Taking a long shot at Oscar’s short bets

The allure of Oscar shorts: They represent the workshops from which filmmakers master their art and craft. And who doesn’t like rooting for the little guy now and again? Most Oscar watchers don’t bother to see them, so it’s like a horse race, picking the name with the catchiest ring. I’ve seen them all, so I’m here to help shorten your bets.

Guessing which shorts will grab hold of an Oscar, though, is an inexact science. Last year, I correctly predicted only the animated short category. So I’m operating under the assumption that the ones I favor won’t win. You probably should, too.

DOCUMENTARY SHORTS

My Prediction: “Open Heart”

open-heart_592x299Open Heart tells the touching tale of eight chronically cheerful Rwandan children dying of rheumatic heart disease, which roughly 13 million of their peers have developed because of untreated strep throat (the disease has been eradicated in the U.S. because of easy access to penicillin). They are treated at a free clinic in Sudan, led by a brilliant, chain-smoking, greasy-haired, elderly surgeon. He spends time pleading with the Sudanese government for a reneged $5 million in funding, so Oscar voters should rise (fund-raise) to the occasion.

ITS EDGE: Academy members seem pressured to pick the documentary that makes the most difference or advances the greatest cause. Typically doesn’t matter whether it’s the best produced film or evokes the greatest emotional response from an audience. Seeing that Saving Face won last year — that film shed light on the brutal acid attacks on Pakistani women and a doctor who returns to his homeland to perform pro-bono cosmetic surgery — I’m betting Open Heart will play on those same voters’ heartstrings.

My Pick: “Mondays at Racine”

mondaysatracine-300x225So many beautiful things about this film, but the beauty of its title is you have no idea what it’s about if you go into the shorts experience cold, as I prefer to do: A salon run by two sisters on Long Island — sisters who were forced to witness their mother hiding from the world while undergoing her own cancer treatments — extends free beauty and pampering once a month to female chemo patients. One could argue this is this year’s feminist piece and will follow in the footsteps of Saving Face. Though the topic is cancer, it is more than a warm pink fuzzy as these courageous women bare far more than their bald heads and flat chests. Every member of our audience, male and female, needed time to compose themselves after its disquieting conclusion.

Also-rans:

  • “Redemption” — You’d expect a religious treatise, but “Redemption” follows down-on-their-luck New Yorkers who “can” — redeeming bottles and cans after scrapheap-snorkeling 24/7. People of all ethnicities and walks of life do it, sometimes dragging along kids for lack of day care. The territorial disputes are amusing, interviews at times are LOL funny, but ultimately the “there but for the grace of God go I” revelation is chilling. Academy voters might have a soft spot for these colorful souls, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it pulled out a win. This is everything a documentary short should be.
  • “Inocente” — Probably the best-produced of the documentary shorts about a 15-year-old homeless Latina artist who finds a path out of her dead-end life. Handicap: I see marketing written all over it and the focus is a bit too narrow to earn my vote.
  • Kings Point” — Far more depressing than Amour, this bittersweet look at end-of-life issues is set in one of those sunny, Southern retirement communities filled with eternal darkness. Kill me now.

POST-OSCAR UPDATE: “Inocente” wins; shoulda known.

ANIMATED SHORTS

papermanMy Prediction: Paperman

On the strength of Disney’s promotion — nearly everyone I know has either viewed or shared this cartoon online — this story of love-at-first-sight and paper-airplane darts seems destined to win. I do like the black-and-white undertones of paper saving the day in a digital world.

head-overheelsMy Pick: Head Over Heels

While Paperman witnesses to romance, Head Over Heels — the only non-American contender in this category — is the real deal. In this stop-action gem, an elderly couple share a topsy-turvy house, where one’s ceiling is the other’s floor. Eventually, they find some kindling and reclaim some common ground. This is to Amour as Silver Linings Playbook is to Paperman.

POST-OSCAR UPDATE: “Paperman” clinched it.

Also-rans:

  • Adam and Dog — The clear winner for all dog owners, about the first domesticated canine. Be prepared to whimper and wag. Loved the watercolors and the artists’ loyalty to the dog’s point of view.
  • Maggie Simpson in “The Longest Daycare” — The only short to receive applause in our theater. Familiar but refreshingly unpredictable. Still, it felt like a warm-up short for the rest of the shorts.
  • Fresh Guacamole — Fresh and zesty. This one could win — goes by in a blink and a wink and has absolutely no fat. A friend says it was the best two minutes she spent at the movies.

