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They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don't They?

Handicapping the Oscar Shorts

By J. Don Birnam

February 15, 2017

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Ah, the shorts. The three obscure little Oscar races that most prognosticators just take crazy stabs at, and that you basically have to pray to get right on Oscar night. Well, not so much so if you read this column, which in the last few years went 3/3 in 2015 and 2/3 in 2016 in predicting these. One never feels confident in these, other than in the ones you can more safely discard, indeed, when you count my alternates, I got all three right last year as well.

So, let’s look today at where the chips are likely to fall in the short races, though if you have other thoughts, you know what to do (Twitter, Instagram).

My other handicaps of the 2016-2017 Oscar categories so far are here for the below the line techs part I, here for the below the line techs part II, and here for the foreign, documentary, and animated races.

The Easy Call: Best Live Action Short.

The Best Live Action Short has the strongest overall combined entries of the year, and still, surprisingly, is perhaps the easiest call of the night. You can probably first discard Spain’s Timecode, which follows two parking garage attendants as they engage in shenanigans with each other as captured by the security cameras of their place of employment. It is funny but I’ve never seen a film this “light” triumph here, certainly not with weightier alternatives.

Denmark’s Silent Nights is also probably out. That short tells the story of a lonely and caring Danish woman as she cares for her aging alcoholic mother and enters into a relationship with a homeless Ghanaian she meets at a soup kitchen where she volunteers. The story is timely and emotionally arresting, but lacks that final punch that most of the winners here tend to have.




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Next out is probably Hungary’s Sing, about a middle school choir that has a dirty little secret, and how children handle it once it is exposed. The story has a big heart, but again I do not see precedent for something like this winning at least not in the several years I’ve been watching the shorts.

The race is clearly between France’s Ennemis Interieurs (Enemies Within) and Switzerland’s La Femme et le TGV (The Woman and the Speed Train). The former is a very timely story about anti-Muslim racism and stereotyping, particularly in European nations and by other Muslims themselves. It raises important and challenging questions about some of the assumptions American audiences may make about these topics.

The reason I think La Femme is the clear winner is because it is funny and has a heart. It follows an elderly, somewhat cantankerous woman who loves to wave every morning and evening at the speeding train as it passes by her small Swiss chalet. The traditionalist woman, who still owns an old-school bakery, bikes to work, and does not know how to “send an Internet,” soon develops a pen pal relationship with the train’s conductor.

Stories that pull at the heartstrings win here often, but if they have a funny aspect to them, then it’s a sure fire thing. Think of last year’s cute story about the shy guy finding love on the Internet (The Stutterer) or the one about the terminally ill boy entering a fantastic land (Helium). Yeah, two shorts about suicide have also won here recently, but both also had hearts, and there is nothing really comparable here this year to take down La Femme.

Will win: La Femme et le TGV
Could win: Ennemis Interieurs


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