Oscars 2022: Picks and Predictions From Someone Who’s Seen It All

“‘The time has come,’ the walrus said.” I tend to be an indecisive person, but no more so than come awards season. Still, I soldier on. Because I take pains to see every film nominated in every category on the Oscars ballot, friends rely on me to make the picking part easier.

Let’s start with those sad eight categories that have been eliminated from the live telecast this year. It’s shameful that the biggest draw and suspense of the Oscars awards is being denied. We all know the big races are fixed, and the biggest names are rarely the biggest dreamers. It’s a thrill to see those lesser-known artists get their 15 seconds in the spotlight.

My jam has always been the shorts. Pardon if I write long.

Short Film (Live Action)

Such a strong crop this year.

The longest one runs 40 minutes and shouldn’t even qualify as a short: “Ala Kachuu – Take and Run” (Switzerland), or The Runaway Bride of Kyrgyzstan, focuses on the plight of the thousand or so women kidnapped into marital slavery each year. Though shedding light on an important topic, it’s straight-shot story-telling, with some blatant symbolism, and so my least favorite.

“The Dress” (Poland) is a daring but disturbing tale of a hotel maid with dwarfism who pines for love — or, at least, its rite of passage. She arranges a special date with an itinerant trucker but must scrounge for something special to wear (“the dress”). Even as this piece spotlights cruel injustices faced by differently abled people, it left me wondering whether it was also exploitative.

“On My Mind” (Denmark) — a powerful treatise of love and loss — is the only one that brought me to tears. I have already written about in a previous post because it spins on karaoke. While each of these is deserving, none is likely to win.

Prediction: The Long Goodbye (United Kingdom)

This nightmarish episode in what we think is a civilized country boasts the star power of Riz Ahmed, a British rapper and actor who was nominated for his explosive leading performance in 2020’s “Sound of Metal.” It was released as a companion piece to his concept album “The Long Goodbye,” and imagines the brutal possibilities of ethnic persecution/cleansing in a post-Brexit U.K. Though only 11 minutes long, nearly a third of it is consumed by Ahmed’s performance art — which is breathtaking. The theme is tolerance, live and let live, but the fusion of art forms and the improvised screenplay make it stand out.

Pick: Please Hold (USA)

This satirical look at our broken justice system amid the punishing, un-navigable maze of digital-assistant “customer service” is both hilarious and horrifying. It’s a heavy sentence on actor Erick Lopez’s shoulders, but he pulls it off. Kudos to writer-director KD Dávila. I’m voting here for all the misjudged people of color and all the unjustly incarcerated people. And anyone who has ever raged against the A.I. machine.

[Update post-Oscars: “The Long Goodbye” was the winner!]

Documentary (Short Subject)

This is traditionally my favorite category, and this year’s entrants don’t disappoint.

“The Queen of Basketball” is simple and charming — a one-person interview with the most adorable super-athlete ever to break barriers interspersed with archival clips, with the power of The New York Times behind it. Upping its game is the pity factor: Its subject died in January, wouldn’t live to see the Oscars. Kinda OK if it doesn’t win. It’s well edited and structured, but the filmmaking, like sports, seems a combo of skill and luck.

Another sporty title, “Audible,” about a winning season for the Maryland School of the Deaf’s football team, felt too staged and filled with cheap shots (“let’s go to the cemetery and take close-ups of everyone missing their friend who took his life”). Tragic, gripping in its silent-movie mood — the sound is terrific, like something out of “2001: A Space Odyssey” — but the camera was too intrusive, the subjects too aware of the filmmakers, and each scene overly directed to qualify in my documentary book.

