The 93rd Academy Awards are upon us and before Hollywood can hand out its hardware, we need to make our 2021 Oscar Predictions. Will this help you win your own Oscar betting pool? Maybe. In this entry, we’re looking at a group of categories we like to call The Other Best Pictures — the awards for Best Animated, International, Documentary Feature, Animated Short, Documentary Short, and Live-Action Short.
Best Animated Feature
It’s easy to say that the Academy cannot deny Pixar. It’s true; they’re drawn to the animation house, but so are a lot of people. Truthfully, the Academy did not award Pixar with a little gold statue in 2018 when The Incredibles 2 was nominated. They, rightfully, gave that year to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
So, Soul may not take home the statue this year. Wolfwalkers is an incredible feat of animation. It playfully swerves inside its medium, altering its style to match the emotions of its lead characters. There’s an energy to every frame that gleefully challenges Pixar’s house design. Wolfwalkers is the movie that doesn’t feel like any other. Still, Soul is a mightily polished experience that passionately takes hold of its viewer. It works on those heartstrings and contains some of the finest digital cinematography Pixar has ever concocted. If Academy voters did jump on those Apple TV plus screeners, then Soul is right there for the taking. (Brad Gullickson)
What Should Win: Wolfwalkers
What Will Win: Soul
Best International Film
Considering Thomas Vinterberg was also nominated for Best Director, it seems pretty clear which way the wind is blowing. Another Round winning the Oscar will be a deserving choice; the film walks a fine line between jubilation and profound sadness and is brought to life brilliantly by Mads Mikkelsen’s lead performance. The Danish submission, which follows four teachers who make an agreement to maintain an intoxication level of 1-2 glasses of wine throughout the workday, has received near-universal acclaim for its insight on drinking culture and its deft portrayal of various midlife crises.
This win will be commendable, but not without a cause to mourn that nominated alongside Another Round — and not receiving a tenth of its coverage — is Quo Vadis, Aida? The Bosnian war drama follows translator Aida (Jasna Djuricic) as she tries to secure her family’s safety in a UN camp amidst the war. The film is a harrowing and unflinching look at genocide, made all the more impressive by Djuricic’s magnificent portrayal of the title character — a performance that mops the floor with every acting nominee. For the simple reason that Another Round has already taken audiences by storm and Quo Vadis, Aida? deserves to be more widely seen with the boost of attention that a win would get it, it’s going into the should win category. (Anna Swanson)
What Should Win: Quo Vadis, Aida?
What Will Win: Another Round
Best Documentary Feature
Collective, Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution and Time all made a splash at the 2020 Sundance film festival. You couldn’t walk around Park City that year without someone mentioning one. Crip Camp won the Audience Award and seems perfectly constructed to adhere to Academy voters. It travels back in time to the baby boomer heyday, where a group of disabled teens found purpose and activism amongst each other. The film captures various personalities and exposes how systemic change is possible when folks become politically charged.
Time won Garrett Bradley the US Documentary Directing Award at Sundance. It’s a brutal document combining original footage with home video, showcasing how Sibil Fox Richardson fights for the release of her husband, who is serving a 60-year sentence for an armed bank robbery. The film feels incredibly intimate, placing you into seemingly every second of every day of her battle. Bradley intended only to make a short film on Richardson, but when her subject handed her a massive bag of mini-DV tapes, she suddenly had an explosive feature on her hands.
While Crip Camp and Time feel like the most natural fits for the Academy, Collective is the doc that personally rocked me on both an emotional and creative level. The film follows a group of Romanian journalists as they investigate a club fire that initially killed 27 patrons but would lead to even more deaths as the hospital patients were given improper and negligible treatment. Collective exposes several avenues of corruption within the corporate and political structure and highlights the possible power controlled by a media called to action. (Brad Gullickson)
What Should Win: Collective
What Will Win: Time
Best Animated Short
For the sixth year in a row, Pixar has a contender in this race, and the odds are in its favor. No, not because it’s Pixar (truth be told, they’ve only won in this category five times out of sixteen nominations). See, the studio is actually in something of a pattern at the moment where they’ve won the Oscar for Best Animated Short Film every other year during their current run of recognition. They lost last year, so they’re due for a win this year. Personally, I believe that Madeline Sharafian’s Burrow is indeed the best of the bunch, so the current sequence should work out. The six-minute toon, which is one of Pixar’s “independent” works branded under the SparkShorts banner, is a rather simple-looking 2D-animated effort about a rabbit attempting to build his dream home amidst an over-crowded expanse of dirt inhabited by all sorts of subterranean animals. But it’s both the most competently and most charmingly told story of the nominees, and its cuteness is balanced by some slightly deeper themes involving community and the difficulty of asking for help.
