TIFF's annual showcase of Oscar-nominated shorts is a bit less comprehensive than usual; at press time, the documentary category had been stricken from the schedule, leaving just the live action and animated programs available to be screened.
As it so often does, the live action category breaks down into a mixture of showy student calling cards and emotionally overloaded character pieces. The sole Canadian entry, Henry, tips too far into the latter territory, clumsily shifting tones to tell the story of an elderly man (Gérard Poirier) struggling with his failing memory. Actor-turned-director Yan England juggles several borrowed ideas but can't make any of them pay off.
Shawn Christensen's Curfew, about a suicidal young man who spends an eventful evening with the niece he hasn't seen since she was a baby, handles its biggest moments by playing them down or shrugging them off entirely. Writer/director Christensen also stars, and his scenes opposite young Fatima Ptacek have a nice uncomfortable snap to them; their relationship feels real and difficult rather than dramatically convenient.
The animated nominees demonstrate a much broader range of themes and tones. Fresh Guacamole, by an American director who calls himself PES, is two minutes of whimsical kitchen-related silliness, while the UK import Head Over Heels complicates a domestic story by having its estranged couple live in separate gravities in the same house. (Directors Timothy Reckart and Fodhla Cronin O'Reilly may have watched Up a few times too often.)
You may have seen John Kahrs's Paperman last fall with Wreck-It Ralph, or David Silverman's 3D Simpsons short Maggie Simpson In "The Longest Daycare" in front of Ice Age: The Meltdown, but they totally hold up to a second viewing.
But the highlight of the program is Minkyu Lee's Adam And Dog, a delicate, ingeniously observed reimagining of the first human-canine relationship. Understated but moving, it's a lovely little short that stands head and shoulders above its competition.
And given how great Paperman is, that's really saying something.