This year's crop of Academy Award nominated Live Action and Animated shorts might well have been called the "longs." It takes nearly 4 hours to watch all ten of them back-to-back. As a whole package, none of them gets anywhere near masterpiece status, but none are particularly awful, either. The longest one, the Danish live action film, At Night, looks to be the sure-fire winner, setting its luxurious 40 minutes in the cancer ward of a hospital between Christmas and New Year's. Three young women (Julie Ølgaard, Laura Christensen and Neel Rønholt) deal with their illnesses in various ways while agreeing to meet up together for their own private New Year's party. This one was practically made for awards.

The 36-minute The Tonto Woman is a mini-Western based on an Elmore Leonard story (it's available in the same collection as "3:10 to Yuma"). But somehow it plods a little too slowly and heavily to capture Leonard's usual zing. It's somber and grave and rather ignores outdoor spaces and rhythms. The French The Mozart of Pickpockets (31 minutes) is a tad cutesy and predictable; two blundering would-be pickpockets find themselves in the company of a mute child -- who happens to be quite skilled at the same job.


The shorter live action shorts fare much better, though both employ the usual O. Henry-type twist ending that seems to be expected of so many short films these days. The Substitute (17 minutes) from Italy is agreeably odd; a substitute teacher arrives in class and begins picking apart the children and their particular teenage neuroses, but things are not quite as they seem. My favorite has to be the shortest, Tanghi argentini (13 minutes), a wonderful Belgian comedy about an office schlub who gets last-minute tango lessons from a co-worker for a hot internet date. The ending is a welcome doozy that I did not see coming, despite a well-placed clue.

Length is also an important factor in the animated shorts. Two of them, the Russian Moya lyubov (My Love) and the British/Polish co-production Peter & the Wolf run nearly 30 minutes apiece and eventually wear out their welcome, despite astonishingly beautiful work on both. The former is designed to look like a moving oil painting -- complete with blurs of color during camera movements (director Alexander Petrov won in this category in 1999 with The Old Man and the Sea). The latter is a gorgeous work of Claymation, with a strong sense of cold weather and emotional alienation, and though it's based on Prokofiev's famous family-friendly composition, this short isn't really for kids.

On the other hand, Josh Raskin's 5-minute I Met the Walrus is fairly gimmicky; it's a brief interview with John Lennon conducted when the filmmaker was just 14, accompanied by almost stream-of-consciousness animation. The Canadian Madame Tutli-Putli (17 minutes) is a strange combination of Claymation and CGI, and though I can't be certain, it looks as if the filmmakers digitally inserted human eyes into their Claymation figures; it's very creepy. In it, the heroine boards a train with a mountain of luggage, and I think the train is hijacked, but it could be a dream...

Though I'm a big fan of hand-drawn or hand-crafted animation, my favorite, ironically, is the only full-fledged CGI creation of the bunch. Running just 9 minutes, Même les pigeons vont au paradis (Even Pigeons Go to Heaven) has its share of impressive technical stunts, such as moving, lurching cameras and a breathtaking sense of speed, but it's also the funniest and the most touching of the five. It owes a great deal to Pixar for its rhythm and timing, but that could be the factor that puts it over the top in the eyes of the voters. Though it's impossible to predict the winners even after having seen these films, I'm going on record with: At Night and Even Pigeons Go to Heaven. Magnolia Pictures is distributing the shorts around the country beginning February 15.