With feature films directed by the 2005 and 2006 Oscar winners for Best Live Action Short — Martin McDonough (In Bruges) and Ari Sandel (Vince Vaughn's Wild West Comedy Show), respectively — in theaters now, Hollywood execs may pay closer-than-usual attention to shorts this Academy Awards season. If they do, they'll see two films that hew perfectly to the clever, O. Henry-style shorts favored by festival juries and award voters: Guido Thys and Anja Daelemans' sweet Belgian Tango pic Tanghi Argentini and Philippe Pollet-Villard's aw-shucks French comedy, The Mozart of Pickpockets, about two bumbling thieves who adopt a cute kid as their partner in crime. (Don't be surprised if these directors are at the helm of the next Full Monty/Mostly Martha-style indie charmer.) This year's other Oscar-nominated live-action shorts are a mixed bag. Andrea Jublin's The Substitute is a lively but ham-fisted high-school comedy that suggests a Roberto Benigni-directed episode of My So-Called Life. The Tonto Woman, like last year's Cashback, is a long, expensive, calling-card short with excellent production values and zero soul. And co-directors Christian E. Christiansen and Louise Vesth's At Night depicts a "you-go-girl sleepover" in a Danish cancer ward, with ladies as beautiful (of course) as they are ill (of course) — it's a well-meaning, terminal bore, but "serious" enough to walk away with the statuette.
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More impressive is this year's batch of animated shorts. Four of them feature truly poetic visuals, and the fifth, a rather prosaic riff on Prokofiev's musical tutorial, Peter and the Wolf, is hard to dislike. Josh Raskin's I Met the Walrus is a virtuosic illustration (using morphing, stream-of-consciousness images) of a 1969 interview with John Lennon. Both Madame Tutli-Putli (co-directed by Chris Lavis and Maciek Szczerbowski, of Canada) and Even Pigeons Go to Heaven (co-directed by Samuel Tourneux and Simon Vanesse, of France) are quirky, haunting stories with dazzling tableaux and endearing characters that will, with any luck, earn feature projects for their creators. Most notable, though, is four-time Best Animated Short nominee (and 1999 Oscar winner) Alexander Petrov's Moya Lyubov (My Love), a romantic coming-of-age story, based on a 1927 Russian book, that comes to life as a shimmering impressionist painting. Not just a slide show of pretty pictures, Petrov's imagery is both dramatic and fluid, propelling a 26-minute short that possesses the emotional impact and depth of a novel or feature film. (The Landmark; Playhouse 7)