On Monday, I analyzed the 10 technical categories in search of a trend that might indicate a wave in the Best Picture race. (No dice.) In predicting this group, there’s no larger pattern to track—only one of the 30 films separated among these six categories is up for any other awards than the ones I’ll pick here. That’d be Coco, for Best Song. (Should Coco have been up for Best Picture? Probably. But the Oscars’ voting body often feels utterly detached from the concept of enticing a broader viewing public.)
More than any other collection of films, those found in the documentary, animated, foreign language, and short form categories stand alone. They’re typically sandwiched between the heart of the ceremony—after a teasing supporting acting prize is handed out at the top of the night, but well before we get to Best Director. These are the movies most viewers haven’t seen and—despite the ever-widening availability of these films—never will see. Maybe these irrationally confident predictions will change that for you.
Best Documentary Feature
Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, Steve James, Mark Mitten, Julie Goldman [Now streaming on PBS]
Faces Places, JR, Agnès Varda, Rosalie Varda [Now available on iTunes]
Icarus, Bryan Fogel, Dan Cogan [Now streaming on Netflix]
Last Men in Aleppo, Feras Fayyad, Kareem Abeed, Soren Steen Jespersen [Now streaming on Netflix]
Strong Island, Yance Ford, Joslyn Barnes [Now streaming on Netflix]
My beloved Jane was left off the short list in this uncommonly competitive group, despite the presence of a respected filmmaker (Brett Morgen) and a respected institution behind the production (National Geographic)—it’s a bellwether of boom times in the category. The advent of bandwidth-free streaming services has created a boundless platform for docs, and Netflix has continued to tighten its chokehold on this category, with two nominees here (Strong Island and Icarus) as well as serving as the streaming home for a third (Last Men in Aleppo). With more money and wider distribution, are docs getting better? Not exactly. But there are more, and so more to choose from. That a travelogue featuring an icon of French New Wave cinema is leading the pack in these times is more a testament to the constant rebirth of Agnès Varda than it is an indictment of the Academy. Many think her collaboration with the enigmatic JR, Faces Places, will walk off with the statuette on Sunday. But the recency of the Winter Olympics coupled with the rise in an ambient anxiety about Russian misdeeds (plus its long life on Netflix) has me thinking Bryan Fogel’s Icarus will upset the front-runner.
The Prediction: Icarus
The Favorite: Faces Places
Best Documentary Short Subject
Edith+Eddie, Laura Checkoway, Thomas Lee Wright [Watch it here, via Topic]
Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405, Frank Stiefel [Watch it here, via IndieWire]
Heroin(e), Elaine McMillion Sheldon, Kerrin Sheldon [Watch it here, via Netflix]
Knife Skills, Thomas Lennon [Watch it here, via The New Yorker]
Traffic Stop, Kate Davis, David Heilbroner [Watch it here, via HBO]
A disclosure: I worked with Laura Checkoway, the writer-director-producer of the charming Edith+Eddie, more than a decade ago at a magazine, and so I am pulling for her really hard on this one. (Go Checks!) But as my colleague Riley McAtee noted to me, the Oscars love an L.A. story, and so expect Frank Stiefel’s affecting story of the artist Mindy Alper to take it home. Unless the veteran filmmaker Lennon does it. Or HBO’s lauded, outgoing doyenne of docs Sheila Nevins adds one more prize to her mantle for Traffic Stop. (She already has 26 Oscars!) Or Netflix keeps the momentum after last year’s win in the category for The White Helmets. Or maybe Checkoway does it. This is routinely one of the most unpredictable races of the year. Either way, carve out three hours this week to watch all five.
The Prediction: Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405, Frank Stiefel
The Upset Bet: Edith+Eddie, Laura Checkoway, Thomas Lee Wright
Best Live Action Short Film
DeKalb Elementary, Reed Van Dyk [Rent it here, via Vimeo]
The Eleven O’Clock, Derin Seale, Josh Lawson
My Nephew Emmett, Kevin Wilson Jr.
The Silent Child, Chris Overton, Rachel Shenton
Watu Wote/All of Us, Katja Benrath, Tobias Rosen
In another year, the elegantly shot and told The Silent Child would be a leader here. But given the subject matter of DeKalb Elementary—about a disturbed and armed boy who enters a school with intent to harm, and the secretary who confronts him—there is an unavoidable resonance. The tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School two weeks ago and the tremulous, rageful outcry against an American culture of guns has made Reed Van Dyk’s movie feel more urgent, more essential. It will be recognized as such.
The Prediction: DeKalb Elementary, Reed Van Dyk
The Upset Bet: The Silent Child, Chris Overton, Rachel Shenton
Best Animated Feature
The Boss Baby, Tom McGrath, Ramsey Ann Naito
The Breadwinner, Nora Twomey, Anthony Leo
Coco, Lee Unkrich, Darla K. Anderson
Ferdinand, Carlos Saldanha
Loving Vincent, Dorota Kobiela, Hugh Welchman, Sean Bobbitt, Ivan Mactaggart
According to an online gambling site, Coco is a -5000 favorite to win Best Animated Feature. For the betting layperson, that means for every $5,000 you bet, you get $100 back on a win. Those odds are bad. Really bad. “I made this wager because my parents didn’t hug me enough” bad. Maybe the worst I’ve seen in Oscar history. So yeah, Coco—it’s going to win this one.
The Prediction: Coco
The Upset Bet: The Breadwinner
Best Animated Short
Dear Basketball, Glen Keane, Kobe Bryant [Watch it here]
Garden Party, Victor Caire, Gabriel Grapperon
Lou, Dave Mullins, Dana Murray [Watch it here]
Negative Space, Max Porter, Ru Kuwahata [Watch it here]
Revolting Rhymes, Jakob Schuh, Jan Lachauer
Right. So. Kobe is nominated. For a short film that is fine. But if the Academy Awards have an official team, it’s the Lakers. Which means Kobe is going to win. Oscar, welcome to the Musecage.
The Prediction: Dear Basketball, Glen Keane, Kobe Bryant
The Upset Bet: Garden Party, Victor Caire, Gabriel Grapperon
Best Foreign Language Film
A Fantastic Woman (Chile)
The Insult (Lebanon)
On Body and Soul (Hungary)
The Square (Sweden)
For superior in-depth analysis, read Lindsay Zoladz on this very subject. And for your instantaneous cheat sheet for this routinely controversial category, look no further than the inclusion of Daniela Vega, the transgender star of A Fantastic Woman, as a presenter on Sunday. Is it an affirmation that Sebastián Lelio’s film will win? No. But it’s as aggressive as hints come. And given the lack of other rousing entries—the absence of France’s BPM (Beats Per Minute) rings louder with each passing day—it’s the safest bet of the bunch.
The Prediction: A Fantastic Woman
The Upset Bet: The Square