The only time that I was ever surprised and invigorated in this whole program came at the end of the bizarre, interestingly structured "A Morning Stroll" by Grant Orchard and Sue Goffe, which has to be the strangest short nominated for an Oscar this year. It shows an event in three different time periods, 1959, 2009, and 2059: a chicken walking past a man, knocking on a door, and entering into the blackness of a safe apartment. Apparently drawn from some New York Times story, the film appears to be a lame-ass "oddity," but, over its seven minutes, it charts the fall of man and the rise of zombification. There will be blood. I'm not sure I totally bought the thin plot or the trite vision of the future, but I was surely jarred in a way unlike anything else in either program. B
Some nice animation was put on display in Amanda Forbis' and Wendy Tilby's "Wild Life," which undermines its amusing yet somewhat aimless story with frequent and completely unnecessary messages about what comets are and how they behave. Apparently this is done to establish a metaphor that's finally carried out at the end, but it's so weakly pulled off that the film suffers mightily for it. An Englishman moves to Canada and deceives his folks back home by saying he's a cowboy. Instead, he sits around, progressively drinking more and more and falling into decay as the winter draws nearer. The voice acting is a pleasure here, and the brush-stroke quality to the film's look is splendid, but things never really feel together. I suppose that's the point, but the lack of overall cohesion (despite intense and annoying repetition) doesn't bode well. B-
I saw it at Telluride in 3-D last year, and thus I suppose some of the magic had worn off. But I wasn't that enthusiastic about Enrico Casarosa's people-who-talk-in-guttural-noises Pixar flick "La Luna" in this environment. Not only that, but the troubling phallic symbolism I saw the first time was all the more flagrant this time around. I may have a dirty mind, but it can't be just me who's noticed this (hint for those who end up seeing this program: it involves the point of a star and a hammer). We get the initiation of a kid into a timeless ritual that involves humans at play in the celestial realm. Just like every other Pixar film ever made. You'll enjoy it, probably. I'm downplaying it for sure. I'm just not that big on it anymore. B-
"The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore" by William Joyce and Brandon Oldenberg is just as annoying as its character's ridiculous name, supposedly about what reading can do. Ultimately, though, it's really just a stream of images that have been drained of meaning. Dude in New Orleans who bears a striking resemblance to Buster Keaton gets displaced in Hurricane Katrina and finds a library out in the country somewhere where books fly and come alive and communicate by flipping pages. Certain scenes completely throw out meaning for the sake of a gag. I can sense there's some sort of passion here, possibly fueled by the disaster that happened, probably trying to show how people got through the aftermath by turning to the written word. That's all fine and good, but I'm not sure what it really says about that tragedy. C
At the back of the pack is "Dimanche," Patrick Doyon's child-POV tale of a Sunday with the most typically rough-hewn animation you can imagine. The gags, if charming, feel entirely secondhand, and, dreadfully enough, people talk in the blabbers which lazily depict the adult as seen from a kid's eye. The less said about this one, the better, though people seemed to like it a lot in the theater. C-
I don't really feel like writing up the four "Highly Commended" films, but suffice it to say, aside from "The Hybrid Combo", none seemed to be anywhere near worthy of a nomination. I was annoyed, baffled, and nonplussed by the other three.