Four days into our Oscar prediction coverage and we’ve already hit a roadblock: There’s no explicit trigger—no correlation to President Donald J. Trump and the decline of American unipolarity—among the nominees in this category that we can use to pinpoint the likely winner. The spoils here often go to the longest film, and this year that distinction belongs to Pear Cider and Cigarettes, which could be said to be of the moment given that it—per Eric Henderson’s note to me—“lionizes a recognizably reckless, self-defeating (albeit Canadian) mess.” Robert Valley’s film abounds in dazzling composites of human bodies in eroticized movement and backgrounds where perspective is askew. We were hooked throughout, even as we were let down by the lack of an emotional epiphany that, at the very least, might have made sense of Valley’s weird obsession with thigh gap.
Two times I watched Patrick Osborne’s Pearl, and still I didn’t experience it the way it was meant to. Part of the Google Spotlight Story series, this is the first virtual reality headset-compatible film to be Oscar-nominated. The short’s camera angle is inexplicably static on its YouTube stream, and it wasn’t until I screened the official press link that the story finally opened itself up to me. In some ways, Pearl suggests a corrective to Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, as if were trying to bring to the fore the experience of Lorelei Linklater’s sidelined character, but at press time, I couldn’t figure out how to view the film on my VR headset. And as the short’s VR gimmick is going to be impossible to replicate in theaters, will voters feel that the animation, prehistoric in ways that bring to mind Dire Strait’s “Money for Nothing” music video, elevates what’s a rather by-the-numbers time-passage montage?
Eric and I are split on Lou Hamou-Lhadj and Andrew Coats’s Borrowed Time. He thinks it’s beholden to corny machismo and doesn’t register strongly enough as a testimonial to the importance of gun control. But I think its intent is to capture, no more and no less, the way guilt can ineffably and cruelly tug at us following a cataclysmic event. It haunted me, and maybe more than Theodore Ushev’s esoteric Blind Vaysha, a gently profound, world-conscious allegory about political anxiety that Eric aptly describes as the “charcoal tone-poem version” of Stevie Wonder’s “Pastime Paradise.” But with very rare exception, the Oscar here often goes to computer-animated or stop-motion work, and the style of this film feels outmoded even by the looks of equally gentle and poetic past winners as La Maison en Petits Cubes.
Which brings us to Piper. With the exception of last year, when we thought Pixar’s Sanjay’s Super Team would triumph, we’ve predicted that the studio would come up short every time it’s been nominated in this category since its last victory in 2001. Both Eric and I agree that Piper certainly checks off enough boxes to feel like a winner. The detail and texture of the environments and character designs are unlike anything we’ve ever seen in a computer-animated film. At times, this story of a young sanderling trying to transcend its fear of the incoming surf while searching for food feels like an outtake from a Planet Earth episode. Eric and I may disagree on just how cutesy Piper gets in its depiction of the sanderling’s schooling from a group of hermit crabs, but we’re on the same page about the crabs making appropriate candidates for heading up the education department than Betsy DeVos.
Will Win: Piper
Could Win: Blind Vaysha
Should Win: Blind Vaysha