Bonus: Because the animated shorts are so short, producers threw a few highly commended entries onto the reel. I’ve already written about my favorite, Dripped, from France, here. Abiogenesis from New Zealand was a doodler’s dream, and The Gruffalo’s Child from U.K. and Germany seemed a desperate follow to The Gruffalo (2009), both of which seem too long to be shorts. I’d rather read the books and imagine my own visuals than hear it read by squirrels.

LIVE-ACTION SHORTS

ht_buzkashi_boys_mi_130212_wgPrediction: Buzkashi Boys

Guilt over the war alone could edge out a win for this boilerplate buddy flick (wanna-be Western) from Afghanistan. According to The Huffington Post, the young Afghan stars will attend the Oscars ceremony. Hard to send them home without a gift bag.

shorts-curfew31rv1My Pick: Curfew

Pure made-in-the-USA genius. A suicidal uncle’s day out with his nonpareil niece proves doubly life-affirming.

POST-OSCAR UPDATE: “Curfew” took home the Oscar!

Also-rans:

  • Death of a Shadow (Dood van een Schaduw) — From Belgium, a film school-ish portrait of hell.
  • Henry — Oh, Canada, Alzheimer’s is so last decade.
  • Asad — South African/U.S. filmmakers track a young boy at the crossroads of becoming either a Somali pirate or legendary fisherman. An animal from the sea helps seal his fate. Also could win, as it shows the flip side of piracy.

Oscars picks from a patron in a leading supporting role

oscarIgnorance can be bliss when it comes to predicting the Oscars. Sadly, I know too much.

Most Academy members don’t have time to see all 38 Oscar-nominated features in every category, so they watch only those that get mailed to them or for which they’ve been wined, dined and re-wined. This year, though, was unique in that most of the nominees in the running for major awards were still in theaters at the time the contenders were announced, giving voters a chance to easily do their homework via legwork.

Me? Last month, I had seen only two films in the running in any category: “Lincoln” (up for Best Picture, Actor in a Leading Role, Actor in a Supporting Role, Actress in a Supporting Role, Directing, Cinematography … phew! … where was I? Costume Design, Film Editing, Original Score, Production Design, Sound Mixing and Adapted Screenplay) and “Snow White and the Huntsman” (Costume Design, Visual Effects). I know, quite the pair.

With two days to go, my tally is 23 of 38 features and all 15 shorts (I had seen one of the shortest-ever animated shorts beforehand: Fresh Guacamole, likely during pre-roll for Lincoln).

Still haven’t seen The Hobbit, I refuse to see Ted, and I am not fully qualified to vote in six categories because I haven’t viewed each nominee: Animated Feature Film (Frankenweenie will win though), Documentary Feature, Foreign Language Film (Amour has it), Makeup and Hairstyling (dammit, Hobbit), Production Design (Hobbit-snobbit!), Visual Design (hobbled again by The Hobbit). I shall focus on the shorts in a separate post, as if anyone cares. (I do!)

So, let’s get on with it.

BEST PICTURE

My Prediction: “Argo”

The metadata, media, my mom, Google searches and gang-think all point to Argo becoming only the fourth movie in Oscar history to win best picture without its director also being nominated. This was clearly a case of Hollywood feeling sorry for Ben Affleck and rallying. Don’t get me wrong: I liked the movie. I also confess to starting to doze off just a tad (well, it was the late show and the third movie I had seen that day) but I swear I didn’t miss much, because when I came to, there was that woman with the 1970s yearbook haircut and glasses still looking fretful. What was stellar about this movie: the acting by veteran legends John Goodman — who also stole the show in Flight, up for Denzel Washington, er, best actor — Alan Arkin and Ben himself; nail-biting film editing; and the exquisite costume and production design. It was authentic, gritty and gripping, even if it did rewrite history with a Hollywood ending. And amid all the beatings Zero Dark Thirty is taking for its depiction of torture, Argo provides the counterpoint: Torture=bad, Capture by Iranians=torture, therefore Iranians=really bad. I love how the story of a fake movie was a fake movie within a fake movie. Probably because I’m a journalist and take a hard-line on “facts,” as we know them, I still don’t want it or Zero Dark Thirty to win … and I wasn’t a big fan of The Artist winning last year, either, as it was just another Hollywood valentine. You want a Valentine? Go see Amour on Valentine’s Day, alone, as I did.

