They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don’t They?

Best Foreign Language Film and Those Pesky Shorts

By J. Don Birnam

February 10, 2014

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Captain Phillips and American Hustle just won the guild prize for Best Edited films, and Her, The Great Gatsby and Gravity nabbed guild wins from the Art Directors. The breadth of serious contenders in this year’s Oscar race has never been clearer. And, more importantly, will an Oscar follow these victories? As I wrote in my last column, I think Captain Phillips is clearly the most deserving of the five editing nominees, but, of course, the full Academy votes in that category, so it is no sure thing that it will take home that Oscar. Nor would I read too much into this win into the Best Picture race - it remains as tight as ever and that is unlikely to change over the next few weeks. Best Art Direction is also likely between Gatsby and Gravity, so the guild win does not help much other than to cement their front-runner status in that race. Perhaps the most worrisome thing about the fact that the expected contenders are emerging victorious in the respective guild races is that the Oscars invariably do their own thing in at least one of these categories, so you can rest assured that not all of these predictions will pan out correctly.

In any event, today we focus on Best Foreign Language Film, and Best Short Live Action and Animated. Warning: the reviews/predictions that follow contain general spoilers about the plots of these films.

A preliminary note, as usual, is in order: this year marks the first year that voting on all 24 categories is open to every Academy member. Previously categories like Best Documentary, Best Foreign Language Film, and the Shorts required attending special screenings and casting ballots there. Spearheaded by Documentary Branch President Michael Moore, the Academy has now agreed to foot the bill of sending screeners of every nominated film in these categories to members. Voting is now done on the basis of the honor system - you’re asked to vote in a category only if you’ve seen the movies, but there is no tracking whatsoever. Incidentally, for those that like to hate on the Academy, this type of endeavor is one of many reasons the Academy is important - smaller, newer filmmakers will now have their products screened, essentially for free, to people who can hire them in the future. It is a subsidy of smaller films and that is a thing to be applauded.


Theories abound as to what this new rule means for these categories. Will they become like the other Oscar races, a popularity contest more than a merits race in that the movie that is most widely seen or has a big star attached to it will win? Will it be easier for big studios like Disney to push through when they have a horse in the race? I suspect or hope that most people will abstain from voting if they haven’t seen the movies. But that is definitely something that is throwing a lot of predictions here for a loop this year - before, it was relatively easy to predict these categories if you had seen the movies, because the best of the bunch almost invariably tended to win. Now it’s not so clear.

Best Foreign Language Film.

First, I confess that I regret not having been able to see Cambodia’s nominee, The Missing Picture. It has unfortunately not screened in the United States and I cannot seem to get it anywhere online. Although I have seen the previews and given that it is essentially an animated movie, something tells me it stands little chance in a category where the Academy has traditionally liked to go for much more “serious” choices.

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