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Oscar shorts showcase hilarious animation, miserable children

Wallace & Gromit’s animated adventure looks to be competition front-runner

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The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2010 program makes audiences feel blessed to see such obscure, brilliant works as the Argentine cartoon "Logorama." Alas, the annual collection of live-action and animated shorts also features such wrenching live-action films as "Kavi," which leave viewers feeling positively cursed to have witnessed.

In India's "Kavi," the eponymous boy (Sagar Salunke) labors in a brick factory alongside his parents and in full view of a sadistic foreman and uniformed schoolboys playing cricket. Director Gregg Helvey powerfully illustrates a case of contemporary indentured servitude, but the boys' physical and psychological abuse provides the most unpleasant viewing experience imaginable. (Gee, thanks, Academy.) This year's lineup extends the "hell is for children" theme to two other bummers: Ireland's "The Door," about the after-effects of the Chernobyl accident on a displaced family, and Australia's "Magic Fish," in which a lonely boy experiences an eerie event at his school. All three prove shamelessly manipulative yet visually accomplished. "Kavi" may be the most likely winner, though, with its present-day relevance and perhaps leftover goodwill from Slumdog Millionaire.

Previous animated short winners have been poetic, melancholy meditations, such as last year's "La Maison En Petits Cubes." Comical shorts comprise this year's lineup, making predictions more complicated. The uproarious ingenuity of Nicolas Schmerkin's "Logoroma" makes it the one you'll most want to introduce to people. The Argentine film savagely parodies American corporatization with its vision of Los Angeles in which all people, animals, vehicles and buildings are corporate logos. Michelin men become police officers, Shoney's Big Boy turns out to be a foul-mouthed brat, and another fast food mascot becomes a trigger-fingered criminal. "Logorama's" satiric vision carries brand-name marketing and action movie clichés to almost apocalyptic lengths. But would the Academy award a film that mercilessly mocks Hollywood?

France’s “French Roast” offers the subtlest charms and sight gags about a stuffed shirt in a café who can’t pay his bill or figure out a way to leave. Spain’s “The Lady and the Reaper” begins with an old woman facing the end of her life, then takes a sharp, unexpected turn into glorious slapstick with a surprising villain. Ireland’s “Granny O’Grimm’s Sleeping Beauty” has a “Far Side” sense of irreverence as a bitter old lady tells an inappropriately angry bedtime story, but the payoff doesn’t match the buildup. (Incidentally, the animation program includes several non-nominees, including “Partly Cloudy,” Pixar’s stork-short that was attached to Up last year.)

The most likely winner may be "A Matter of Loaf and Death," Aardman Animation's latest half-hour adventure from Wallace & Gromit, who've picked up three previous Oscar statuettes in the short and feature-length categories. The delightful comedy team of silent pooch Gromit and inventive ninny Wallace return for a bakery-themed mystery that includes witty pastiches from the films of Alfred Hitchcock, James Cameron and ... Patrick Swayze? "Loaf and Death" contains an angrier edge than Aardman's earlier outings (perhaps reflecting the studio's frustrations with DreamWorks with The Curse of the Were-Rabbit), but Wallace & Gromit may carry the day on name-recognition alone.

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