Suddenly I’m feeling sorry for left-out Lincoln. Wasn’t it supposed to sweep up a month ago?

My Pick: This has been the hardest decision of my week. My favorite movie experiences among the nine nominees were, in order but kinda a five-way tie: Silver Linings Playbook, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Amour, Life of Pi and Django Unchained— all because I had zero expectations going in and they each surprised and inspired me to the core. I also loved Lincoln, Les Misérables and Zero Dark Thirty, but I can’t overlook their leaden flaws. I have to base my decision on which movie I would get sucked into and watch again and again on cable forgoing all previous plans, or which I would tell my friends they must see, because that’s what a best picture should do. That movie this year would be … I’ll tell you at the end of this post. Nyah, nyah.

ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE

My Prediction & Pick: Daniel Day-Lewis

No-brainer. If he wins, he becomes the first actor to win three Oscars for a leading role. We should bow to him or maybe elect him president for real.

I marveled at Day-Lewis’ walk as Lincoln, but also harbor great affection for Joaquin Phoenix’s deflated Popeye stance as a sailor with no compass in the masterful The Master.

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

My Prediction: Christoph Waltz

Loved him, but it’s an unlevel playing field because he felt like an actor in a leading role, and I am irked Leonardo DiCaprio didn’t get the best supporting actor nod or that Jamie Foxx didn’t get nominated for best actor.

My Pick: Robert De Niro

I’m tempted to give it to Alan Arkin for his delivery of just one or two lines — polar opposite of Waltz’s saturation performance — but De Niro is due, proving he’s still got it while redeeming himself for all that Focker nonsense.

ACTRESS IN A LEADING ROLE

My Prediction & Pick: Jennifer Lawrence

Sorry to be boring. I love Jessica Chastain — she could be the next Meryl Streep — but this was not the role she should have been nominated for. Naomi Watts is Lawrence’s biggest competition, but there was so much about just being dazed, and you can’t discount her boost from hairstyling and makeup design. Emmanuelle Riva, yay, but her co-star, the pigeon … I mean Jean-Louis Trintignant, should have been nominated as well in that case. And I love kids, but Quvenzhané’s acting is a credit to director Benh Zeitlin.

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

My Prediction: Anne Hathaway

My Pick: Helen Hunt

Sorry, Sally Field. I’ll miss your acceptance speech. Really, really, I will. I know you gained weight for to play Lincoln’s “loony” wife and all (and I loved how you didn’t make her too loony because, heck, I could relate), but Helen Hunt got totally naked in an artful way. Yes, she does that little smirk, and it’s a crutch, but you do the open-mouth exasperated thing. And I did love Anne Hathaway to death, but she loses points for all those talk shows. Did I mention I’m anti-marketing?

ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

My Prediction: “Frankenweenie”

Still need to see two, but they all pretty much follow the same formula: Misfit kid gets comeuppance by defeating villains/solving puzzle and saving the day!

CINEMATOGRAPHY

My Prediction: “Anna Karenina”

My Pick: “Life of Pi”

Just to vent here. The cameras were well-choreographed in Anna Karenina, every frame composed like a painting, but I felt I was watching a flip-book story board and got a wee bit dizzy. If it hadn’t been for Keira Knightley and Jude Law’s flesh-and-blood performances I would have died of distraction. The actors and set pieces seemed part of the director’s dollhouse. And who does Joe Wright think he is, Fellini? I know Fellini and, Joe, you are no Fellini.

COSTUME DESIGN

My Prediction & Pick: “Mirror Mirror”

I am going out on a limb here, but the duds in Mirror Mirror dazzled without encumbering character. Whimsical, but not victims of whimsy. On the other hand, I could lobby for Lincoln as a sentimental favorite, his non-cliche stovepipe hat and all. Winning this early-in-the-proceedings Oscar could be a sign of a complete sweep at the end.

Truly, I’d welcome either of the Snow White flicks winning, just please, Oscar gods, don’t give it to Anna Karenina. Those costumes, while fancy-pants, looked as if they’d barely been worn, except maybe once for fittings then the actors were told they couldn’t play in them or get them mussed up.

