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Usually the dullest points during the Academy Awards telecasts occur when the presenters dole out Oscars for films the general public hasn't seen and will probably never see: i.e., the shorts. That's why this program, called the 2004 Oscar Shorts, is such a rare treat.

            The program contains three of the five 2003 nominees for Best Live-Action Short Film, two of the five for Best Animated Short Film, as well as a bonus: the gold-medal winner at the Student Academy Awards from the Rochester Institute of Technology.

            The program kicks off with Florian Baxmeyer's The Red Jacket, from Germany, which follows a coat that has been abandoned by a grieving father. The Bayern Munich jacket makes its way to Sarajevo, where a young soccer fan "liberates" it from an airlifted aid package, and it looks as though the bad luck associated with the garment has not yet run out. This film seems depressing, but has a slightly-hard-to-swallow payoff.

            Geoffrey Rush narrates the only actual Oscar winner in the batch, Australia's Harvie Crumpet, Adam Elliot's sweet claymation look at the life of a man with Tourette's. His existence is predicated upon a collection of "fakts" that are helpfully interspersed throughout the film. We learn, among other things, that, "The average person uses 19 miles of dental floss in their lifetime" and that "The trouble with nude dancing is that not everything stops when the music does."

            Also set in Sarajevo is [A] Torsion, a film from Slovenia by Stefan Arsenijevic whose title refers to the malady that has befallen a cow trying to give birth amidst the shelling. A quick-thinking veterinarian enlists the help of a frightened choir to distract the cow from the din of the explosions with their gorgeous voices.

            Canada's Nibbles is an animated documentary (aka "documation") about a fishing trip. Chris Hinton's crudely drawn but hilarious piece focuses on three men and their unwitting experience with the food chain --- the endless roadside stands (tacos, souvlaki, donuts, gum), the hungry fish, and the ever-present mosquitoes.

            A friendly racquetball match quickly devolves into a nasty game of one-upmanship between an employee and his superior in the insanely accomplished Squash --- which works as a noun or a verb here. French writer-director Lionel Bailliu sets his piece entirely on the court and leaves you squirming as the mental abuse and power plays between the competitors reach new levels. I absolutely cannot wait to see what this guy does next.

            Finally, Perpetual Motion, a clever little short from RIT that boasts award-winning animation, takes the notion that cats always land on their feet, marries it to the fact that toast with jelly inevitably hits the floor sticky side down, and then proposes a way to harness this awesome power for the good of mankind. It's nice to know someone's looking out for us.

            2004 Oscar Shorts screens for one week at the Little Theatre, beginning on Friday, May 14.

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