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Predicting the Oscars, Part 3: The Ones We Watched So You Didn’t Have To (and ‘Frozen’)

How many Academy members will have seen all the films in these categories, and how many who didn’t will ignore AMPAS’s instructions and vote anyway?

Previously: Predicting the Oscars, Part 1 and Part 2.

Let’s start today’s predictions with a hard statistical reality. Even if Academy members are diligent enough to watch not only all nine Best Picture nominees but also the 18 additional live-action movies that are nominated in other categories, that still leaves the films in the six contests listed below — which collectively require an additional 31 hours of viewing time (not to mention undivided attention, since most of them are subtitled). In the last week, I have spoken to a screenwriter who was still hoping to catch up with Philomena, a cinematographer who was looking for a theater where Gravity was still showing in 3-D, and an actor who asked me to name the Best Picture nominees and looked crestfallen when he realized he hadn’t seen Her. As of 5 p.m. PT today, when voting closes, this will all be moot. I raise the point only to note that there are two huge unknowns in the following guesses: How many Academy members will have seen all the films in these categories, and how many who didn’t will ignore AMPAS’s instructions and vote anyway?

Best Animated Feature

The Croods
Despicable Me 2
Ernest & Celestine
The Wind Rises

What do Harvey Weinstein and I have in common? We both really like The Croods! What else do Harvey Weinstein and I have in common? We both recognize lost causes when we see them. There is no worse reason for Academy members not to vote for a movie they love than because some prognosticating boob tells them it can’t win. So if you’re into The Croods, cast your ballot alongside Weinstein with a happy heart. But then, as the song says, let it go, because this award is likely to be taken by Frozen. The Disney movie has grossed $384 million domestically; that’s actually only a bit more than Despicable Me 2, but Frozen has recency, momentum, not being a sequel, and the tireless enthusiasm of Academy voters’ grandchildren in its arsenal.

The two “art” alternatives here are the sweet but flimsy French import Ernest & Celestine and The Wind Rises, the final film from Japanese master Hayao Miyazaki, a critics’ darling that lacks the flights of imagination that made his Spirited Away a winner here a dozen years ago. Consider the “Which ones have voters actually watched?” factor, and this may not be that close a race.

Winner: Frozen
Dark Horse: The Wind Rises

Best Documentary Feature

The Act of Killing
Cutie and the Boxer
Dirty Wars
The Square
20 Feet From Stardom

(Worth noting: DVDs of the films in this category and the four that follow were supplied to all Oscar voters by the Academy itself, so while members can complain that they didn’t have time to see all the nominees, they can’t say they didn’t have the opportunity.)

Meet your front-runners: Joshua Oppenheimer’s gut-punch shocker The Act of Killing, in which elderly Indonesians who led death squads in the 1960s re-create the murders they committed as action movies, and Morgan Neville’s 20 Feet From Stardom, a moving, smart crowd-pleaser about the lives of backup singers with some trenchant thoughts about the ways in which the music industry has used and abused African American women. The Act of Killing is a brilliant, troubling film, but “almost unbearable to sit through” is not the kind of recommendation that usually forges a path to the podium. 20 Feet From Stardom is a joy to sit through, but may be unfairly dismissed as too slight for a statuette in a category that almost never rewards films about artists — last year’s winner, Searching for Sugar Man, was an exception.

Until a couple of weeks ago, I would have characterized this as a close two-way race. But recently, I’ve heard people talking about Jehane Noujaim’s The Square, which follows several Egyptians through two years of Tahrir Square protests. Any voter who watched the movie during the last two weeks of news from Kiev may feel that Noujaim’s excellently assembled document of revolution and its confusing aftermath is, at this moment, the most resonant film in the category. My suspicion is that it’ll siphon off just enough politically minded voters from The Act of Killing to give 20 Feet From Stardom the award.

Winner: 20 Feet From Stardom
Dark Horses: The Act of Killing and The Square

Best Foreign Language Film

The Broken Circle Breakdown (Belgium)
The Great Beauty (Italy)
The Hunt (Denmark)
The Missing Picture (Cambodia)
Omar (Palestine)

This is the first year that DVDs of all the foreign-film contenders were mailed to Academy members, who formerly had to attend official screenings or call AMPAS to request a ballot. This could have the beneficial effect of making the voting pool larger, younger (some of those screenings used to look like a casting call for a Cocoon reboot), and more geographically diverse; it will also have the negative effect of allowing voters who have seen only one or two nominees to cast ballots. It may take a few years for us to learn how this new system affects the choice of a winner, so in the absence of alternative evidence or overwhelming buzz, I’m giving the advantage to the two movies that have had the most extensive theatrical releases.

Winner: The Great Beauty
Dark Horse: The Hunt

Best Animated Short Film

Get a Horse!
Mr. Hublot
Room on the Broom

I am an Oscar purist. When enthusiasts suggest the addition of new categories — Best Casting! Best Ensemble! Best Action Movie! — I shudder with disdain and ask them to take that kind of noise over to the Emmys. And conversely, when complainers ask for the “boring” categories to be banished from the show to make it “relevant,” I suggest they simply skip watching the telecast even though the way I would prefer to respond is this:

But after watching the 15 films in the three shorts categories this year, I can’t say I’d be heartbroken to see these contests pruned from the Oscars. Yes, it’s commendable that the Academy Awards showcases lesser-known work (in the last several years, the shorts have gotten theatrical releases as a result of their nominations), and each field offers a couple of good movies — but only a couple, amid so much mediocre filler that either the selection process or the genres themselves may need some hard and unsentimental scrutiny.

Anyway: The two delights here are Get a Horse!, a Mickey Mouse short that is a much more successful and appealing valentine to the history of Disney than Saving Mr. Banks was, and Mr. Hublot, a Luxembourgian/French retrofuturist knockout about a lonely guy with OCD and his unlikely artificial friend. Foreign and independent entries have, in the last decade, racked up a lot more wins in this category than studios, but Disney finally broke a decade-long losing streak last year with Paperman, so this should be a close one.

Winner: Get a Horse!
Dark Horse: Mr. Hublot

Best Live Action Short Film

Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn’t Me)
Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything)
Pitääkö Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?)
The Voorman Problem

There’s one award-worthy movie here (and if you don’t believe me, see for yourself — the five shorts in this contest are being made available on iTunes today): Just Before Losing Everything is an exceptionally well-structured and suspenseful film about a woman quietly preparing to go on the run (although writer-director Xavier Legrand’s film lasts just 30 minutes, he wisely takes his time filling in the details). Voters who aren’t patient enough to watch it unfold (shame on them) will probably go for the sole English-language entry, The Voorman Problem, a slight Twilight Zone–ish dark joke starring The Hobbit’s Martin Freeman; it’s adapted from a vignette in novelist David Mitchell’s number9dream and it feels like a nice calling card for young director Mark Gill. Of course, an Oscar is an even nicer calling card.

Winner: The Voorman Problem
Dark Horse: Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just Before Losing Everything)

Best Documentary Short Subject

Facing Fear
Karama Has No Walls
The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life
Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall

The Lady in Number 6 is about the world’s oldest Holocaust survivor, a 110-year-old woman who lives alone and plays the piano every day and says, “Only when we are so old are we aware of the beauty of life.” She died on Sunday, two days before voting ended. We’re done here.

Winner: The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life
Dark Horse: Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall (which deserves to win)

Tomorrow: Movies you’ve actually seen! Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and the screenplay races.