February 18, 2012 2:25pm PT by Scott Feinberg
FEINBERG FORECAST: Spotlighting The Three Oscar Shorts Categories
When it comes to predicting the winners of the three Oscars devoted to short films -- animated, documentary, and live-action -- most people just wing it and check off either a random or the most appealingly-titled nominee. Any serious awards buff, however, knows not to do that, for those three predictions can completely make or break one's chances in an Oscar pool!
Instead, one should devote a -- yes -- short amount of time to actually seeing the nominees, which is easier to do these days than ever before thanks to a program sponsored by ShortsHD through which all 15 nominated films are shown at theaters across the country in the weeks leading up to the Oscars. This offering, now in its seventh year, is as popular as ever -- indeed, just last weekend it brought in more money than in any other weekend yet.
If you absolutely cannot make it to the theater, though, you can still sleep easy, because I've checked all of the nominees for you and produced a tip-sheet. I can't guarantee that I'll nail all of these categories, but, if you employ my picks for your Oscar pool and only one or two of my three picks pan out, that's still probably one or two more correct picks than you otherwise would have had, so... you're welcome!
BEST ANIMATED SHORT
1. A Morning Stroll
This BAFTA Award winner is a humorous parable about the ways in which society has changed for the worse, first depicting 1959, in black-and-white stencil, as a time in which people were considerate; then 2009, in color, as a time in which people are so consumed with themselves and their gadgets that they fail to notice life or others passing them by; and then imagining 2059 as a bleak dystopia. The final punchline is perfect.
2. The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
This surrealist film from a former Pixar animator charmingly highlights the importance of books, illustrating how bleak the world would be without them, and how much "color" they can bring into our lives when we embrace them. Coming at a time in which hard-copies of books and libraries -- and interest in them -- are being threatened by technology, this message has real resonance.
3. La Luna
Pixar's seven-minute entry is director Enrico Casarosa's semi-autobiographical film about a boy caught between his always-squabbling father and grandfather as they take a trip to the moon in search of gold. It features beautiful CGI animation -- but, frankly, not as much plot or point as winners of this category tend to possess.
This film from the National Film Board of Canada, which has produced six winners of this category, more than any other non-American studio, features minimalist drawings (it reminded me of the Madeline book series for kids) and the cute story of a young boy struggling to cope with the boredom of the usual Sunday rituals -- going to church, visiting grandma, chatting with adults, etc.
5. Wild Life
Another product of the National Film Board of Canada, this film, which appears to have been drawn with water colors and pastels, chronicles a wealthy Canadian who sets out for the Old West seeking excitement but finds something quite different. The film compares him to a "comet." I'm not quite sure what their point is.
BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT
1. God Is Bigger Than Elvis
This film tells the remarkable story of Dolores Hart, a 1960s Hollywood starlet who gave Elvis Presley his first on-screen kiss, played the female lead in many memorable films, became engaged to marry a man, and then left it all behind to become a nun at an abbey in Connecticut, where she still lives -- as "Mother Prioress" -- and was interviewed for this film half a century later.
2. The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom
What begins as a story of horror (with amazing footage of the tsunami that afflicted northeastern Japan after the Great East Japan Earthquake of 3/11/11, claiming over 20,000 lives) becomes a story of hope (with survivors explaining why the ancient cherry blossom trees that have been around for millennia and survived the tsunami inspire them to go on).
3. Saving Face
This film focuses on the horrific phenomenon of acid burning in Pakistan by chronicling some of the women whose lives have been forever changed by it as they recover from their injuries, seek justice, and receive treatment from an expatriate Pakistani plastic surgeon who returns to his homeland to try to help. A tremendously disturbing film.
4. Incident in New Baghdad
Ethan McCord, an American who joined the Army with the goal of improving the lives of the people of Iraqi, returns home to his own family haunted by his experiences -- including one particularly gruesome incident from 7/12/07 that severely injured two innocent Iraqi children and was later exposed by Wikileaks -- and committed to increasing awareness and understanding of PTSD.
5. The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement
This film lovingly profiles octogenarian James Armstrong, a black man who for decades cut hair -- including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s -- in Birmingham and was a civil rights activist before, during, and after the era that bears that name. Also a history of attempts to deprive black people of the right to vote. A film that would have been even more powerful and relevant if it had come out three or four years ago.
BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT
Four of this category's last five winners have been comedies, and I suspect this Irish film will continue the trend. Set in 1977, it focuses on an 11-year-old boy whose domineering father has denied him the opportunity to play, watch, or listen to soccer as punishment for a mishap he committed as a church altar boy, and who, when given a second chance, shows his dad and the church exactly what he thinks of them.
Questions of morality are raised after a German couple travel to Calcutta and adopt a young boy, only to discover -- after he briefly goes missing -- that the operator of the orphanage from which they adopted him had kidnapped him from his parents, with the hope of finding him a better life. The film asks its audience to ponder whether there is such a thing as "the greater good" and, if so, who is entitled to decide what it is.
3. The Shore
Terry George, a screenplay Oscar nominee for In the Name of the Father (1993) and Hotel Rwanda (2004), uses his native Ireland as the backdrop for a film about a man (the great Ciaran Hinds) who returns to his homeland and confronts secrets and lies from his past that he had heretofore kept from even his now-adult daughter, who accompanies him on his journey.
4. Tuba Atlantic
In this dark comedy, an angry old Norwegian man who has recently learned that he has only days to live is visited by an "Angel of Death" -- not in the literal sense; that's just the name of the girl scout-like organization for which the adolescent visitor works (for whatever her reasons) -- and, against all odds, they grow to tolerate and even like each other.
5. Time Freak
Somewhat reminiscent of Groundhog Day (1993) and the more recent film Source Code (2011), this sci-fi comedy shows one geek's efforts to go back in time and better handle certain events in his life, and his concerned roommate's efforts to stop him. While it's good for a few laughs, it's also pretty amateurish and lightweight in comparison with the other nominees.