They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don't They?

Those Pesky Shorts

By J. Don Birnam

February 17, 2015

C'mon, he's a growing boy!

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The short subject movies (animated, live action, and documentary) are where close Oscar ballot races are won and lost. They are also some of the hardest to predict. With constant rule changes in the categories (they were, for example, recently opened up to voting to the entire membership, not just those who attended special screenings of the shorts) it is hard to gauge how external factors such as Academy politics and personal allegiances may affect the outcome.

Still, if you’re going to have a shot at winning your Oscar pool, you will have to know something about categories. At the very least, there are clear options you can eliminate, and that helps. By the way, each of the last three years I’ve gone two for three in these, which is the minimum you need to stay competitive in a good ballot race. Let’s shoot for a hat trick this year, although there is the least amount of consensus amongst the pundits in these races that there has been in years.

Here’s a general rule of thumb: the obvious choice is very rarely the winner because only a small group of quirky individuals tends to vote for these. And be forewarned, I’m predicting all the obvious choices, so caveat emptor.


Best Animated Short

The animated shorts are a delight because they allow artists to exhibit different styles of animation and convey messages in punchy detail. They’re available in theaters, on demand, and on iTunes, and no one that I have urged to seek them out and spend a few dollars supporting up-and-coming filmmakers has reported anything but enjoyment.

The category is also fascinating as a mirror of the history of the Walt Disney Company. The award began with the fifth Oscars in 1932, and 10 of the first 11 years the race was won by Walt Disney himself, accounting for 10 of his still-record 22 Academy Awards. After Disney’s death in 1965, the studio won two more times that decade but then faded from contention, receiving only three or so nominations over the course of the next 40 years, as the company struggled to reinvent its identity and even survive. It wasn’t until after the Disney rebirth of the early 1990s that we see Walt Disney Studios appear again in the animated shorts race (and it restarted winning Oscars in other categories), and it was only two years ago with “Paperman,” that they achieved victory in this race after a 50 year absence (!). They’re certainly hoping to win in this race again, and, as we shall see, have a good chance of doing so.

So, the nominees. The shortest of the bunch, and perhaps the cleverest and darkest, is “A Single Life,” which tells the story of a woman who discovers a record that, when played back and forward, allows her to travel back and forward through time. It is cute and packs a good punch in its quick three-minute run time, but films this brief rarely win here, and I don’t think this one will either, even though it is witty and deserving.

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