The 15 short-film Oscar nominees — live action, documentaries and animation — show that the format is alive and well, showcasing a wide range of topics, tones and approaches — and highlighting a trend in documentaries toward more daring cinematic style and extreme subjectivity. For information on viewing them, go to shorts.tv/theoscarshorts. Here's a quick look at each.
"Burrow": A Pixar SparkShort about a rabbit embarrassed by her humble ambitions for her home when she sees other subterranean animals' elaborate ones. It conveys a nice message about cooperation.
"Genius Loci": The film's synopsis describes finding a "moving oneness" amid "urban chaos," but the film feels like something else. It seems to delve into the growing disorder of an afflicted mind. Protagonist Reine suffers from delusions and has difficulty sorting her sensory input, complicating a journey into the wilderness of a city night.
"If Anything Happens I Love You": The emotional knockout of the slate, it's an examination of grief and how it can be toxic, and it riffs off events ripped from headlines without settling on one actual incident. The fact that viewers will immediately sense authenticity despite that generalization is even sadder than what's depicted in the film. Black, ghostlike figures represent what can't be addressed but can't go away, either. This film is hard to forget.
"Opera": An "animation installation project," a nine-minute day-night cycle depicting countless tiny humanoid figures executing socioeconomic roles in something like a human Rube Goldberg machine. The film is meant to be projected on an infinite loop. It's impossible to catch everything happening in one viewing; suffice to say "Opera's" eye leans toward the jaundiced, even cynical.
"Yes-People": A charmer using almost no dialogue other than an Icelandic "Yes," spoken by different characters for different reasons. Its humor is warm, and the animators wonderfully convey much through facial expressions.
"Feeling Through": A broke teen looks for shelter on a cold night. His random encounter with a middle-aged, deaf-blind man changes his course, possibly in more ways than one. Writer-director Doug Roland gets strong work from both performers: Robert Tarango actually is deaf and blind; Steven Prescod is convincing as a desperate kid who turns out to be a genuinely good person.
"The Letter Room": Oscar Isaac plays a corrections officer who takes over the job of scanning prisoner mail and gets involved in the lives revealed therein. It's a well-acted, low-key drama that could be ready for expansion.