Hollywood Reporter March 3, 2006

Oscar shorts getting screen, Net exposure

By Gregg Kilday
"Cashback," a short film directed by Sean Ellis, is turning into something of a mini-blockbuster as the animated shorts and live-action shorts nominated for Sunday's 78th Annual Academy Awards are moving out from under the shadows cast by their feature-length brethren.

This year, the short films distributor Shorts International teamed up with Magnolia Pictures to distribute the shorts theatrically -- the Academy shorts program opened last weekend in select theaters nationwide. To make the bite-size movies even more widely available, Shorts International joined with the iTunes Music Store this week to offer the five nominees for best live-action film as individual downloads.

By Thursday morning, the experiment already was finding eager viewers. "Cashback" ranked No. 4 among the most downloaded videos at the iTunes Music Store, behind only Pink's "Stupid Girls" video and episodes of "Lost" and "Battlestar Galactica."

No doubt, the movie's popularity got a boost from the "explicit" label attached to its description. Ellis' 19-minute film from the U.K. is set in an open-all-night supermarket. At first, it earns laughs as it documents the strategies a goofy gang of night-shift employees use to while away the hours, but then it shifts into a more lyrical mode as its protagonist, a young art student, explains how he freezes time in his mind and then imagines how the women strolling the aisles might look nude.

"Cashback" might have captured the most attention, but its competition isn't being ignored, either. Rob Pearlstein's "Our Time Is Up," took the sixth slot. Pearlstein, an L.A. screenwriter making his directorial debut, has constructed a humorous bit in which a psychiatrist (Kevin Pollak) learns that he has six weeks to live and starts telling his patients exactly what he thinks of them.

The other nominees include "Six Shooter," a dark comedy from Ireland about a dangerous stranger on a train directed by Martin McDonagh; "Runaway," from Germany, in which director Ulrike Grote follows a man who suddenly discovers the 6-year-old son he has never known; and "The Last Farm," a sad story from Iceland from Runar Runarsson, about a lonely farmer coming to terms with the death of his wife.

Welcoming a sold-out crowd for screenings of the shorts Tuesday night at the Academy's Goldwyn Theater, John Bloom, executive committee chair of the short films and feature animation branch, hailed the wider distribution the short films are now receiving, saying, "There truly exists a demand for the films worldwide."

As for the animated entries, they range from Sharon Colman's hand-drawn "Badgered," the tale of a sleepy badger whose battle with some noisy crows is interrupted, to Shane Acker's stop-motion "9," set in a postapocalyptic world where an odd creature must confront a soul-stealing monster. The nominees include Anthony Lucas' ambitious "The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello," in which characters created by silhouettes embark on a voyage inspired by Edgar Allan Poe and invoking the world of Jules Verne, and John Canemaker's "The Moon and the Son: An Imagined Conversation," a piece of autobiographical animation in which the filmmaker constructs a dialogue with his Italian-American father.

Pixar Animation Studios has a film in the mix as well: Andrew Jimenez and Mark Andrews' "One Man Band," in which two street musicians in an Italian piazza compete for the attention of a young girl. However it fares Oscar night, it suggests that as Pixar's John Lasseter takes over Disney animation, one of the first orders of business should be to set the creative minds at Pixar to animating a new version of the music-inspired "Fantasia."