We predict the winners for the six categories that honor best pictures of a certain niche type.
Six categories at the Oscars might as well be known as the outcast group. They are Best Animated Feature, Best Foreign Language Film, Best Documentary Feature, Best Animated Short, Best Documentary Short, and Best Live-Action Short.
Although animated features are still able to slip into the Best Picture category, there’s been little reason for them to do so ever since they got their own award 16 years ago. Foreign-language films have their own set of rules for their category, but while there are occasional overlaps with Best Picture, and there’s never been much of a chance of one winning the top award, especially if it’s nominated for its own. Documentary features are similarly basically considered a whole other species from the dramatic narrative bunch, especially since unlike animation and foreign film, nonfiction features have never been nominated for the Academy’s top prize.
And the short films? Why are they so separated? It’s not like it’s Best Feature-Length Picture. But, fine, shorts are their own thing too, divided further into three types that you’d also think wouldn’t be allowed to be mixed and matched.
Here’s what will win and what should win, and why, among these bastards of the Oscars:
Best Animated Feature
Christopher Campbell: Please don’t let The Boss Baby win, please don’t let The Boss Baby win, please don’t let The Boss Baby win… Last year was terrible for animated movies overall, and yet the Academy still could have picked either of the Lego Movie spin-offs or the even better Captain Underpants instead of the ridiculously stupid The Boss Baby. I’d have preferred Despicable Me 3, as well. But The Boss Baby won’t win. It can’t possibly win. Right?
The competition includes the very ambitious and triumphantly impressive Loving Vincent, a film consisting of 65,000 oil paintings in the style of Vincent Van Gogh paintings as its individual frames. Voters could honor that unprecedented achievement, though it won’t. They also won’t give the Oscar to the inoffensive but unmemorable Ferdinand, though that would be an interesting win given Disney’s 1938 version of the story, Ferdinand the Bull, won an Oscar for a cartoon short.
The race is therefore really between Pixar’s latest, Coco, which is very good and culturally respectable but not among the studio’s best, and The Breadwinner, which was helmed by Nora Twomey, co-director of the previous Best Animated Feature nominee The Secret of Kells. A win for the latter, about a girl in Afghanistan who dresses as a boy to support her family, would be a coup for distributor GKIDS, which has now managed 10 nominations in the category in less than a decade. Pixar, meanwhile, has earned 11 nods in this category, and they’ve won eight Academy Awards among those.
Unfortunately (sort of), Pixar is just that crowd-pleasing and undeniably well-made, and Coco is an easy favorite with its beautiful underworld landscapes and catchy music and genuine Mexican flavor. Not that the Oscar should just go to The Breadwinner instead because the company deserves it, or even because its story is more “important”; it’s also a worthy pick on its own. If only more people watched it (it’s now on Netflix).
Who should win: The Breadwinner
Who will win: Coco
Best Foreign Language Film
Rob Hunter: I’m typically on top of this category as a lover of foreign cinema, but this year’s crop of nominees sees me at the distinct disadvantage of having seen just one of the five. Sweden’s The Square is one of my favorites movies from last year, and of the nominees, it’s also the one most spoken of both in and out of film circles. That should be enough to clinch it, but as the other four are mysteries to me I can only speculate as to the odds of Chile’s A Fantastic Woman, Lebanon’s The Insult, Russia’s Loveless, or Hungary’s On Body and Soul winning the award instead. Of these, it’s The Insult that I’ve heard the most positive responses to meaning it may be the one to knock my favorite out of contention.
Who should win: The Square
Who will win: The Insult
Best Documentary Feature
Christopher Campbell: Everyone thinks they know what the Academy looks for in this category, but the rules and voting for and, more importantly, the reception of documentaries in recent years keep changing the formula if there ever was one. Sorry, there aren’t any Holocaust docs among this year’s nominees for people to still make the joke that was last relevant in the ’90s. And there is no music doc, which has been the most recent of trends ever since voting expanded to more general tastes. There is no frontrunner, no easily deduced winner, no zeitgeist pick.
There’s an idea that Icarus could take the award because the Russian Olympic doping scandal is timely and the film is incredible in its accidental twists and revelations. Also, it’s from Netflix, though the streaming service still hasn’t had any luck with the Oscars with any features, only winning an Academy Award for the first time last year with the doc short The White Helmets. They’ll probably have another split, given that the similarly current Strong Island, a deeply affecting first-person examination of the murder of the filmmaker’s brother, is also theirs.
