If you need a distraction from fighting about “La La Land,” cheering at “Hidden Figures” or weeping about “Moonlight” — all of which might have been distracting you from other things — there are 15 Oscar-nominated movies quietly soliciting your attention, along with that of the academy voters. The short-film nominees are often unsung awards-season highlights, too easily overlooked except for office-pool balloting purposes. This is a shame, since in about the time it would take to watch “Arrival” three times or “Toni Erdmann” twice, you could take a remarkably wide-ranging tour of world cinema.
Even in a generally strong year like this one, the shorts display a cosmopolitan breadth and a stylistic variety that the other categories often lack. The animated nominees include handmade as well as digital productions, and dark, adult themes as well as child-friendly charm and whimsy. The live action and documentary candidates tackle painful real-world material with compassion, courage and imagination (though sometimes also with conventional sentimentality). All of the films arrive in theaters in New York on Wednesday and nationwide on Friday and will be available Feb. 21 on many streaming platforms (though several can be found on various sites now). Here is a brief critical guide.