"Searching for Sugar Man" has struck a chord with its tale of… (Hal Wilson / Sony Pictures…)
The record voting turnout for this year's Oscar nominees, as reported by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, is guaranteed to spill over into at least one category when final ballots go out next month. As of this year, academy members will now receive screeners of the five movies nominated for documentary, meaning they will no longer have to schlep to special theatrical screenings. Might this help the popular "Searching for Sugar Man" take the Oscar in a race typically dominated by issue-oriented movies? We explore this in an early snapshot of the contests for documentary, foreign-language and animated films.
ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
"The Pirates! Band of Misfits"
And the winner is: "Frankenweenie." As we called it back in October, this year's animation race belongs to Disney. The question now: Which Mouse House production will prevail? Tim Burton's magnificent stop-motion film feels like the most personal entry in the group. It's certainly the most decorated, winning prizes from both the Los Angeles and New York film critics groups. The movie's sly retro nods to classic horror films should make it a favorite among voters who consider themselves cineastes — or at least the ones with framed, oversized "Bride of Frankenstein" posters hanging in their dining rooms.
Unless: Pixar gets back on the beam after "Cars 2" didn't make the cut last year. "Brave" isn't the studio's best movie, but it's an energetic and lovely exploration of the bonds between mothers and daughters. "Wreck-It Ralph" has a fighting chance too, though its video game setting, old school though it may be, won't exactly resonate with voters who were too old to get in on the ground floor of Pong.
AWARDS: Oscar Watch 2013
"A Royal Affair"
And the winner is: "Amour." It's a no-brainer, right? Well ... no. We're only one year removed from wringing our hands in worry, wondering if Asghar Faradi's masterful "A Separation" was going to go down in flames, as had other critically acclaimed favorites such as "Biutiful," "A Prophet," "White Ribbon" and "Waltz With Bashir." That "A Separation" did win offers reason to believe that Michael Haneke's unflinching, intimate portrait of an elderly man caring for his stricken wife will prevail too, particularly since it's nominated for four other Oscars, including best picture.
But assumptions are always dangerous in this category. To vote, academy members must see all five films in theaters. That reduces the pool of voters to a few hundred members, many of whom possess a taste in movies that doesn't square with the critical consensus. Thus, you have recent winners like "The Secret in Their Eyes" and "Departures," fine films both, but probably not destined to be watched much 20 years from now. Again: It's difficult to see "Amour," a movie with broad support among various branches, losing. But the smaller the number of voters, the greater the chance of an upset. (See: Affleck, Ben.)
Unless: Academy membes do indeed deliver a shocker. With the populist "The Intouchables" shut out of contention, the lavish costume drama "A Royal Affair" seems the most logical spoiler, though the devastating political drama "No" might hold more appeal to activist-minded voters.
OSCARS 2013: Complete nominee list | Reactions | Trivia | Ballot | Snubs & surprises
"5 Broken Cameras"
"How to Survive a Plague"
"The Invisible War"
"Searching for Sugar Man"
And the winner is: "Sugar Man." In a tight category with five worthy nominees, we'll give the edge to the popular movie, even though, in theory (and hopefully still in practice), academy members must watch all five nominees to vote. "Sugar Man's" story of the resurrection of an obscure early '70s troubador has won the hearts of many voters, with some going so far as to call it their favorite film of the year. And while the academy typically favors advocacy docs like "The Cove" and "An Inconvenient Truth," sometimes a great story like the one told in "Sugar Man" is good enough to carry the day — as "Man on Wire" did in 2009.
Unless: One can certainly see a clear path for "The Gatekeepers" too, a movie that interviews the six surviving former heads of Shin Bet, the Israeli security agency, to deliver a timely and challenging portrait of the conflict in the Middle East.
NEXT WEEK: We look at the acting races.