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Film review: 2 programs offer Oscar-pick short flicks

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The 2006 Academy Award nominated short films — *** — Compilation of live-action and animated short films; not rated, probable R (violence, profanity, vulgarity, brief nudity, brief drugs, ethnic slurs).

Magnolia Pictures and Shorts International have joined forces to release "The 2006 Academy Award Nominated Short Films," two programs featuring shorter-length works nominated for this year's Oscars.

The programs are divided into live-action and animated sections. The former features five shorts, while the latter includes not only Oscar-nominated shorts but also some eligible shorts that were not nominated. (A handful of theaters will be playing Pixar's animated short "Lifted," although at press time Salt Lake's Tower Theatre was not one of them.)

THE ANIMATED PROGRAM is the most enjoyable section and is surely the more family-friendly of the two.

Included is Bill Plympton's amusing "Guide Dog," his second piece featuring a well-intentioned but hilariously inept pooch.

And "No Time for Nuts" stars the prehistoric rodent Scrat, arguably the best part of Fox's "Ice Age" animated features.

Disney's "The Little Matchgirl" — an adaptation of a Hans Christian Andersen story — is the strongest. The use of traditional 2-D animation is lush.

But the rather simple-looking romance tale "The Danish Poet," which was narrated by Swedish actress Liv Ullman, is the most captivating.

The animation program is not rated but would probably receive a PG-13 for animated violence, mostly slapstick (animal attacks and mayhem) and mildly vulgar humor. Total running time: 77 minutes.

THE LIVE-ACTION PROGRAM is a mixed bag. At least two of the shorts are one-joke in nature — the supposed "surprise ending" of "Eramos Pocos" is painfully obvious, while the "West Side Story" spoof "West Bank Story" goes on a little too long.

And "The Saviour," an Australian piece about an LDS missionary obsessed with a married woman, is pretty inaccurate in its depiction of the main character. What the Oscar selection committee saw in this one is anyone's guess.

Only "Binta and the Great Idea," the story of a helpful young Senegalese girl, is enthralling. (The short was co-produced by UNICEF to call attention to the plight of children living in Third World countries.)

The live-action program is not rated but probably would receive an R for strong violent content (including shootings and mayhem, some of it done for laughs), strong sexual language (profanity and vulgar slang terms), brief male and partial female nudity, brief drug content (prescription drug use), and slurs based on ethnicity. Total running time: 99 minutes.

E-mail: jeff@desnews.com