And we’re off, a little earlier than usual as we’re timing our initial batch of Oscar winner predictions to coincide with ShortsHD’s theatrical release of all the Oscar-nominated shorts starting this Friday. If you had asked us right before the nominations were announced what our goal was this year, we would have told you that it was to reclaim some of our lost mojo: to best our tally from two years ago, when we accurately predicted all but one category, and the big one at that. Ask us today, one week after the release of Macklemore’s “White Privilege II” and in the midst of the Academy of Motion Arts and Science’s collective meltdown over #OscarsSoWhite, and we have to confess that the reason why we didn’t call it for 12 Years a Slave back in 2014—for falsely thinking that no amount of white guilt could possibly steamroll over the incredible, and superior, craft of Gravity—will, um, color all of our predictions this year. Readers, you’ve been dutifully warned.
Though our gurus of gold aren’t exactly in agreement over what will win in this category, the consensus is that Richard Williams and Imogen Sutton’s Prologue, an impressive doodle that depicts a battle between Spartan and Athenian soldiers as witnessed by a little girl, feels too much like starter kit for a more substantive study of war and memory to stand much of a chance. We’re also united in our fondness for both Konstantin Bronzit’s We Can’t Live Without Cosmos and Don Hertzfeldt’s World of Tomorrow, sci-fi adventures about human endeavor that mine the psychological complexities of, respectively, space and time travel. Both are fixated on obsolescence and the nature of companionship, shifting effortlessly between deadpan humor and genuine melancholy. If their similarities to one another doesn’t mean that they’ll rule each other out, then their rewarding, if cryptic, endgames, in so far as they won’t be so easily digestible to the average Oscar voter, certainly will.
The two remaining shorts lay on the treacle thick, and in ways that have earned the Academy’s favor in past years. Gabriel Osorio and Pato Escala’s Bear Story, through the story of exploitation and heartache revealed by a bear’s mechanical diorama, celebrates the magic that entertainers provide the world. In spite of conveying its message through perhaps a few too many layers of artifice, the short, redolent in style of past winners like Laurent Witz and Alexandre Espigares’s Mr. Hubolt and Andrew Ruhemann and Shaun Tan’s The Lost Thing, seems almost willfully and elaborately engineered to appeal to the hearts and minds of Oscar voters.
Then there’s Sanjay Patel and Nicole Grindle’s Sanjay’s Super Team, which accompanied The Good Dinosaur in theaters. Pixar, notably, has lost seven times since its last win in this category in 2001, for For the Birds. There’s an almost cloyingly apologetic tenor to the film that, to us, was off-putting. But, then, we’re not card-carrying Oscar voters. If the short primarily exists for a filmmaker to prove that there’s equal room for Captain America and Vishnu in his emotional repertoire, as a badge of his commitment to his culture and to his assimilation into American society, it’s a message Hollywood will find palatable. It doesn’t hurt that it’s gentle in spirit, emotionally coherent, and the most widely seen short in the category. The icing on the cake? The photo in the credits of Patel and his father next to their cartoon proxies, an unintentional FYC campaign that may be enough to ensure that all of this year’s Oscar statuettes won’t be totems to white experience.
Will Win: Sanjay’s Super Team
Could Win: Bear Story
Should Win: We Can’t Live Without Cosmos or World of Tomorrow
Editor’s Note: The Oscar Nominated Short Films 2016, presented by ShortsHD, will open in theaters nationwide on January 30. For locations, click here.