PART 2: THE MINOR FILM CATEGORIES
This host-less and apparently commercial-hampered and time-constrained 91st Academy Awards arrive on Sunday, February 25th. It’s time to breakdown each category and put some stone cold predictions into digital ink. Throughout the busy awards season, this website’s 2019 Awards Tracker has been my workspace to tally all the early award winners. That prognostication data is cited in these predictions. This column examines the minor film categories of foreign film, documentaries, animated films, and short films. As I say every year, stick with me and I will win you your Oscar pool!
BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM
The nominees: Capernaum, Cold War, Never Look Away, Roma, Shoplifters
AWARDS TRACKER DATA: 33- Roma, 5- Shoplifters, 4- Cold War, 4- Burning
Who was snubbed: In a crowded and notable field, Burning is a high-profile film that is celebrated enough to deserve a spot.
Happy to be there: Though there are great films here, anything not named Roma should be happy to have their 15 seconds of mention against the Netflix juggernaut.
Who should win and who will win: I’ve heard much love bestowed upon Cold War and Shoplifters, but this is undoubtedly an award for Roma. The proud country of Mexico has the second most nominations (eight to Israel’s 12) without an Oscar win for Best Foreign Language Film. This is the special film and place to break that drought.
BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM
The nominees: Incredibles 2, Isle of Dogs, Mirai, Ralph Breaks the Internet, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
AWARDS TRACKER DATA: 28- Spider-Man: Into the Spider-verse, 11- Isle of Dogs, 3- Incredibles 2, and three others with one win
Who was snubbed: I’ll drop a little love for Big Fish & Begonia, a small-scale Chinese fantasy that was really heartfelt and rich in myth. It has the deserving artistry and connectability to be included.
Happy to be there: It seems like every year, one foreign gem gets to be the token outlier, even if they (and others) deserve to be there. Mirai gets the “never heard of it” blurt-out from regular American couches this Sunday.
Who should win and will win: I was late to the party to seeing Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, but, hot damn, was it as stellar and brilliant as advertised. I don’t know how anyone watching it cannot see its standout qualities above a pair of Mouse House sequels and an underwhelming Wes Anderson entry. This might be the most certain win of the whole night. If you hear Ralph Breaks the Internet or Incredibles 2 named instead, you can fully start the Disney-Oscar Conspiracy cult and it would be warranted.
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE
The nominees: Free Solo, Hale County This Morning This Evening, Minding the Gap, Of Fathers and Sons, RBG
AWARDS TRACKER DATA: 29- Won’t You Be My Neighbor? 8- Minding the Gap, 3- Shirkers, 2- Hale County This Morning, This Evening, 2- Three Identical Strangers, 2- RBG, 2- Free Solo, 2- Quincy, and 5 others with one win
Who was snubbed: Blowing through my usual restraint, I’m diving into high hyperbole here. It is a crime against humanity and God himself to snub the Fred Rogers biography Won’t You Be My Neighbor? It’s fine to cite the merits of other films, but look at that data. 29 critics groups and awards-voting bodies aren’t crazy. The Academy is.
Happy to be there: Looking at that same data, the only nominee to not win at least something this season is Of Fathers and Sons. Call that the Fred Rogers spot-stealer.
Who should win: For the “should” spot, I’m totally going to be a Chicago homer for a few sentences and root for the skateboarding doc Minding the Gap from Bing Liu. The Land of Lincoln could use a win.
Who will win: Without Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, this has actually become a wildly unpredictable category. Frontrunners even larger than Neighbor have died on this hill, throwing trends out the window, to something obscure over the last few years. I think this year goes “normal”-ish with a win for spectacle going to Free Solo, the outstanding and IMAX-sized mountain climbing documentary that has had likely the biggest theatrical reach of the five nominees. I’m betting on the hunch that it’s the one nominee most of the voters have seen.
BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM
The nominees: Detainment, Fauve, Marguerite, Mother, Skin
AWARDS TRACKER DATA: 1- Matria, 1- The Years, 1- Three Centimetres
Who was snubbed: I’ve been dipping my toes in short films over these last few years. The one five-star short I rated in 2018 was a little thriller called The Photographer. I have no clue if it was submitted or eligible, but it impressed the heck out of me.
Happy to be there: This was one of the four awards the Oscar producers planned to hand out during a commercial break, so you could say everyone should be relieved to be saved.
Who should win and will win: Marguerite is an impressive little story of unrequited longing and love that I think will resonate with voters this year. It’s a great post-#MeToo dramatic yarn in this obscure category.
BEST ANIMATED SHORT
The nominees: Animal Behaviour, Bao, Late Afternoon, One Small Step, Weekends
AWARDS TRACKER DATA: 1- Weekends
Who was snubbed: This is a shout-out to friend-of-the-page and fellow critic Aaron White of Feelin’ Film who recommended the non-nominated Lost & Found to me after being able to view and review all five of the final nominees for press. Boy, was he right about the stop-motion charmer being better than all five here. See it for yourself here.
Happy to be there: After seeing all five, I can say this is a stellar field, one better than previous years. Not a single one is a dud. The “least” one that could have been swapped for Lost & Found was Animal Behaviours.
Who should win: Call me a sucker for celebrating traditional hand-drawn animation in this day and age, but Late Afternoon tells a marvelous little generational story behind Alzheimer’s that has lovely visuals that fit a stirring story. It’s not flashy, but it was the most affecting of the nominees for me. Equally wonderful in the feels department was the dreamy astronaut story One Small Step a cute CGI entry made by some Pixar alumni.
Who will win: The awards data citing the industry winner of the Annie Award points to Weekends being the best. Like Late Afternoon it has an old style done magnificently to be minimalistic yet deep. That said, I’m calling for the populist upstart. Bao, the semi-creepy smothering mother story from Pixar that played in front of Incredibles 2, has likely been seen by the most voters. I think its popularity contest beats Weekends’ prestige. I’d love to be wrong here.
BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT SUBJECT
The nominees: Black Sheep, End Game, Lifeboat, A Night in the Garden, Period. End of Sentence
AWARDS TRACKER DATA: No major award data
Who was snubbed and happy to be there: Welcome to what is annually the most obscure minor film award of the event. Even many of the most devout cinephiles couldn’t name you five documentary shorts, let alone five from the last year. As always, this category should be happy to exist next to its feature big brother.
Who should win and who will win: This has been what I like to call the “dart board category.” Anyone with a tail to pin on a donkey will be making a guess as good as the next player. I let the betting Vegas odds tilt me to this one. The bookmakers say Black Sheep and I’ll follow suit.
NEXT: THE VISUAL AND ARTISTIC CATEGORIES
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