The Oscars producers and ABC might not think anybody cares about the short-film awards, but that does not mean the rest of us have to agree. The shorts categories are always a place where curious viewers can discover quite a lot, from up-and-coming filmmakers (Martin McDonagh, Andrea Arnold, spirit Taylor Hackford have all won short-film Oscars, while Taika Waititi has been nominated) to the kind of excellent, thoughtful filmmaking you will not see anywhere else.
Also, you want to win your Oscar pools, right? The shorts categories can often be the secret weapon to winning your Oscar pool, if you have a little information about the nominees and the tendencies of Oscar voters. Here’s a breakdown of this year’s nominees and which ones have the inside track to win.
BEST LIVE-ACTION SHORT
Ala Kachuu – Take and Run
The Long Goodbye
On My Mind
Importance of Subject Matter: While not as dependent on Big Important Stories as the documentary shorts tend to be, recent live-action short winners have lingered on heavy topics. Please Hold, from writer-director KD Dávila (who just won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at Sundance for the upcoming film Emergency), is about a near-future police state where drones and touch screens shove an innocent man through the prison system without so much as ever seeing another human being.
Meanwhile, The Long Goodbye centers on an incredibly upsetting scene of a British Pakistani family being rounded up by police and masked nativist thugs, and Ala Kachuu tells the story of a young woman in Kyrgyzstan who is kidnapped for the purposes of an arranged marriage.
Heartstrings Factor: The aforementioned three films are all emotional in their own ways, and in The Dress, a little person in Poland allows herself to hope for a spark of romance amid her humdrum life, which certainly draws upon the audience’s sympathies. But of these five, the one most openly playing on viewers’ heartstrings is Danish film On My Mind, about a man whose wife is dying as he tries to record himself singing Elvis’s “Always on My Mind” to play for her.
Studio Heft: While none of the major studios or streaming platforms have a player in this category, On My Mind was distributed by The New Yorker.
Oscar History That Could Inform This Year’s Race: Last year’s winner, Two Distant Strangers, and its themes of a violent and inescapable police state are reflected in both The Long Goodbye‘s unflinching look at police violence and Please Hold‘s vision of the prison-industrial complex. Then there’s the fact that The Long Goodbye was cowritten by and stars 2021 best-actor nominee Riz Ahmed, and is based on Ahmed’s concept album of the same title.
Pick to Win: Of the three shorts categories, live action is always the hardest one to predict, since winners have run the gamut in terms of styles and subject matters. But Ahmed’s star power seems like it should give The Long Goodbye the edge, especially if voters are feeling similarly about it as they were Two Distant Strangers. But Please Hold works hard to entertain despite its dark subject matter, and Ala Kachuu features a strong central performance by Alina Turdumamatova, so this could be a toss-up.
Listen to Joe Reid, Katey Rich, and Richard Lawson discussing this week’s Oscar-nominated shorts Little Gold Men podcast.
BEST ANIMATED SHORT
Affairs of the Art