The big shorts

Prep for the Oscars with nominated short films

Looking to win your home or office Oscar pool, impress your peers with your depth of knowledge about the nominees, or simply expand your artistic horizons with a dip into the pool of international short films?""The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2016 -- Live Action" and "The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2016 -- Animated" programs have arrived at a theater near you.

Among the live-action shorts, the domestic entry, Henry Hughes' "Day One" (25 minutes), is the weakest of the bunch, playing at the overheated pitch of a vintage episode of "E.R." The film details the first day of an Afghan-American interpreter for the U.S. Army, which finds her in the uncomfortably urgent position of assisting in the labor of a bomb-making suspect's wife. A more affecting drama, "Shok," hails from Kosovo; this 21-minute coming-of-age tale by Jamie Donoughue, framed as a memory piece, recounts the friendship of two young boys in a war zone (1998 Kosovo) and highlights the slender options available under (Serbian) occupation.

A couple of comedies lighten the mood: Benjamin Cleary and Serena Armitage's more-or-less-obvious U.K. romantic-comedy "Stutterer" (12 minutes) follows the titular sufferer as he fearfully embarks on a real-life meeting with his online crush, while Basil Khalil and Eric Dupont's Palestinian comedy "Ave Maria" (15 minutes) charms with its offbeat deadpan approach to the story of a family that literally crashes into a convent of nuns who try to help in spite of their vows of silence.

Best in show, though, goes to Patrick Vollrath's wrenching half-hour German drama "Everything Will Be Okay (Alles Wird Gut)", about a divorced father's unusual visitation day with his 8-year-old daughter, which turns into an emotionally trying, heartfelt but risky journey.

The animated selections have a mostly familiar feel, falling into certain formulas popular in the short-form animated genre. For starters, perennial nominee Pixar returns to the category with Sanjay Patel and Nicole Grindle's "Sanjay's Super Team" (7 minutes), recently seen in front of the feature "The Good Dinosaur." It's a sweet-natured exploration of a first-generation Indian-American boy warming to his father's Hindu faith by imagining gods in the vein of the boy's beloved superheroes. Gabriel Osorio and Pato Escala's "Bear Story" (11 minutes), from Chile, also uses CGI but through a wholly silent aesthetic, in a melancholy but hopeful story of a bear turning his family tragedy into art.

With his enjoyably quirky, borderline-absurd 16-minute Russian entry "We Can't Live Without Cosmos," Konstantin Bronzit explores a deep bond of friendship between cosmonauts in training, but it's trumped for sheer loopy joy by Don Hertzfeldt's delirious, mind-bending "World of Tomorrow" (17 minutes), in which a little girl learns of her fate from her time-traveling future self.

The pithiest entry in either program, the 6-minute U.K. short "Prologue," is also the least kid-friendly, but it's been positioned at the end and preceded by a warning in case you'd like to make an early exit with your child. Richard Williams and Imogen Sutton's film strikingly depicts, in hand-drawn animation, two Spartan warriors clashing with two Athenians, exposing blood and genitals in the process. The 88th Academy Awards ceremony airs on Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016 ... now you have another way to get ready.

Both programs not MPAA rated. One hour, 26 minutes (Animated) and one hour, 47 minutes (Live Action).

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