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Movies, dining and things to do / Spokane and North Idaho

They may be short, but they’re Oscar contenders

If you're interested at all in the Academy Awards Broadcast, which will occur March 2, you might want to catch the Oscar-nominated shorts programs that the Magic Lantern is showing. This week for Spokane Public Radio, I reviewed the animated shorts nominees. A transcript of my review follows:

Of all the benefits offered by the Internet, those available to movie fans may be the most varied. Not only can we see TV shows and movies whenever we want, we can see work that used to be limited to those living in New York and Los Angeles.

It’s been a half-century or so, for example, since movie programs included anything other than trailers or ads. In recent years, though, Oscar-nominated shorts programs – live-action, animated and documentary – have been screened theatrically.

In the weeks leading up to the March 2 Academy Awards broadcast, Spokane’s Magic Lantern has been indulging itself in Oscar-nominated shorts. Last week saw the live-action nominees. This weekend sees the five animated nominees, a group that represents a wide range of cinematic styles and themes.

Take “Feral,” written and directed by U.S. filmmaker Daniel Sousa. More a meditation than a straightforward story, and spurning dialogue, “Feral” tells the story of a small boy who mysteriously appears out of a wintry landscape to confront a pack of wolves. Before the pack can either befriend or eat him, the boy is “saved” by a passing hunter. But human clothing and manners can’t quell the beast within, and soon the boy is reverting to his wild ways – suggesting that our inner connection with unfettered nature will never leave us completely.

Then there’s “Room on the Broom,” a more traditional cartoon by UK filmmakers Max Lang and Jan Lachauer. Featuring the voices of such noted actors as Simon Pegg and Gillian Anderson, this charming children’s fable celebrates the virtues of friendship and loyalty. It involves a friendly witch and her cat who, through a series of accidents, pick up a trio of hitchhikers – dog, bird, and frog. All goes relatively smoothly until a hungry dragon happens by intent on eating “witches and chips.”

Featured at the recent Spokane International Film Festival, the steampunk short “Mr. Hublot,” by Luxembourg filmmakers Laurentz Witz and Alexandre Espigares, follows an obsessively orderly man whose daily activities run like clockwork. One day he spies a dog-like robotic character living on the street. Taking it in, he finds his routine disrupted, especially so when the pet outgrows the man’s apartment. What to do? The answer is as satisfying as it is unsurprising.

“Possessions,” by anime filmmaker Shuhei Morita, taps into Japanese legend regarding the Tsukumogami, tools and instruments that after a century are said to attain souls and trick people. Thus when a handyman takes shelter from a storm in a broken-down forest temple, he is confronted by a series of such spirits. The man responds by fixing torn umbrellas, weaving together fabric remnants and, in general, showing respect. His efforts in, and appreciation of, recycling end up being rewarded.

Finally, we have an update of traditional Disney. “Get a Horse!” by Lauren MacMullen, is a classic Mickey Mouse cartoon that melds both the jerky black-and-white frames of the 1930s with contemporary full-color CGI. The result is both familiar and brand new, fitting with something that was released to run before screenings of the newest Disney animated feature, “Frozen.”

Which one will take home the gold statuette is anyone’s guess. The real winners are those of us who now get the chance simply to watch all five contenders on the big screen.