I’ve been handicapping the Academy Award-nominated short subjects since 2013, and over the years my predictions have often been spectacularly inaccurate. Last year, though, I finally got one right when I identified Two Distant Strangers as the Live Action category’s likely winner. Result!
Not content to sit on those admittedly meager laurels, this year I’m going to do something I’ve never done before: boldly pick a winner in all three of the short subject categories (available for streaming via Shorts TV) instead of just the two I’ve attempted in previous years. So sit back, take notes, and enjoy my eventual humiliation come Oscar night!
2022’s documentaries are, frankly, a pretty weak bunch. Netflix is represented by two nominees, Audible (a feel-good documentary about a deaf high school football team) and Three Songs For Benazir (a meandering examination of life in an Afghan refugee camp), while the New York Times contributes Queen of Basketball, an interesting if brief look at the life of Lusia Harris, the first woman drafted by the NBA.
Lead Me Home underscores the burgeoning problem of homelessness in three of America’s big cities (including San Francisco), while Bay Area resident Jay Rosenblatt’s When We Were Bullies — a thoughtful revisiting of a long-ago schoolyard encounter — is my personal favorite of the five nominees. I’m putting my money on Queen, though: Harris died in January, and the Academy has a well established predilection for inspirational sports shorts (e.g., the execrable Dear Basketball).
Live action shorts
The Live Action category is stronger, with only one film -— the absurdly soppy Danish drama On My Mind — clearly out of the running. Riz Ahmed’s The Long Goodbye starts promisingly but over-eggs its righteous premise (unless the English Defense League has really started committing summary executions in the street, in which case I will stand corrected), while Kyrgyzstan’s Ala Kachuu (Take and Run) is an interesting “problem picture” about forced marriage that might have worked better as a feature.
Poland’s The Dress takes a painful look at the loneliness of a hotel housekeeper who mistakes a moment’s fleeting kindness for something more meaningful, but I’m putting my money — well, my threadbare reputation, at least — on Please Hold, director K.D. Davila’s razor sharp, Black Mirror-style look at criminal justice in the digital era. The film’s satiric depiction of America’s dehumanized and dehumanizing “corrections industry” cuts close to the bone, deftly negotiating the line between absurdity and verisimilitude.
I’ve saved the best for last. This year’s Animated category is very strong and includes four worthy contenders; unfortunately, it’s the fifth film that will likely walk away with the Oscar.
Though I appreciated the artistry of The Windshield Wiper (which appears in part to be roto-scoped), its commentary on 21st century love is unlikely to appeal to older voters. And while Boxballet’s story of the relationship between a ballerina and a punch-drunk pugilist is thoroughly charming, its Russian origins will do it no favors.
My personal vote would go to Bestia — a disturbing depiction of recent Chilean history told via stop-motion porcelain figurines — but the Academy isn’t ready to reward any film depicting inter-species sex. Likewise, Canada’s Affairs of the Art is a hilarious look at an obsessive Welsh family and their unlikely encounters with Lenin, a book entitled Home Taxidermy For Children, and plastic surgery. I loved it but it’s far too edgy for Academy voters.
This leaves the prohibitive favorite, Aardman’s Robin Robin. While its fellow nominees are unsuitable for children, Robin Robin is classic kiddy animation featuring a cute but paper-thin story about fluffy, all-singing, all-dancing anthropomorphic animals. With Gillian Anderson and Richard E. Grant providing voice talent, there’s absolutely no way it can lose. Prove me wrong, Academy!