- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 22, 2007

Feature films are the big draw this Oscar weekend, but audiences can also check out the lesser known featurettes, both live-action and animated, up for the golden statuette.

The District’s Landmark E Street Cinema begins showing the 2006 Academy Award-nominated animated and live-action shorts today in two separate programs.

They may be short, but they offer many of the same components audiences crave in theatrical films — moving drama, intrigue and expert craftsmanship.

Here, in brief, are some of the standouts.

Live action shorts:

West Bank Story — This healing comic musical, sort of an extended “Saturday Night Live” sketch that doesn’t falter after the initial gag recedes, transports “West Side Story’s” star-crossed lovers into the Israeli-Palestinian divide. A pretty girl from Hummus Hut falls for an Israeli soldier, and their lives and love collide as the Hut squares off against Kosher King. The dueling fast food franchises squabble over property rights, a wall being built between the two and just about anything else they can find.

The film keeps it all in good fun, no small feat given the tragic circumstances it mirrors, and both the music and the humor manage to delicately tweak the grievance-mongering on both sides.

Helmer & Son — This Danish entry involves a middle-aged man visiting his father in a retirement home. The father has locked himself up in a wardrobe and won’t come out. Father and son talk, or, more accurately, bicker through the wood panel door while issues involving the family business strain them both. “Helmer & Son’s” ending on a comic note doesn’t undercut either its tension or keen insight into the dynamics of aging.

The Saviour — Morris and his buddy go door to door to spread the Good Word. Takers are few, until one local woman wants to hear more — or at least see more of Morris. That Morris scores, so to speak, fascinates his colleague but later creates tension between the two. So goes “The Saviour,” a cheeky story of the collision of agendas sacred and profane.

This simple, finely acted tale feels richer and deeper than its running time should allow, and the final twist isn’t so much a surprise as a satisfying way to cap the short.

Eramos Pocos — One of the more provocative, if narratively leaner, shorts comes from Spain. “Eramos Pocos” imagines a father and son who wake up one day to find the father’s wife missing. No sooner do they notice her absence than they dash off to a nearby nursing home to replace her, and her cooking duties, with her mother.

Read into “Eramos” what you will — statement about women’s status in the home, indictment against how we treat the elderly or just a quiet curiosity — it’s beguiling from start to finish.

Animated shorts:

No Time for Nuts — Scrat, the fidgety squirrel from the “Ice Age” films, is trying to find quality time for himself and his beloved nut when he digs up a time machine. A few clicks of a dial later, and he and the nut are pinwheeling through time, from the Roman Empire to the days of Excalibur.

Needless to say, Scrat can’t find happiness no matter where he lands, but it’s the short’s brisk timing and gorgeous visuals that leave a mark. Poor old Scrat may be a minor figure, but the pain in his endless misadventures remains a thing of beauty as rendered by the “Ice Age” team. “Nuts” can be seen on the DVD of “Ice Age: The Meltdown,” available now.

The Danish Poet — In this crude but winning short, a budding poet wrestling with writer’s block consults a psychiatrist, whose advice leads him to a famous writer’s work. Inspired, the poet sets out to thank her in person for restoring his faith. He never gets there, but along the way he encounters a woman who wins his heart. Their meeting, separation and eventual reunion are the heart of this charming tale.

“Poet” begins like a children’s fable, but its romantic story will appeal to all ages. And the animation, where people sport spaghetti hairstyles and dots for eyes, is charming.

The Little Match Girl — Audiences may reach for their winter coats while watching “The Little Match Girl,” the story of a young waif whose business can neither feed her nor keep her warm. The nameless girl can’t sell any matches, so she lights them, one by one, to keep warm. The flames ignite her imagination, letting her envision a life full of warm hugs and hearty meals. “The Little Match Girl” features charcoal-burnished images and a sadness that lingers.


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