Animated Feature Oscar nominee Chico & Rita

Today I take a look at some of the most notoriously difficult categories to predict: Foreign Language Film, Animated Feature, Documentary Feature, Live Action Short, Animated Short and Documentary Short. If you can predict these correctly at your Oscar party, friends and loved ones will be in awe. Suffice it to say I rarely get these ones right.

Part 1: Makeup, Costume Design, Art Direction, Visual Effects, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing

Part 2: Song, Original Score, Editing, Cinematography, Adapted Screenplay and Original Screenplay

Part 4: Picture, Director, Actress, Actor, Supporting Actress and Supporting Actor

Foreign Language Film

  • Bullhead
  • Footnote
  • In Darkness
  • Monsieur Lazhar
  • A Separation

The only thing to learn looking at the last few years of Foreign Language Film Oscar winners is that neither critical praise nor popularity seem to be a determining factor for the small number of people who vote in this category. Remember that, in order to receive a special ballot with the nominees, the voter must prove they’ve attended screenings of all five films. The general assumption is that most of them are retirees and they kind of live outside the cultural bubble like your grandparents. Just because they rarely pick the film widely perceived to be “the best,” it would be a mistake however to assume that it can never happen. That brings us to A Separation which has been anointed as The Foreign Film of 2011. It’s not like the voters are going to willfully snub it just because everyone else loves it. Can we come up with a good reason for them not to like it? It’s not strange or especially challenging or inscrutable. None of the other films really stand up and demand to be picked instead. It’s moving. It’s perhaps a little less plot dependent than some of the previous winners, but I think the biggest drawback to it is that it’s Iranian. Most (though not all) of the recent winners have been about white people and Western culture. Then again, A Separation has a universality to it that might appeal to a wider audience even as it is uniquely rooted in Iranian culture. What about the other “white” films? The Belgian film Bullhead seems too dark and edgy. The Canadian film Monsieur Lazhar is actually about an Algerian immigrant. That leaves the Israeli film Footnote about a dueling father/son pair of Talmudic experts and the Polish Holocaust drama In Darkness. The Holocaust has proven a popular subject over the years when it comes to Oscar, but has it played out? I doubt it. The Counterfeiters won as recently as 2008. With the caveat that it really could be any of the five films and that there’s no good reason for the voters not to pick A Separation, I’m going to go with In Darkness just because it’s impossible for me to get over the idea this branch almost always gets it wrong. Foreign Language Film Prediction: In Darkness.

Documentary Feature

  • Hell and Back Again
  • If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front
  • Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory
  • Pina
  • Undefeated

The Documentary category presents a similar set of problems to the Foreign Language Film category because it again draws from a smaller pool of voters who screen all five films. The Undefeated is nice, but seems too slight. The Academy seems to like to be moved to tears or rage. For that reason I think you can also count out If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front. It’s thoughtful and fascinating, but kind of low key. Pina on the other hand is my pick for one of the best films of the year. Having said that, I don’t think its pleasures are at all universal and the emotion it packs is a very different sort of animal. It’s just not a button pusher. That leaves Hell and Back Again, the story of a soldier returning from war and Paradise Lost 3, yet another entry in the ongoing saga of the West Memphis 3 murder trial. Hell and Back Again feels like the most timely and important, but Paradise Lost is the most high profile and that’s something each of the last six winners have in common. Inside Job, The Cove, Man on Wire, Taxi to The Dark Side, An Inconvenient Truth, and March of the Penguins have all to varying degrees been pretty high profile, though not always the highest. Documentary Feature Prediction: Paradise Lost 3.

Animated Feature

  • A Cat in Paris
  • Chico & Rita
  • Kung Fu Panda 2
  • Puss in Boots
  • Rango

With perennial animation favorite Pixar swinging and missing this year with Cars 2, this year was wide open in terms of the Animated Feature Oscar. It’s a shame the Academy ignored the best American animation of 2011 in Winnie the Pooh, but it’s nice to see they looked beyond our borders for international gems A Cat in Paris and Chico & Rita. If the Oscar was mine to give, I’d go with the sexy and beautiful and melancholy Chico & Rita, but I can’t picture it going over with Oscar voters who seem to prefer having their animation aimed at children. France’s A Cat in Paris is a nice change of pace, but it’s pretty small scale, lacking even the ambition of recent French entries like The Illusionist. Kung Fu Panda 2 and Puss in Boots are both kind of interchangeable. Likeable. Amusing. Entertaining. Almost instantly forgettable. That leaves Rango which has been the favorite pick of pretty much every awards body and critics group so far. I can’t help wondering though if it’s a little too weird and surreal for the Academy. I’m probably overthinking this category, but I’m going to go out on a limb with Chico & Rita. Animation Feature Prediction: Chico & Rita.

