This weekend, the Peachtree Film Society screens 12 of this year's 13 Oscar-nominated shorts in all three categories. Taking place over two nights, the program gives the short form some welcome exposure while featuring some highly accomplished and entertaining works.
The highlight of the event is sure to be Oscar winner "The Accountant," which screens April 21 with the other live-action and animation nominees. Former Mariettan Ray McKinnon wrote, directed and stars in this tale worthy of Flannery O'Connor. Two brothers with a failing family farm seek salvation from a bizarre number-cruncher (McKinnon), who has spooky insights and a taste for cold beer.
Nicely acted, the farm story alone would be adequate for a fine short. But "The Accountant" also spins weirdly convincing conspiracy theories about the marginalization of the Southern way of life, blaming everyone from Hollywood to Boston Market: "One day your kids will be eatin' cornbread that's sweet and drinkin' iced tea that ain't and thinkin' that's a Southern tradition," McKinnon threatens.
"The Accountant" qualified for Oscar competition because of its inclusion last year in IMAGE's Atlanta Film & Video Festival, where it took top prize. Filmed in rural Georgia, it co-stars former Atlanta actors Walt Goggins and Eddie King as the cash-strapped brothers. McKinnon, who started his acting career on various stages in metro Atlanta, has made a name for himself as a character actor in Hollywood, appearing in films from Driving Miss Daisy to O Brother, Where Art Thou? He hopes to parlay "The Accountant" into a career directing feature-length films.
Other live-action shorts on the April 21 bill have the flavor of central and Eastern Europe. Austria's fiendishly effective "Copy Shop" suggests what "Metamorphosis" might have been if Kafka worked at Kinko's. Germany's low-key "Gregor's Greatest Invention" sweetly shows a young man concocting gizmos to assist his infirm grandmother. While "Speed for Thespians" was made in Manhattan, it offers an unconventional take on Anton Chekhov's "The Beast." I won't give away its clever twist, but the film is essentially a one-joke affair that will be most appreciated by New Yorkers.
Par for Pixar's course is its Oscar-winning cartoon "For the Birds," a trifle with some wonderfully expressive characterizations, but you can say the same for "Stubble Trouble," which portrays a Cro-Magnon's attempts to shave and includes a cleverly "rough" background pattern, as if the cartoon were painted on a cave wall. Canada's Cordell Barker mixes pratfalls with quirky lyricism in "Strange Invaders," about a childless couple and a seemingly innocent visitor from space.
The April 20 program features the Live Action Short winner from 2000, as well as this year's two documentary nominees and the animated nominee "Rejected," which purports to be a series of animated commercials that were commissioned and rejected. Full of hilariously surreal sight gags, it offers huge laughs and ends on a disquieting note of mental deterioration. The 2000 Live Action Short winner, "My Mother Dreams the Satan's Disciples in New York," tells the utterly charming tale of a Midwestern widow visiting her mother in the East Village, terrified but fascinated by a biker gang living on the block.
If you watched this year's Oscar broadcast, you'll remember the sight of Thoth, that prancing performer with dreadlocks, violin and loincloth. The Oscar-winning film "Thoth" finds him an intriguing person devoted to "pray-formances" of his original opera, based on a language and mythology of his own invention.
"Thoth" mostly shows the artist at work but includes interviews that show how Stephen Kaufman has evolved into a kind of whirling dervish and one-man band. With a persona that blends nationality, gender and musical styles, Thoth is like a real version of Hedwig of Angry Inch fame, and once you get past the piercing falsettos, the musical excerpts are unexpectedly compelling.
Part of the fun of any Academy Award-worthy short film program is the element of surprise. When you come across a brilliant little work like "The Accountant," "Thoth" or "Rejected," the thrill of discovery, free of all hype or marketing, is part of the fun.
The Peachtree Film Society's Annual Oscar Shorts program will be held April 20, 7 p.m., at Cinevision, 3300 Northeast Expressway Access Road, and April 21 at 6 p.m. at General Cinema Parkway Pointe, 3301 Cobb Parkway. $7.50 per night ($6.50 for PFS members) and $13 both nights ($11 PFS members). 770-729-8487. www.peachtreefilm.org.