“Three Songs for Benazir” required three viewings — I fell asleep the first time via Netflix because I’d been watching too many movies. I watched it again for good measure. Then had to go to the cinema to catch the shorts that weren’t available for streaming and was forced to watch it once more. Turns out the third time’s the charm because it finally dawned on me how brilliant it was. Shot over the course of four years, it’s the tale of an Afghan refugee, Shaista, whose future (and day-to-day) looks bleak. With a wife, a son, and another on the way, he sees joining the army as his only option, but his father and village oppose it, fearing the Taliban’s recourse and insisting the opium trade holds the answer. There are great bird shots throughout, whether caged, being forced to fight in a ring, or flying free. One fantastic vignette shows Shaista protesting his case through the rebar on his adobe-hut window, trapped. Eventually, he sticks with the opium harvest … and (SPOILER ALERT!) ends up in rehab. What’s great is that the filmmakers were his neighbors, so all the action is searingly nosy and honest. Oh, and the “songs”? He has a habit of spontaneously singing to his wife, Benazir — such winsome interludes.

Prediction: Lead Me Home 

I think the Academy voters will be persuaded by this slick, in-your-face short about homelessness, using every time-lapse and drone trick at moviemakers’ disposal. Still, the individual stories are powerful, woven into a gut-wrenching, heavy-hitting plea for solutions. It juxtaposes upscale apartment dwellers freighted with kitchen islands and treadmills beside tent dwellers, car sleepers, and the most beautiful panhandling dancer on Earth, Ronnie “Futuristic Astaire” Willis. I would invite him to move in.

Pick: When We Were Bullies 

Betting I’m the only one to pick Jay Rosenblatt’s walk down memory lane to try to make reparations for participating in an act of bullying while in the fifth grade 50 years ago, at PS 194 in Brooklyn. Perhaps more memoirs than documentary, its premise and coincidences are mind-blowing, spine-chilling, and it made me chortle and choke up. The creativity astounds — sprinkled with animation — the story-telling is sharp, and his hypotheses about why kids bully touched a nerve, as I had a similar experience in fifth grade. This short was even more guilt-inducing than the homeless one. A full link on YouTube has since been removed by Rosenblatt for copyright infringement. Hmmm. Maybe he is just promoting himself? Regardless, it moved me the most, in the moment. (Sorry, Barbara of Winchester!) And the schoolyard scenes remind me of the “West Side Story” rumbles, and I can’t get enough WSS this year.

[Update post-Oscars: “The Queen of Basketball” was the winner.]

Short Film (Animated)

Already posted about the animated shorts, here. But will reiterate my votes:

Prediction: Robin Robin (United Kingdom)

Pick: The Windshield Wiper (Spain)

[Update post-Oscars: “The Windshield Wiper” was the winner!]

P.S.: For the best wrap-up I’ve seen on all 15 shorts, check out a fellow marathoner’s “A Busy Film Fan’s Guide to the 2022 Oscar Shorts.” Turns out I agree with him on many points, and he provides nice clips/footage.

Film Editing

Another favorite category is film editing because I do a little on the side and it’s what I secretly wanted to be when I grew up. (Instead, I’m a regular journalist-type editor, though you’d hardly know it reading my slap-dash blog posts.)

The critics’ choice here is “The Power of the Dog.” The fans’ choice is “King Richard.” I can definitely see that because sports movies present their challenges, and the tennis action took some deft splicing. The girls cast as Venus and Serena Williams weren’t tennis players to start, so a combination of visual effects and body doubles were used to create realistic tennis sequences. We’ll skip “Dune” and “Don’t Look Up.” I mean, I didn’t skip them — I saw them all. But “Dune” needed editing (not enough action or sandworms) and unless you count Meryl Streep’s nude scene, the editing hardly stood out in “Don’t Look Up.” Yeah, yeah, it’s not supposed to stand out, but you get my drift. “Don’t Look Up” had that frenetic ADHD quality of today’s screen-addicted youths. Part of me is rooting for it, though, as it depicted my alma mater (though that wasn’t truly the East Lansing campus).

Prediction: The Power of the Dog

Pick: tick…tick…Boom!

C’mon! Weaving in all those Broadway stars who aren’t used to double and triple takes? Syncing all that couch-jumping, keys-pounding action? Let’s hear it for my boy, Lin-Manuel!!

[Update post-Oscars: “Dune” was the winner.]

Makeup and Hairstyling

Two words. Jared Leto. I didn’t know he was in the movie — even after I watched it — so “House of Gucci” must win. No point even listing the also-rans.

