Disney's "Paperman," which screened in theaters before… (Walt Disney Pictures )
Gold Standard writer Glenn Whipp is sweeping through all 24 Oscar categories this week, assessing the races, predicting the winners and helping you prevail in your Oscar pools. He begins by tiptoeing through the minefield of the three categories of short films.
Let's start by noting one important rule change this year -- the entire academy membership received screeners for both the animated short and live action short nominees and can vote in these two categories without having to attend special theatrical screenings. (To vote for documentary short, academy members still need to leave the house and watch the movies in a theater, signing in beforehand, to prove they saw the entire slate.)
This adjustment could benefit a short like Disney's acclaimed "Paperman," which was widely seen both online and in front of the studio's Oscar-nominated animated feature "Wreck-It Ralph." Popular titles from Pixar and Disney have been shunned in recent years. You have to go back to 2001 to find the last Pixar winner, "For the Birds," which means some pretty great work ("Day & Night," anyone?) went without reward.
With all members now eligible to vote, it's possible that the academy's inclination to honor unknowns and up-and-comers over established studios could be curtailed. Or not. Handicapping these races is like stepping into a funhouse hall of mirrors since, outside the quality of the nominees and voters' past predilections, there's little to go on.
With that out of the way, here are our best educated guesses:
"Adam and Dog"
"Head Over Heels"
"Maggie Simpson in 'The Longest Daycare'"
And the winner is ... "Paperman." This striking, black-and-white love story has become the most talked-about animated short in years, and Disney is putting some serious promotional muscle behind it. But, again: Popularity isn't exactly an asset here, and there are a couple of other standout nominees. The claymation student film "Head Over Heels" (which, like "Paperman," took a prize at the Annie Awards) offers a more complex look at love, while the 15-minute "Adam and Dog" tells the origin story of man meeting his best friend with engaging wit and stunning animation. It's our favorite, but "Paperman," at half the length, requires less time and work. We won't cry foul. It would be a worthy winner, too.
Unless ... the academy rebels once again at the notion of honoring the most prominent short and goes with "Head Over Heels" or "Adam and Dog," both of which are crowd-pleasers in their own right. (They just need help finding the crowds.)
"Mondays at Racine"
And the winner is ... "Inocente." The story of a homeless, undocumented immigrant finding self-worth through artistic expression taps into voters' love for material with strong social themes and stories that extol the value of the arts. It's beautifully crafted, too, and stands as the second nomination for its directors, Sean Fine and Andrea Nix.
Unless ... voters go for one of the category's other noble-minded nominees such as "Mondays at Racine," which profiles a group of women going through cancer treatment, or "Open Heart," a look at eight Rwandan children and their cross-continental journey to Africa’s only free-of-charge cardiac hospital. "Racine's" Cynthia Wade, who co-directed with Robin Honan, won the category five years ago with "Freehold." We're tempted to call the race for her again and won't be surprised should she repeat.
LIVE ACTION SHORT
"Death of a Shadow"
And the winner is ... "Curfew." The category's only English-language nominee, Shawn Christensen's quirky, moving comedy follows a suicidal man asked to babysit his 9-year-old niece for a few hours. Christensen wrote, directed and stars in the film, another element, beyond its sheer quality, that will make it stand out to voters.
Unless ... it's "Buzkashi Boys," a coming-of-age story about two warzone Afghan kids that has been in the news lately with its subjects making the trip to Hollywood for the Oscars. The movie itself is the longest of the nominees, and its socially conscious subject matter may appeal to voters more than the arch comedy of "Curfew."
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