Oscar-nominated shorts take spotlight

San Franciscans who love film — or who just want a better handle on handicapping their Oscar predictions — are fortunate in having the opportunity to see all 10 Oscar-nominated shorts before the 80th Academy Awards on Feb. 24.

Landmark’s Embarcadero is one of only eight theaters in California screening the two programs — one of animated shorts, one of live-action — running this week.

In the live-action program, “The Mozart of Pickpockets” from France, depicts two thieves who find that adopting a deaf homeless boy improves their lot.

Based on an Elmore Leonard story, the British short “The Tonto Woman” presents a cattle rustler encountering a solitary woman who spent years as the prisoner of a Mojave tribe.

The other live-action nominees are “At Night,” from Denmark; Italy’s “The Substitute” and “Argentine Tango” from Belgium, winner of 18 international awards.

“The quality of the animated program this year is excellent,” says art historian Karl Cohen, president of the local chapter of the International Animation Film Society. He praises the Russian short “My Love,” a painterly tale of a teenage boy’s dual infatuations, as “amazingly beautiful,” and singles out Canada’s “Madame Tutli-Putli” as “playful and innovative.”

Madame Tutli-Putli boards the night train with all her earthly possessions; the trip’s surrealistic turn suggests that the journey may also be a metaphysical one.

“Animation can be more akin to poetry, while live action is often more like prose,” “Madame” producer Marcy Page says.

Formerly an animation instructor in San Francisco before moving to Montreal, where she serves on the National Film Board of Canada, Page explains the short’s most unique aspect: Via CGI, special-effects wrangler Jason Walker gives the puppet figure of Madame the live eyes of an actor. Laurie Maher’s expressive eyes create a stunning illusion that anchors the film.

Another nominated animation is also Canadian, perhaps because, as Page gently notes, Canada provides more extensive support and funding for artists than the United States.

“I Met the Walrus” recounts the true tale of a 14-year-old boy who sneaked into John Lennon’s hotel room in 1969 and talked the icon into taping the interview that serves as the soundtrack.

In the final entry, France’s “Even Pigeons Go to Heaven,” a priest intercepts a mysterious radio message that sends him racing off to a wealthy old man with a machine that he promises provides a preview of heaven.

CREDITS

The 2007 Oscar Nominated Shorts

Where: Embarcadero Center Cinema, One Embarcadero Center, San Francisco

When: Various times

Tickets: $8.25 to $10.25

Contact: (415) 267-4893 or www.landmarktheatres.com

Note: The program also is at the Shattuck Cinemas, 2230 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley.

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