Because they're crafted outside the Hollywood system, you might assume that this year's Oscar-nominated live-action and animated shorts stand in sharp defiance to conventional mainstream cinema. But the best of these 10 entries are, in some ways, the most familiar—their most radical element being that they operate in popular genres that usually don't get much Academy Award attention.
The live-action nominees can be neatly divided into serious films about imperiled children and darkly comic movies about goofy adults. Among the entries, writer-director Juanita Wilson's The Door delivers a bruising true-life account of a Russian family's attempt to survive the Chernobyl disaster and save their ailing daughter. The smart, idiosyncratic Miracle Fish combines coming-of-age tale, fantasy drama, and even sci-fi horror for a story of an unpopular eight-year-old boy who hides out from bullies at school, only to wake up from a nap to realize that everyone has disappeared. The pick of the litter is Swedish writer-director Patrik Eklund's sublimely goofy, immensely funny Instead of Abracadabra, a "loser comedy" about an inept magician who dreams of wooing his lovely neighbor.
The animated films likewise fall into two subsections: the shorter, cuter entries and the longer, more ambitious nominees. Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty is a one-joke bit about a cranky grandmother, while The Lady and the Reaper recounts a cheeky battle between Death and a doctor over the life of a frail old woman. In contrast, the French Logorama is a visually arresting, very clever political commentary: In a parallel-reality Los Angeles, buildings and individuals are nothing but highly recognizable company logos. And then there's Wallace and Gromit, who return in director Nick Park's A Matter of Loaf and Death. For avid W&G fans, Loaf and Death isn't terribly original—again, the dimwitted Wallace unknowingly brings trouble into their home, leaving Gromit to save the day—but Park reconfirms his exceptional filmmaking chops, weaving sight gags, silent comedy, and action set pieces into an impressive, crowd-pleasing whole.