UPDATE at 5:17 p.m.: Credits just rolled on Mirror Mirror, and I learned it was dedicated to Eiko Ishioka, its own costume designer, who died Jan. 21 —less than two weeks after nominations were announced. This category just got interesting. I have no doubt now she will win posthumously. It’s the kind of story Hollywood eats up. If she doesn’t win, I will eat my stovepipe hat.

DIRECTING

My Prediction: Steven Spielberg for “Lincoln”

Kudos for also directing screenwriter Tony Kushner, no small feat.

My Pick: David O. Russell for “Silver Linings Playbook”

Could be an upset! Would also revel in either Ang Lee or Benh Zeitlin getting a steal.

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

My Prediction & Pick: “The Invisible War”

Only one I’ve seen so far, but will have seen four by the time the Red Carpet is unrolled. Still, I can’t imagine any subject being more timely, rally-cry important or outrage-inducing than institutionalized rape in the military.

FILM EDITING

My Prediction: “Argo”

My Pick: “Silver Linings Playbook”

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

My Prediction & Pick: “Amour”

How could it not win if it’s also nominated for Best Picture? “A Separation” (2011) all over again. (That Iranian brilliance was nominated for screenplay and best foreign film, not quite the same deal, but once a foreign film is elevated, it typically prevails.)

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SCORE)

My Prediction: “Life of Pi”

Hypnotic, but relentless. Still, it’s nice to indulge in something on the total opposite spectrum from John Williams.

My Pick: “Skyfall”

Loved how the new sound melded into the old Bond theme. In general, the music kept my adrenaline going throughout.

MUSIC (ORIGINAL SONG)

My Prediction: Skyfall from “Skyfall”

I think Adele’s performance seals it, and the way the song grooved with the titles was old-fashioned solid gold.

My Pick: Suddenly from “Les Miz”

Aside from the heart-stopping opening and Anne Hathaway’s scene, this song was the moment Les Miz earned my unbridled attention and affection. Stage revivalists should take note.

SOUND EDITING

My Prediction: “Skyfall”

The Oscar almost always goes to action-genre movies. My, Skyfall is doing better than I thought it would.

My Pick: “Django Unchained”

The gunfire and squelchy body parts were indeed impressive if over-the-top — expert sound work is what sold it all and made us squeamish. Also loved all the table-settings/dinner sounds. God, I love this movie. It needs some extra recognition. Maybe best picture?

SOUND MIXING

My Prediction & Pick: “Les Misérables”

C’mon, you gotta hand it to ’em, that wasn’t easy!

WRITING (ADAPTED SCREENPLAY)

My Prediction: Tony Kushner for “Lincoln”

Well, duh. And I get the feeling he is STILL revising the screenplay.

My Pick: David Magee for “Life of Pi

… or David O. Russell for “Silver Linings Playbook”

I honestly can’t decide. Perhaps I should read both books first. Anyone out there who has who cares to weigh in? “Life of Pi” dealt in the art of storytelling, and Magee proved the consummate artist. And kudos to Russell. I mean — the man was a wizard on “Silver Linings,” it was his baby and, in the grand scheme of things, the perfect contemporary Hollywood creation, a Cinderella story examining “crazy in love” against the madness of modern times.

WRITING (ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY)

My Prediction: “Zero Dark Thirty”

I think we have to acknowledge the renewed sense of patriotism and pride people felt attending this movie. In terms of writing, yes, it was too long, but I felt it was because the researchers were throwing their sources a bone. Plus, in terms of writing, there was a nice, subtle “twist,” whether fiction or fact, to help explain why Osama bin Laden was shot on sight. Made me feel better about things, anyway.

My Pick: “Moonrise Kingdom”

This quirky, “camp” movie about misfits, puppy love and khaki scouts is a timely salute in a year when the Boy Scouts finally decided to slacken its anti-gay stance and allow local troops to set their own policies on inclusion.

AND NOW, THE ENVELOPE PLEASE … MY PICK FOR BEST PICTURE:

I am kinda embarrassed to say. I guess I simply wasn’t up for a historical treatise or compromised journalism this year. I wanted something more holistic. So I’m leaning, at the moment, to choosing between Life of Pi and Silver Linings Playbook. Or maybe Beasts of the Southern Wild.

Again I’m feeling sorry for Lincoln. Maybe I should see that one again.

I may need one more day to puzzle this out. Let me deal with the shorts first, and I’ll get back to you on that best picture thing.