Handicapping the 2016 Oscar Shorts
In my experience there is only one way to win an Oscar pool: You’ve got to sweep the shorts categories.
The big categories — Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Supporting — are almost always insignificant, at least from a gambling standpoint. Most years, a frontrunner (or at least a consensus choice) emerges on just about every single Oscar pundit site and magazine. Whether Leonardo DiCaprio wins or loses this year, he’s going to be the pick on 98% of ballots, which means everyone will be right or wrong together. And there are at least a dozen categories like that, where just about everyone is going to have the exact same guess, based on roughly the same amount of knowledge and research.
That means you’ve got to strike in the categories that are historically tougher to predict, and have less knowledge and research around them. That includes the three short film categories: Best Live-Action Short, Best Animated Short, and Best Documentary Short Subject. Here, 98% of Oscar pool entrants won’t have seen (or even heard of) any of these movies, and if you can watch them (or at least get some solid intel from someone who has), you can give yourself a major advantage over the competition.
That’s where this article comes in. This year I watched all 15 Oscar-nominated shorts in order to handicap the full field in all three categories. Below you’ll find my assessment of all the shorts, my predicted winners, possible dark horses, and my personal picks if I was a member of the Academy. Can I guarantee these picks will be correct? No. But I can guarantee that they’re more informed than the vast majority of people guessing blindly. So read on and good luck (and if you win I want a cut, or at least a little credit).
Best Animated Short
The Nominees: “Bear Story,” “Prologue,” “Sanjay’s Super Team,” “We Can’t Live Without Cosmos,” “World of Tomorrow.”
As is often the case, animation is the strongest of the three shorts categories, with several very worthy nominees. “World of Tomorrow” is the latest drolly hilarious and deeply melancholic short from animator Don Hertzfeld, but I would worry his crude stick-figure drawings would turn off some voters who equate “good” animation with “slick” animation. (His trippy sci-fi storyline won’t help him either.) That leaves the door open for something like “Bear Story,” an equally wistful but more traditionally stylized short about a bear who’s taken from his family and forced to work in the circus.
If I had to guess, I’d expect that short to come in second place to “Sanjay’s Super Team,” a lovely Pixar film about young boy’s relationship to his father and the intersection of his obsession with superheroes and his family’s traditional Hindu beliefs. The film is eye-poppingly colorful and glossy in the extreme, and the ending, which connects the story with director Sanjay Patel’s own relationship with his real-life father, packs an emotional wallop. The combination of beautiful imagery and heartfelt sentiment should prove irresistible to Oscar voters.
The Predicted Winner: “Sanjay’s Super Team”
The Dark Horse: “Bear Story”
If I Had a Vote, I’d Pick: “World of Tomorrow”
Best Documentary Short
The Nominees: “Body Team 12,” “Chau, Beyond the Lines,” “Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah,” “A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness,” “Last Day of Freedom.”
I don’t know what’s tougher: Picking a winner in this category or sitting through all five of these incredibly bleak shorts in one sitting. The topics of year’s nominees include ebola, honor killings, Agent Orange victims, post-traumatic stress disorder, and the Holocaust. Speaking of which, films about the Holocaust tend to do very well with the Academy (to the point that it’s almost an Oscar cliche), but “Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah,” which features the director of Shoah looking back at the making of his masterpiece, is more supplemental material than standalone doc. This year, the obvious pick doesn’t seem like the winner to me.
Instead, the frontrunner looks to be HBO’s “Body Team 12,” a movie about the body collectors (and one woman in particular) who safely dispose of Ebola victims’ remains. Given the astonishing bravery of its subjects (as well as its filmmakers), it seems like the clear favorite. If there’s a surprise in this category, though, it could be (also HBO’s) “A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness,” which tells a timely story about a young woman who is nearly murdered by her father and uncle for the sin of falling in love with a man they don’t approve of, and then fights for her rights in the Pakistani court system. All the members of the case, from the attackers to the victim, speak to director with shocking candor, illuminating a sad miscarriage of justice.
The Predicted Winner: “Body Team 12”
The Dark Horse: “A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness”
If I Had a Vote, I’d Pick: “A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness”
Best Live-Action Short
The Nominees: “Ave Maria,” “Day One,” “Everything Will Be Okay (Alles Wird Gut),” “Shok,” “Stutterer.”
In my opinion, this is a two film race. “Ave Maria” is a one-joke short about a bunch of Israelis who get stranded in the West Bank. “Stutterer” uses voiceover to effectively juxtapose a stutterer’s lucid thoughts and muddled words, but beyond that it’s pretty slight. And “Day One,” about a U.S. Army translator on her first day of duty in Afghanistan showcases some effective camerawork and special effects, but its plot twists and turns so wildly in so short a span of time that it winds up feeling like a very well-made student film (which, as it turns out, is exactly what it is).
That leaves “Shok,” a powerful story of two young boys fighting for survival in 1990s Kosovo, and “Everything Will Be Okay (Alles Wird Gut),” the longest and (perhaps not coincidentally) most complex of the films, about a divorced father who picks up his daughter for their weekly visit. “Everything Will Be Okay” is easily the best written and acted short of the bunch, but it’s also a thriller with no larger “Oscar-y” weight or message. With its war-torn setting, heavy themes, and tragic conclusion, “Shok” just feels more like an Oscar winner.
The Predicted Winner: “Shok”
The Dark Horse: “Everything Will Be Okay (Alles Wird Gut)”
If I Had a Vote, I’d Pick: “Everything Will Be Okay (Alles Wird Gut)”