As you make plans to catch up with this year’s Oscar-nominated films, remember this: Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “The Revenant” isn’t the only movie by a Latino filmmaker that features a bear. Among the more obscure little movies to be nominated is Chilean animator Gabriel Osorio’s “Bear Story.” Up for best animated short, the 11-minute film is a poignant tale of a bear abducted by a circus. It’s also a thinly veiled allegory of life under dictator Augusto Pinochet.
All five animated short nominees are being shown at Landmark’s E Street Cinema, along with a separate program of live-action short nominees. Together, the selections cover some of the same genres and themes as you’ll find among their full-length cousins: science fiction, war, child abduction and romance.
The oddest — and best — of the animated shorts is Don Hertzfeldt’s “World of Tomorrow” (also available on Netflix’s streaming service). If you missed the film when it came to AFI Silver in October as part of the 17th annual Animation Show of Shows, don’t make the same mistake twice. Hertzfeldt’s deliberately crude cartoon is a brilliant meditation on memory, love, life and death that packs more insight and wit into 17 minutes than many do in two hours.
Perennial nominee Pixar contributes “Sanjay’s Super Team,” a charmer by Pixar animator Sanjay Patel (“Monsters University”) about the culture clash between an Indian immigrant and his assimilated son, who is more fascinated by American cartoon superheroes than by his father’s Hindu deities. Other nominees include the Russian astronaut-themed “We Can’t Live Without Cosmos” (also featured in the Animation Show of Shows) and “Prologue.” Note: Although some of these films are certainly appropriate for children, the pencil-drawn “Prologue,” which takes place during the Peloponnesian War, features graphic violence and nudity.
The film to beat in the category of live-action short is “Shok” (Albanian for “friend”). Set in 1998 Kosovo, British director Jamie Donoughue’s 21-minute story of two Albanian boys living in a town beset by Serbian troops masterfully builds to a violent gut-punch ending that many viewers will not soon forget. “Stutterer,” a sweet tale of online romance, also from Britain, is another strong contender, as is the German Austrian drama about parental child abduction, “Everything Will Be Okay.”
Less memorable, if well-meaning, are two films with cross-cultural themes. “Ave Maria,” from Palestinian British filmmaker Basil Khalil, is a wry comedy about a family of Jewish settlers whose car breaks down outside a Catholic convent in the West Bank, while “Day One,” by American Henry Hughes, concerns an Afghan woman working as an interpreter for American troops. Both films suggest far more hope for humanity than “Shok,” whose sense of despair registers with a sickening but all-too-familiar thud.
Animated program: 91 minutes (includes additional material that was not nominated). Live action program: 107 minutes.
At Landmark’s E Street Cinema, 555 11th St. NW. landmarktheatres.com. Both programs are unrated and contain some violence. “Prologue” contains brief nudity.