Welcome to all the other kinds of films, which AMPAS lumps into six categories so we don’t have to talk about them after that, and which programmers of the awards ceremony are most willing to cut off!
Best Animated Short
Who To Bet On: Paperman. The race between is between Disney animators, really, but Paperman does have an advantage of its innovative blend of cell animation and CGI to lean on, creating a fluid and luminous look, even more classically elegant for being rendered largely in black and white. While Adam and Dog might exact more pathos out of a more challenging meet-cute, Paperman may well be a welcome herald of the shape of animation to come.
Who To Support: Paperman. Y’all, I’ve listened to Christophe Beck’s score for this short 80 times according to iTunes. I may or may not have forfeited impartiality here. It’s great writing music! And everything else about this short is great, too. If I had to explain the modern Disney sensibility in 5 minutes, I would probably show Paperman. Let’s all go to the 125th Street Station with trapper keepers and be ensnared by love.
Who’s The Spoiler To Mention So You Still Look Smart: Adam and Dog. Much as how Jessica Chastain’s performance is a subtler and technically probably more demanding than Jennifer Lawrence’s showier turn, Adam and Dog’s wordless exploration of the first friendship is vibrant, rhythmic, and satisfying on a primal level. It never quite reaches the exuberant pitch of Paperman, but the animation here is the most joyously alive. It may well win.
Best Live-Action Short
Who To Bet On: Curfew . The Shorts are always near-run things because almost no one watches them, and very few break through to notoriety in the general pop culture. That’s why the animated race is so exciting this year: people are actually watching the films. That said, Curfew fits the Oscar trim nicely: a suicidal man is thwarted in his attempt by being forced to babysit his niece. Serious material, plenty for the actors to chew on, and unexpected turns.
Who To Support: Asad. Here’s the thing about Asad. It’s the story of a young Somali boy who struggles whether to join an outlaw pirate gang. It’s awesome. And by awesome, I mean terrible. And by terrible, I mean gorgeous.
Who’s The Spoiler To Mention So You Still Look Smart: Death of A Shadow. This is probably the coolest looking of the three shorts I’ve seen and executes its trippy, high-concept premise – a WWI-era soldier uses a steampunky camera to steal dying people’s souls – really well. It’s also got Rust And Bone alumnus Matthias Schoenaerts, so it might be able to ride in on that wave.
Best Documentary Short
I haven’t seen any of these, y’all, so get out the tea leaves, I guess? Most of the buzz seems to be surrounding Innocente, for what it’s worth.
Best Animated Feature
Who To Bet On: Wreck-It Ralph. Although there’s many, myself included, who thoroughly enjoyed Wreck-It Ralph but weren’t blown away, it’s still got the most viable chance because it was released (fairly) recently, critically very well received, visually clever, and funny. The race between Ralph and Brave is pretty close, though, so don’t bet too much.
Who To Support: Pirates! Band of Misfits. It’s not going to win so whatever, but this is a rollicking, swashbuckling adventure with Charles Darwin, who has a crush on Queen Victoria, who hates pirates and hunts them abroad her QV1. And there’s a Dodo, because of course there is. If you don’t love pirates, and adorable English actors like Martin Freeman, and warm animation, and pirate nemesis QUEEN VICTORIA, then I’d like to know when your soul got marooned on a desert island.
Who’s The Spoiler To Mention So You Still Look Smart: Brave. Never underestimate three things: the prestige appeal of Pixar Studios, the laziness of Academy voters who don’t watch all the films, and the earth-shattering beauty of the Scottish highlands. While it’s certainly not as narratively sophisticated as its older siblings, Brave is one of the most gorgeous animated films I’ve ever seen. This could be a Jon-Stewart-wins-the-Emmy scenario for Pixar, with Disney Animation Studios as the wincing but good-natured Stephan Colbert.
Who To Bet On: Searching For Sugar Man. This recommendation is based on number the critics and guild awards the documentary on perennially elusive, socially conscious musician Rodriguez has won, which is most of them. Besides being a master class on when and how to withhold and reveal information, Searching For Sugar Man has one of the few things its fellow nominees lack: a well earned happy ending to make voters feel even better about giving it the win.
Who To Support: The Invisible War. Both The Gatekeepers and 5 Broken Cameras should be mandatory viewing for anyone who wants to discuss the Israeli/Palestinian issue the way Lincoln was for Congress, but The Invisible War is the only film out of the nominees that pushed all my right film major buttons – it’s cleanly constructed and focused without bashing heads, yet powerfully insistent and affective – and covers a subject we all should be talking about. And it’s not likely to win, so just mention to others it’s streaming on Netflix.
Who’s The Spoiler To Mention So You Still Look Smart: How To Survive A Plague. This is an instinct call, not having seen the film yet (it’s also streaming on Netflix so I have no excuse), but anger seems to be resonating well right now, with all the Occupy imagery floating around comic book films and such. And here’s a documentary not only carefully handling the passionate, fight for their actual lives of ACT UP during the height of the American AIDS epidemic, but how, though it was damned near thing, passion met politics and got something done.
Best Foreign Language Film
Who To Bet On: Amour. Oh, I’m sorry, which of the other nominees are also up for Best Picture and Best Direction and Best Actr – I’ll stop right here.
Who To Support: Amour. Yeah, the film is that nuts. Despite how mean-spirited its attitude towards its characters (what children react like that?), it is one of the most assured, visually breathtaking and emotionally affective pieces of the year.
Who’s The Spoiler To Mention So You Still Look Smart: Amour. It is the surest of sure bets, y’all. There’s no spoiler, so let me instead suggest two very fine foreign films whose only misfortune is being not-Amour this year: No and A Royal Affair. The former is a Chilean political comedy both biting and absurd, and is anchored by one of the better performances I’ve seen from Gael Garcia Bernal; the latter is a chewy Danish melodrama with a pleasingly subdued, aesthete style and more Voltaire quotes than you probably heard in high school.
Tomorrow: the Little Six civilians do care about – screenplay, song, score, cinematography, and editing.