Get shorty

Mr. Hublot

Size matters; sometimes smaller is better.

At least that can often be the case at the multiplex, where movie studios confuse running time for substance. In screening a slew of short films nominated this year for Academy Awards, the Oklahoma City Museum of Art reminds cinephiles that length isn’t everything.

The live-action nominees range from feather-light comedy to the heaviest of melodrama. Such weighty distinction goes to the Spanishlanguage That Wasn’t Me, detailing the hellish ordeal of two doctors kidnapped in war-torn Sierra Leone. Murder, rape and redemption clock in at under 26 minutes — an impressive feat, even if the conclusion is a bit contrived.

On the frothier end of things, Do I Have to Take Care of Everything? is a clever trifle about a Finnish family’s last-minute dash to a wedding.

You might expect a movie named Helium to be light, too, but this Danish short concerns a dying boy being comforted by a hospital orderly. Despite visual flourishes, it’s more treacly than touching.

The final two entries fare better.

In The Voorman Problem, Martin Freeman (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug) plays a psychiatrist examining a prison inmate who claims to be God. It’s sly and amusing, if not exactly unpredictable.

Best of all is Just Before Losing Everything, about a mother frantically preparing to take her two children and flee from an abusive spouse. Director-writer Xavier Legrand demonstrates a command of suspense in this French mini-thriller, effectively using long pauses and uninterrupted takes. I would love to see what he could do in a full-length feature.

I am more enthusiastic about the caliber of animated Oscar nominees. Room on the Broom is kid-friendly, but adults are also likely to be charmed by the CGI crafting of a bedtime story involving a witch and a menagerie of creatures needing a lift.

Mr. Hublot is a Luxembourg export in which style trumps content, but that’s forgivable with style this exquisite. The wordless story concerns a mild-mannered robot whose solitary existence is challenged when he takes in a robotic dog. The steampunk world created by filmmakers Laurent Witz and Alexandre Espigares is astonishingly detailed and weirdly gorgeous.

Hublot would likely be an Oscar winner any other year, but it has tough competition from Disney. Get a Horse!, which played with Frozen in theaters during the holiday season, finds Mickey Mouse and friends being whipped between a black-and-white hay ride circa the 1920s and the colorful modernity of 3-D. The visual chicanery, which owes much to M.C. Escher and Rube Goldberg, is irresistible.

Even the weaker offerings are still top-notch. The starkly poetic Feral chronicles a wild child’s unsuccessful foray into civilization. Its minimalism contrasts with Possessions, about a Japanese fix-it man who seeks shelter in a remote home during a rainstorm, only to find himself beset by broken and neglected umbrellas and tapestries needing attention. With a few tweaks, Possessions could be a helluva good horror flick.

Phil Bacharach

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