Feast," has a lot of fun with this funky 2-D musical road trip about a fledgling pop star who travels in the car once used by her busker dad. The Academy accepted the short even though it was initially created as an early rendering for a 3-D virtual-reality video made via Google Spotlight Stories.

"Pear Cider and Cigarettes." Directed by Robert Valley. (Canada and UK, 35 mins). Valley used Photoshop to give this moving graphic novel a hard-etched ink-and-paper look. A dark, grown-up fable, it's about Valley's 25-year-friendship with a self-destructive drunk whom he tries to rescue from a hospital in China. The terrific soundtrack contains fragments from 19 songs.

LIVE-ACTION SHORTS

Foreign films dominate this category, which contains nary a film from America.

"Sing." Directed by Kristof Deak's. (Hungary, 25 mins). Tween middle-school student Zsofi (Dora Gasparvalvi) loves to sing, so she's delighted when her mom enrolls her in a competitive school famous for its award-winning choir, in this edgy pic about society's tendency to use competition to sow the seeds of corruption in its young. The film starts off as the story of Zsofi's growing friendship with fellow chorister Liza (Dorka Hais). The tone changes when the new girl learns the dark secret for the choir's success.

"Silent Nights." Directed by Aske Bang. (Denmark, 30 mins). Best known in his native Denmark as a TV actor, Bang also has directed two critically acclaimed shorts ("Ladyboy," "The Stranger"). His third is a somewhat convoluted grown-up love story about a volunteer at a homeless shelter (Malene Beltoft Olsen) who falls in love with a Ghanaian immigrant (Prince Yaw Appiah). The ending feels contrived with its thrillerlike plot twists.

"Timecode." Directed by Juanjo Gimenez Pena. (Spain, 15 mins). A serious contender, this Palme d'Or-winning short is a delightful if seriously off-the-wall two-character dramedy about the growing friendship between shift workers at a 24-hour garage (Lali Ayguade and Nicolas Ricchini) who only ever see each other for a few minutes a day – he works the night shift, she's there during the day. When they discover they are passionate about the same hobby, they begin leaving each other video communiques.

"Ennemis Interieurs." Directed by Selim Azzazi. (France, 29 mins). It doesn't get more topical than this amazing entry from France about immigration set in the 1990s, when fears of Algerian terror attacks dominated the French airwaves. Shot almost entirely in a single room containing a table and two chairs, it's about the interrogation of an Algeria-born resident seeking French citizenship (Hassam Ghancy) by a French official (Najib Oudghiri) who seems to have a shared ethnic history.

"La Femme et la TGV." Directed by Timo von Gunten. (Switzerland, 30 mins). Jane Birkin stars in this touching story about friendship as a lonely, small-town baker whose despair is lifted one day when she receives a note from the conductor of a train that passes her place every day. In it he thanks her for the joy she gives him by waving at the train each time she sees it. Soon the duo begin exchanging heartfelt letters.

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(c) 2017 The Philadelphia Inquirer

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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