Matthew Lickona 9:30 a.m., Jan. 18
Stars in Shorts
A welcome development: big-screen luminaries (Judi Dench, Colin Firth, Kenneth Branagh, Keira Knightley, Tom Hiddleston, et. al.) lending their luster to the short-film form. At their best, short films function like short stories, trimming away every excess to deliver aesthetic completion in a fraction of the time. It's a difficult genre, and there are a couple of clunkers here — Prodigal's story of a father's attempt to rescue his "gifted" daughter plays like an underfunded feature, and Steve just feels like Colin Firth getting into a socially awkward character. Other entries - Lily Tomlin as an unwilling mourner in Procession, Julia Stiles as a fed-up and confessional mistress in Sexting — play like comedic sketches. But After-School Special compresses Neil LaBute's nasty misanthropy into a perfect black gemstone, Friend Request Pending lets Judi Dench turn an old-people-and-technology gag into something genuinely human and sweet, and Jason Alexander steals the show-biz show as a suicidal screenwriter in Not Your Time. (Not rated, but rough language.) 2012.