Live Action Short

  • Pentecost
  • Raju
  • The Shore
  • Time Freak
  • Tuba Atlantic

See my reviews and justifications here with the caveat that I’m terrible at predicting the shorts. My tastes always seem to run counter to the Academy and everyone else’s for that matter. Live Action Short Prediction: Time Freak

Documentary Short

  • The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement
  • God is the Bigger Elvis
  • Incident in New Baghdad
  • Saving Face
  • The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom

Once again, see my justifications and reviews here. Documentary Short Prediction: Saving Face

Animated Short

  • The Fanastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore
  • La Luna
  • A Morning Stroll
  • Sunday (Dimanche)
  • Wild Life

Check out the analysis and reviews here. Animated Short Prediction: A Morning Stroll.

Part 1: Makeup, Costume Design, Art Direction, Visual Effects, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing.

Part 2: Song, Original Score, Editing, Cinematography, Adapted Screenplay and Original Screenplay

Part 4: Picture, Director, Actress, Actor, Supporting Actress and Supporting Actor.

12 Responses to “Oscar Predictions Part 3: The Fringe”

  1. I give you a lot of credit for predicting IN DARKNESS, and you may strike pay dirt there, but I do believe this will be that rare year where the film that wins is the deserving one.

    The reaction to A SEPARATION has just been too spectacular to ignore. There is too much at stake here for them to rock the boat, as the Iranian film has amassed the most monumental reviews of any film in years.

  2. Yeah, I have to completely agree with you on In Darkness. If I’ve learned one thing from watching the Oscars closely the last ten years, it is that the foreign film award has absolutely nothing to do with critics, audiences, praise, quality, or hype. It just goes where it goes. I thought A Separation was a great film and I admire every aspect of it, but i got violently angry at least three times watching it, so much so that I nearly walked out of the theater at one point. Why did I get so angry and so often? Because A Separation exists in a universe that is very similar and yet extremely alien to my own, and watching a very human drama play out in those terms was maddening. For this reason alone, I know A Separation has a very slim chance of winning this award. It might, but I really, really doubt it.

    I also have to agree with you on your Doc choice because you’re right, the documentary category tends to go to films with obviously relevant subject matter over all other factors.

    But I disagree on animated feature. I think the animated feature category tends to go quality work but it also tends to reward films that appeal to audiences and critics. In other words, I think Oscar rewards the film everyone took their kids (or grandkids) to see, for better or worse. Therefore I’m going with Rango. Let’s not forget that this is the award that went to Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, a film that takes weird to all new cultural levels for Westerners. It also went to Happy Feet and Wallace and Grommit: Were Rabbit. These are not exactly typical animated fare, but they were all successful and widely seen. I’d never even heard of Chico and Rita before it was nominated. Just saying.

  3. The chances of A SEPARATION winning this award are hardly “slim” as it is a prohibitive favorite based on endless prediction threads at Awards Daily and Oscar prediction threads. Just this morning in THE NEW YORK TIMES the ever-reliable “Carpetbagger” predicted the film would prevail, even while fully understanding the minority position of those calling for an IN DARKNESS win.

    Another factor that would seem to indicate that this year’s “favorite” choice would ultimately prevail, is that it received an unusual nomination for Best Original Screenplay. While it’s true that the voters for that award are not the same ones who voted for the Best Foreign Film choices, it would seem to indicate a general concensus.

    Can IN DARKNESS win? Sure. But I’d place a modest wager that A SEPARATION will prevail, as I am thinking too much is at stake, and any other choice will be a direct slap in the face to AMPAS, an organization with pulp-red cheeks as it is.

    As I said in my original comment on this thread I applaud Craig for going out on a limb (even if he honesty feels he is stating an honest opinion above all) but it’s not a prediction that has too many in agreement. Still it may be that ‘breaker’ that allows a win in the office Oscar pool! Ha!