Prediction and Pick: House of Gucci

[Update post-Oscars: “The Eyes of Tammy Faye” was the winner.]

Music (Original Score)

Prediction: Encanto

Pick: Anything but Parallel Mothers

Seriously. That soundtrack was like a porn movie score, not that I know anything about porn movies, or scoring.

[Update post-Oscars: “Dune” was the winner.]

Production Design

Frances McDormand as Lady Macbeth in a scene from “The Tragedy of Macbeth.” Credit: Courtesy of Apple TV+ and A24

Prediction: The Tragedy of Macbeth

It needs a win. This might be its only shot. Far more artful than the projected winner (“The Power of the Dog” — again?!?)

Pick: West Side Story

A true production, amiright?

[Update post-Oscars: “Dune” was the winner.]

Sound

Belfast. Interestingly, I watched this once without the sound on, just to breathe in its exquisiteness. Despite a killer soundtrack by Van Morrison — made doubly musical by those bewitching brogues — I don’t think such points count for sound design, though.

Dune. Lots of wind-blowing is all I recall.

No Time to Die. The sound crew was no doubt the MacGyvers of sound design but, again, I forgot to pay attention, because I watched it in a hotel.

The Power of the Dog. I liked the piano-practicing scene. And the sound of exasperation. (Really? 12 nominations?!)

West Side Story. CRANK IT UP.

Prediction: This one’s tough. So I’ll go with pack-leader The Power of the Dog.

Pick: West Side Story

[Update post-Oscars: “Dune” was the winner. Damn “Dune.” I got only 2 of 8 among these.]

Oscars 2022: Lead Me to the Movies, My Second Home

Roughly midway through “Lead Me Home,” a masterful documentary short about the nation’s homelessness crisis, when the onscreen discussion had turned to strategies for finding a shower (one woman confessed to sneaking into motels after the maids had left), I finally got a good whiff of myself. Frankly, I stank. The week had been so crammed with my day job on top of my night job of Oscar marathoning — my annual quest to see every film nominated for an Academy Award in every possible category — that it had been days since I’d showered.

And that was my only excuse for not going out afterward for a bite or even grabbing a photo of me and Barbara of Winchester, one of the three people committed to sitting in darkness on this sunny afternoon to witness all the documentary shorts, which are not in the least bit short.

The halcyon days of spending an entire day holed up with strangers and booze at West End Cinema in D.C. are long gone. That bougie dive used to be the only place in the DMV you could catch the documentary shorts, which would get split into two full-length features, shown back-to-back, over the span of four hours. Since the pandemic interceded and amplified the risks of patronizing tiny arthouse cinemas — historically, the documentaries would prompt impromptu film clubs afterward, with robust yapping and laughing among groups of suddenly fast friends — I’ve resorted to mostly a streaming film diet. Which is sad, because crossing paths with other cinephiles is part of the dang-gone fun.

Barbara of Winchester turned out to be my superhero. You see, three of this year’s documentary shorts are available on Netflix, so I had already done my due diligence and digested “Audible,” “Three Songs for Benazir,” and “Lead Me Home” at home. “Three Songs for Benazir” I’d even watched twice because, after staying up so late streaming movies, I’d fallen asleep my first time watching it on my phone in bed. To cross off this category, I needed only “The Queen of Basketball” and “When We Were Bullies.” In the theater’s description, “The Queen of Basketball” and “When We Were Bullies” were listed first, so in between errands today, I figured, I could buy a ticket, watch those two, then sneak out and not spend too much of my day every day watching movies. Besides, I already had a date planned tonight for dinner and “Licorice Pizza” for dessert.

When buying my Doc Shorts ticket, though, a flash of disappointment: Another patron had already claimed my favorite seat. Oh, well. At least I won’t be alone in the theater for a change (many people are still hesitant to return to the movies, and those braving the experience are mostly seeing “The Batman”; this past week, the late showings of “The Worst Person in the World” and “Cyrano” were empty — more safety for me!).