If Burrow has competition, though, it’s from Will McCormack and Michael Govier’s If Anything Happens I Love You. The twelve-minute film is a beautifully expressed story of grieving parents, who are having difficulty connecting with one another after their only child is killed during a school shooting. I am a bit torn over the short since I love its visual concepts and it did effectively hit me emotionally, yet it also feels exploitative in the way it so generally employs and depicts this unfortunately common but nonetheless abnormal kind of tragedy. I think in the end, though, its sensitive material and the message that goes with it is handled respectively enough in its intentions that a majority of Academy members voting in this category will be moved to award it the Oscar. (Christopher Campbell)
What Should Win: Burrow
What Will Win: If Anything Happens I Love You
Best Documentary Short
As with the films contending for Best Documentary Feature in recent years, the diversity of style and form represented in the short documentary category is both exciting and overwhelming. The latter mostly if you’re an Academy member attempting to make a single choice among the incomparable achievements and disparate subject matter. For instance, I love how something so unconventional as A Love Song for Latasha is included, and I want to champion this sort of artistic documentary and encourage more like it to be nominated. But I also think the more direct and explicit journalistic nature of a doc like the Hong Kong protest-focused Do Not Spit or the harrowing Hunger Ward, about starving children, is so imperative and worthy of attention and recognition. Which one benefits more and how, by giving it your vote?
Or do you just pick the one that inspires you and warms your heart the most? I think there’s something to that being the way a lot of Academy voters decide on the documentary short winner, and if that’s true, then Ben Proudfoot and Kris Bowers’ A Concerto is a Conversation is my guess. Bowers, a composer of scores for movies including Green Book, also appears in the film in dialogue with his grandfather as the elder subject recounts how he overcame life in poverty in the Jim Crow South and built a business out of nothing after moving to Los Angeles and still dealing with racism of a different sort. It’s a story of an American Dream amidst an American Nightmare and more poignant in its positivity that the former is still possible. (Christopher Campbell)
What Should Win: Hunger Ward
What Will Win: A Concerto Is a Conversation
Best Live-Action Short
While not quite as bleak as some of the recent selections in this category, the Best Live-Action Short Film nominees this year include narratives involving such heavy subjects as death row, undocumented immigrants, disability, the occupation of the West Bank, and police violence against Black Americans. The last of these is the focus of the most likely winner of the Oscar: Travon Free and Martin Desmond Roe’s Two Distant Strangers. While undoubtedly heavy-handed and (literally) over-stated in its theme, the twenty-nine-minute short is warranted in its indulgence for the point it makes and the clever way it makes it. The film uses a time-loop scenario in which a Black man keeps waking up on the same day, which always ends in him being killed by a racist cop in some way or another. Directors Free and Roe (the former also the writer of the film) do a miraculous job with the tone of the short so that it’s never played as too serious nor too light or fantastical — they’re aided by the no-nonsense charisma of their lead actor, Joey Bada$$, too, in achieving that balance of gravity and levity. The fact that Oscar voting concluded in the midst of relevant current events should only have tipped the odds more toward a Two Distant Strangers win.
I won’t be disappointed if that’s the outcome, though I do prefer one of the other nominees: Feeling Through. And if only because I believe Two Distant Strangers could have worked even better in an even more truncated form, this preference is also the most deserving pick of the bunch, in my opinion. Doug Roland’s nineteen-minute film follows a young man with nowhere to go as he reluctantly becomes a guide and companion for a deafblind man trying to get home. It’s the only real feel-good nominee in the category, but that’s partly because, even though it’s attached to a cause and partnered with a foundation focused on that cause, it has no apparent agenda outside of telling a story through cinema. And also doing so in a way that is great for, yes, but more importantly, appropriate and accurate for the screen representation of disabled individuals. Feeling Through presents a lived-in world with characters I can believe exist outside of the confines of this film story and whatever message it conveys. That’s what any film ought to do, regardless of its length. (Christopher Campbell)
What Should Win: Falling Through
What Will Win: Two Distant Strangers
To read our breakdowns and analysis of every one of this year’s categories, follow the links below: