THANKS TO Visions Cinema/Bistro/Lounge, you have the opportunity to catch those rarely seen Oscar contenders: the live-action and animated short films.
It's clear the animated section is the better deal. All five animated films (each 10 minutes or less) are visually impressive, and it's hard to say which one is the strongest candidate to win.
In Polish filmmaker Tomek Baginski's "The Cathedral," a traveling pilgrim finds himself in an eerie cathedral that continually sprouts fibrous tendrils.
In "Das Rad" ("Rocks"), a German short by Chris Stenner and Heidi Wittlinger, a couple of humanesque rocks (Hew and Kew) are bothered by that familiar occupational hazard -- getting lichen on your craggy surfaces. And in Koji Yamamura's "Mt. Head" ("Atama Yama"), a Japanese short, a stingy man eats some cherry seeds, only to find himself sprouting a cherry tree from his head.
There are two American entries in this section. "The Chubbchubbs!" is the first digitally animated short film produced by Imageworks, a department of Sony Pictures Digital. It's about colorful, big-beaked inhabitants of the planet Glorf, and features a being named Meeper who tries to warn his outer-space neighbors of impending danger.
And there's "Mike's New Car," by Peter Docter and Roger Gould, which is essentially an offshoot of the movie "Monsters, Inc." In this short, Mike takes his friend Sulley for a fur-raising spin in his new sports car.
The live-action category isn't quite as inventive, and each film has a rather nasty edge. "Fait d'Hiver" ("Gridlock") is a surreal four-minute black-comedy joke about a harried businessman in his car who makes a cell phone call to his home and finds an unexpected development: an apparently unfaithful wife. His attempt to do something about it meets with nasty results.
A similarly stark fate awaits a sweet French woman in "I'll Wait for the Next One." In this four-minute French film, also known as "J'attendrai le Suivant," she's on a Paris Metro train when she answers the plaintively romantic call of a male stranger. The result is hardly what she had hoped.
Finally, there's "This Charming Man" ("Der Er En Yndig Mand"), a Danish film by Martin Strange-Hansen and Mie Andreasen, in which a Dane's identity number is confused with that of a Middle Eastern immigrant. He finds himself enrolled in a Danish class and a victim of racism. But he also finds himself falling in love with the female teacher. It's a long-winded story, even for 29 minutes.
"Inja" ("Dog") was made by Australian filmmakers Steven Pasvolsky and Joe Weatherstone but set in South Africa. It's about a boy whose dog becomes a tool of apartheid and an ironic savior for its white master. Of these three, this 17-minute film looks like the strongest contender to take the Oscar. It's got a little more to say than the others, and that's likely to be the decider.
ACADEMY AWARD NOMINATED SHORTS (Unrated, approximately 105 minutes) -- Contains some emotionally mature themes and a depiction of animal cruelty. At Visions Cinema/Bistro/Lounge.