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Originally published Thursday, February 9, 2012 at 3:02 PM

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Movie review

'Oscar-nominated Short Films 2012': See all 10 at Seattle's Varsity

A review of "Oscar-Nominated Short Films, 2012," featuring all five animated nominees (79 minutes total) and all five live-action shorts (107 minutes). The annual pre-Oscar showcase, playing at the Varsity, is highlighted by a brilliantly animated celebration of books, and a short, punchy comedy from Ireland.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 3 stars

'Oscar-nominated Short Films 2012,' featuring all five animated nominees (79 minutes total) and all five live-action shorts (107 minutes). Not rated; some films contain brief, mild profanity or mature subject matter, otherwise suitable for general audiences. Varsity.

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Hi readers, this is features editor Lynn Jacobson. The shorts screen at the Varsity for... MORE

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MOVIE REVIEW 3 stars

Most of this year's Oscar-nominated short films are available on YouTube and iTunes, and most Oscar-watchers will choose those options as a convenient way of selecting favorites and predicting the winners. That's a shame, because all of these Oscar-worthy shorts are intended for big-screen viewing, where the feast of creativity can fully be appreciated.

Creators of short films thrive within their time constraints. Academy rules (available at www.oscars.org) define shorts as original, stand-alone films running "40 minutes or less, including all credits," and this year's nominees provide a bumper crop of ingenuity. Without further ado, here's a brief survey, presented in order of personal preference:

Animated nominees

"The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore" (William Joyce and Brandon Oldenberg, U.S., 17 minutes): A simple tribute to the power of storytelling, this cleverly wordless allegory (inspired by Hurricane Katrina, Buster Keaton and "The Wizard of Oz") combines computer-generated imagery, 2-D animation and stylized miniatures as it follows the titular hero on a windblown journey to the wonderful world of books. In the age of e-readers, it will (ahem) rekindle your passion for the printed page.

"Wild Life" (Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby, Canada, 14 minutes): Enigmatic and just a little morbid, this folksy Western parallels the appearance of Halley's comet in 1910 and the fate of an Englishman on a ranch in Alberta. In keeping with animation traditions from the National Film Board of Canada, it's a perfect blend of whimsy and style.

"La Luna" (Enrico Casarosa, U.S., seven minutes): The perennial offering from Disney/Pixar has everything you'd expect from history's most successful animation studio: On a boat with his Papa and grandfather, a boy is given a unique responsibility involving the moon and its luminosity. As always, Pixar delivers the goods.

"A Morning Stroll" (Grant Orchard, U.K., seven minutes): This crazily stylized bit of British absurdity involves encounters between a chicken and a puzzled passer-by, and leaps from stick-figure abstraction to zombie-apocalypse CGI, all leading up to a shaggy-dog punch line.

"Dimanche" (Patrick Doyon, Canada, nine minutes): An amusing snapshot of Sunday-morning routine in a not-so-quiet little village. Full of humorously observant moments, it benefits from Doyon's singular style applied to a slice-of-life vignette.

Also showing are four "highly commended" shorts that weren't nominated: "Skylight" (David Baas, Canada, five minutes); "The Hybrid Union" (Serguei Kouchnerov, U.S./Ukraine, four minutes); "Nullarbor" (Alister Lockhart, Australia, 10 minutes); and "Amazonia" (Sam Chen, U.S., five minutes).

Live-action nominees

"Pentecost" (Peter McDonald, Ireland, 11 minutes): Ireland has two fine nominees this year, but this comedy wins my vote for its laugh-out-loud setup of a visual punch line, in which an altar boy faces intense pressure to uphold tradition during an important Sunday Mass.

"The Shore" (Terry George, Northern Ireland, 30 minutes): Ireland's best-known screenwriter (and director of "Hotel Rwanda") delivers this funny and forgiving reunion between lovers and friends who were separated for 25 years by "The Troubles." It's a charming showcase for a fine cast led by Ciaran Hinds ("Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy") and Kerry Condon (now appearing in HBO's "Luck").

"Tuba Atlantic" (Hallvar Witso, Norway, 25 minutes): Black humor triumphs in this slyly eccentric tale of an old Norwegian, given six days to live, who teams up with an "angel of death" and employs a unique method of communicating with his long- estranged brother in New Jersey. Bird lovers beware: Contains a hilariously high body count of ill-fated seagulls.

"Raju" (Max Zahle, Germany/India, 24 minutes): A flawlessly rendered drama about a German couple who adopt a 4-year-old orphan in Calcutta, only to discover a terrible secret about India's overpopulated streets. Very good, but it feels like one third of a feature.

"Time Freak" (Andrew Bowler, U.S., 11 minutes): A slacker invents a time machine, then uses it to ridiculously micromanage the awkward moments of a single day. It's clever and funny, but it's the only nominated short that feels like a lucky break for its creators.

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