There are three races in our annual Oscar predictions contest that can trip up even the most experienced award prognosticators: the three short film categories for Animated, Live-Action and Documentary. Until recently, these nominees were only made available to academy voters, leaving the rest of us to blindly guess the winners based on the titles alone. But now the nominees are screened together at arts cinemas nationwide.
The Animated program contains additional “highly commended,” non-nominated shorts to fill out the running time to at least 90 minutes, while the Documentary and Live Action contenders, running anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes each, are shown in two separate programs.
This year’s nominees for Best Animated Short Film are an eclectic lot, but based on past winners the field can be narrowed down.
“Sanjay’s Super Team” is the clear frontrunner to win, drawing the support of 16 of our 19 Oscar experts drawn from journalists who cover this beat year-round as well as five our six in-house editors, 16 of the Top 24 Users (those two dozen folks who did the best predicting last year’s winners) and 80% of all Users. Sanjay Patel’s seven-minute charmer about an Indian boy fantasizing about superheroes during his father’s prayer service played before Pixar’s “The Good Dinosaur.”
In the history of this category, shorts produced by major studios such as Disney, MGM, Warner Brothers, and Pixar have predominated. Disney has racked up 15 wins over the years, most recently with “Paperman” (2012) and “Feast” (2014). And Pixar has won three times (“Tin Toy,” 1988; “Geri’s Game,” 1997; and “For the Birds,” 2001).
UPDATED: Oscar predictions by Experts in all 24 categories
My pick, along with that of two Experts, one Editor, four of the Top 24 and 20% of Users, is Don Hertzfeldt’s “World of Tomorrow” (also available on Netflix). Employing simple line drawings, this dark sci-fi tale focuses on Emily, a little girl receiving a visit from her own third-generation clone. The replicant takes the innocent child on a tour of a technologically advanced but bleak dystopia where clones fall in love with rocks and the earth is about to be consumed by a meteorite. The future Emily describes her sad existence with deadpan blankness while the bubbly little present Emily enthuses over the colors and lights of the shooting stars (actually dying victims of teleportation accidents.) Oscar voters don’t usually go for humor this dark, especially in the Animated Short category.
Richard Williams’ “Prologue” is an even more brutal view of humanity, so much so that the six-minute film is put at the end of the program with a parental-warning announcement about graphic violence and nudity so that parents may take their children out of the theater before it starts. With pencil drawings, Williams recreates a bloody ancient four-man war with dazzling and harrowing brilliance. Some academy voters may want to reward the director’s craftsmanship.
In 2013, Disney’s “Get a Horse,” a black-and-white tribute to the studio’s early days starring Mickey himself, lost to the whimsical Luxembourg-produced “Mr. Hublot,” featuring an inventor caring for a dog-like robot in a steampunk world. This year’s potential cute foreign spoiler could be Gabriel Osorio’s “Bear Story” from Chile. The sentimental weepy stars an ursine craftsman displaying a clockwork street show about a bear, possibly the hero himself, being kidnapped from his loving family by evil circus producers in long trench coats. “Bear Story” shares “Hublot”’s mechanical milieu and tear-jerking style.
The final nominee is Konstantin Bronzit’s “We Can’t Live Without Cosmos,” an affecting Russian fantasy on two cosmonaut trainees. It’s funny and moving, but nothing special.
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