So today it was Barbara of Winchester in My Favorite Seat, me positioned near the screen, and another lady waaaaaaay up in the back row who were propping up the local cinema economy. The previews end, the reel gets rolling, and whoa. The live-action shorts begin. What?! We all exclaim different levels of confusion and frustration. Me: “I thought this was the documentaries? Hmm. I do need these, too, tho …” Lady in back: “Oh, jeez. They’re running the wrong reel! Is somebody gonna tell them?!” Barbara of Winchester in My Favorite Seat Now Unburdening Herself of a Tub of Popcorn: “Yes. I’ll go do it. Because I’ve bought tickets to all three shorts presentations today, and the timing will all be off if we see these first because they’re the longest.”

Don’t remind me. Gosh, I sure hope they’re in the right order so I can still leave and get stuff done. I watch a little bit of the live-action nominee “On My Mind,” patiently waiting for Barbara of Winchester with the Purple Spiked Hair to return with things all straightened out.

She’s nothing if not effective. And dedicated: Not even I had the stamina to take in all 15 nominated shorts in one day, enduring a six- or seven-hour marathon, plus previews and the two-hour round-trip drive from Winchester. Within moments, the documentary shorts start rolling and, shoot. Wrong order. It goes: “Audible,” “When We Were Bullies,” “Three Songs for Benazir,” “Lead Me Home,” and, finally, “The Queen of Basketball.” But I don’t suffer much. Turns out the third time’s truly the charm for “Three Songs.” I adore it now and predict it may win — although I have a new personal favorite, which I’ll divulge in due time, in my traditional Predictions-Picks Post.

Anyway, Barbara doesn’t agree with me. When I go to thank her afterward, she confesses she almost fell asleep during the one I favor because she, too, has been cramming on movies and doing crazy things like driving from Winchester to Reston for rare screenings. (“It’s not really very far.”) Oh, I know. For an Oscar marathoner, even Philly wouldn’t be far. We share bite-size film analyses, if not a bite and a brew, and she invites me to join a session of her Winchester Film Club, which meets every Wednesday night at the Alamo Drafthouse. Tells me they screened the one film I can’t find anywhere (“Writing With Fire”), the one I desperately need to clinch 100% of my marathoning this year (never attained; current score: 25 of 38 full-length features and 6/15 on shorts). That movie was a must-see, of course, she testifies. I tell her I sometimes blog about this thing we do. She asks if I’ll write about her. I say I may, and she warmly extends her hand.

Which, to someone who had spent the past two years shunning human contact beyond her pandemic bubble and hadn’t showered in three days, seemed a tremendously generous gesture.

And I just might show up at the Alamo in Winchester one Wednesday night to finally get that selfie together. Or maybe I’ll simply go back to my neighborhood theater in a couple of hours to catch the animated shorts — knowing full well Barbara will be there.

Oscar marathoners: We are not alone

2016-02-20 00.56.05_resized

Ellen, right, and I are comfy in the dark.

And this is what’s so thrilling about Oscar marathoning. I put out a call tonight on Facebook inviting anyone to join me in knocking off the supporting actor category at the late show of Creed. I heard not a peep, yet when I showed up at the theater, who’s waiting in the lobby but a fellow sojourner, Ellen Stucker! Imagine. We live in separate towns. It was like a mini-flash mob. We compared lists and notes, enjoyed the flick, then exited our dark sanctuary into the darker night to cram another day.

I recall with bittersweetness (nonpareils) the friends I made at West End Cinema in D.C. — the only place that showed the documentary shorts and truly the highlight of the season. Some people would come from Baltimore or farther just to lap those up, and we’d all pull out our crumpled lists. It was an annual pilgrimage for many of us. If any of you are still reading this blog, let’s meet up somewhere for Anomalisa.

Meanwhile, the documentary shorts are among the most inspiring and riveting categories. If anyone has any leads on where I can inhale them before Feb. 28, do tell.Screen Shot 2016-02-20 at 1.16.02 AM*Note: Funny thing — turns out the last time I blogged about this same phenom, I used the exact same headline!

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.