As far as issue films go, this year is more representational of “important” movies than we’ve seen this decade. We’ve got the Syrian war on devastating display in Last Men in Aleppo, which basically focuses on the same subject as last year’s Best Documentary Short winner (the Netflix one mentioned above). That was the year for The White Helmets. Then there’s Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, which finally got Steve James a nod in this category. It’s a relatively easy to watch issue film, though the financial crisis seems like such a yesteryear topic for the Oscars stage.
What’s left is Faces Places, a lighter, more enjoyable romp with filmmakers Agnes Varda and JR through the French countryside delivering enormous photographic portraits to the people they meet via their camera-shaped truck. Varda just received an honorary Oscar last fall, so maybe voters won’t see the need to give her this award. They might also see it as too insubstantial at a time when entertaining docs aren’t as worth celebrating as serious subject matter. It would be nice for it to be the third film to top our sister site Nonfic’s yearly poll to go on to win the Oscar, of course.
Who should win: Strong Island
Who will win: Faces Places
Best Animated Short
Christopher Campbell: I’ve already reviewed and ranked the animated shorts in another post, but I’ll sum it up again. Just as it is in the Best Animated Feature category, where the race comes down to Pixar and GKIDS releases, namely the adorably fantastical anti-bullying cartoon Lou and the Roald Dahl fairy tale deconstruction adaptation Revolting Rhymes (Part One). The former, of course, is a regular nominee and winner in this category, while it’s the latter’s first time to this party.
Apparently, there is some strong support out there for Dear Basketball, which is ridiculous and unfortunate given that it’s a well-made piece but also a vanity project for subject/producer Kobe Bryant. That also won the Annie Award, which is a sometime indicator of the Oscar pick. There’s also the clever claymation film Negative Space, which isn’t too memorable, and Garden Party with its focus on photorealist frogs, which I continue to think about most of all despite its hokey, ill-fittingly silly ending.
Who should win: Lou
Who will win: Lou
Best Documentary Short
Christopher Campbell: I’ve also already reviewed and ranked this batch, over at Nonfics, and again will sum things up now. With doc shorts, it typically still comes down more to what’s the most significant issue or subject, presented rather conventionally. This year we’ve got ex-cons in the kitchen in Knife Tools, a portrait of an eccentric artist in Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405, a look at a woman involved in a police brutality case with Traffic Stop, a film about old people in love separated by an abuse of elder rights, and a profile of three women doing amazing work in the opioid-overdose capital of the country with Heroin(e).
The last one is far and away the most competently made and compelling in its storytelling, and it’s also a Netflix Original, which if it wins means the service would have two in a row. That wouldn’t surprise me, nor would it disappoint. Its best competition is probably Traffic Stop given its timely subject matter as well as for its interesting structure. The rest are very strong but seem kind of slight for a category that is, even more than Best Documentary Feature, used as a way to present a pressing problem on the world stage of the Oscars. Heroin(e) doesn’t just have the focal issue, but it’s also a celebration of strong women saving people.
Who should win: Heroin(e)
Who will win: Heroin(e)
Best Live-Action Short
Christopher Campbell: Again, I’ve also already reviewed and ranked this category’s nominees, but I’m going to sum it up, too. Firstly, let’s get the fine but not good enough dramatic works out of the way. My Nephew Emmett is well acted but seems a bit off overall, and Watu Wote (All of Us) is a reenactment of true events without much to say about it. The Silent Child would be a whole lot more praiseworthy if it didn’t have the title cards at the end summing the film up as a glorified PSA for the betterment of hearing-impaired children.
In the top two, there’s the comedic entry The Eleven O’Clock, about a seemingly paradoxical match between two men who each believe they’re the psychiatrist and the other their patient. And there’s Dekalb Elementary, which isn’t just timely for being based on a real situation involving a gunman at a school but it’s also really good, so well acted and perfectly executed as a small character-driven piece focused on the heroism of the main office employee who talks down the troubled shooter. It’s the only one that feels complete.
Who should win: Dekalb Elementary
Who will win: Dekalb Elementary