  4. The thing about A Separation is that it’s had a lot of cross-over success… getting a screenplay nomination for example, so it’s definitely a different animal than previous “favored” foreign films. Still, I don’t think my personal feelings or the feelings of a majority of critics mean much of a damn to the 50 blue hairs who vote for this award. I will not be shocked if it’s A Separation, but I won’t be shocked if it’s something else either. I just remember how shocked everyone was when Pan’s Labyrinth lost. I know that film had things going against it that A Separation does not (the violence for example), but still. It was loved to death and Oscar didn’t give a shit.

    Joel, of all my picks so far, I’m least confident about my animation pick. I think if people bother to pop in their screeners of Chico and Rita, they’ll prefer it, but the odds are that they won’t. Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained. I probably have 2 or 3 too many left field picks this year, but I do that every year trying to anticipate surprises and I always get burned.

    I’ll never learn.

  5. Ahh I see Sam addressed the screenplay nom even as I was writing.

  6. Pan’s Labyrinth did indeed lose out, but to Lives of Others, a film just as adored.

    Craig, if I might ask, which of those two were you especially fond of? Or both maybe?

  7. I wasn’t that crazy about either one at the time, honestly, but Pan’s has grown in my estimation.

    Just to be clear, I’m not really trying to make a serious argument against A Separation. I just think the category tends to be very unpredictable and I’ll look super smart if I’m right so it’s worth taking a chance. If this was Vegas, I wouldn’t be betting money on In Darkness, but since there’s nothing to lose, what the hell?

  8. No, I definitely think you made your final ballot more interesting, and to boot there is a genuine chance AMPAS will do what they’ve done in the past and bypass the big favorite.

    I will say that if they do ignore A SEPARATION they will really face the music.

  9. They “face the music” every year and little has changed. I did say A Separation *could* win, I didn’t say it *won’t* win. And just to make some hay with you, I can find as many notable and knowledgeable folks who have written reasoned articles about why A Separation has little or no chance of winning this particular award. J. Hoberman posted his take on it last weekend in the LA Times of all places.

    For the record, Pan’s Labyrinth was nominated for six Academy Awards. It won three technical awards. It lost for Foreign Film, Score, and Screenplay. Being nominated for Screenplay is something, but it’s not everything.

    I guess we’ll see how it shakes out on Sunday. If A Separation wins, it will be a wonderful change of pace. I will be happy to be wrong. Pretty much everyone who cares will be happy it won. If it doesn’t, then it will be par for the course.

  10. I didn’t mean to come off sounding snide or rude, as I have no desire to resume anything of a negative slant and want peace and harmony very badly, I assure you.

    When it comes to things connected to the Academy Awards I am personally more persuaded by the Awards Daily crowd than I am by a fine scholarly critic who despises Oscar in every sense. In other words if you are going to go with references go with the people who are following the situation each and every day and seem to have the latest heads-up. Point is those people have been studying the various scenarios for months now. They could well be wrong, and everything I’ve said here could come off as appearing foolish, and Hoberman may wind up with a great call, much like Craig here.

    It’s true what you say about PAN’S LABYRINTH, and I’d only say that despite the additional nods, the German THE LIVES OF OTHERS was on even turf with it before and after the nominations with critics and various awards groups. PAN’S excelled in some technical categories and was quite popular. Personally I feel THE LIVES OF OTHERS is one of the best films of the new millenium, and better than PAN’S. But I know others feel the opposite and that’s fine. This year, A SEPARATION has no competition from the other four films, and I honestly believe Oscar will do the right thing for a number of reasons.

    But yes, the proof will be in the pudding, and we’ll know if justice will prevail or not on Sunday.

  11. The thing about A Separation is I tried to look at it from the other direction and ask if there was any reason why it WOULDN’T win. With all of the so-called foreign snubs, there always seemed to be some factor that kept the critical favorite from being embraced by the Oscar grannies. The only thing I could really come up with was that it was Iranian. There are notable exceptions like Departures where Oscar steps outside of western culture, but more often than not they seem to favor films about westerners with western themes.

    As I said above, I don’t think A Separation is uniquely Iranian, though it is definitely rooted in Iranian culture. It’s still pretty accessible, but that might be the only real chink in its armor.

  12. Well, I did the same thing. I haven’t seen every BFFF winner in the last 20 years, but this award seems to prefer sentimentality, closure, and/or upbeat endings. A Separation is anything but sentimental, lacks a certain amount of closure, and is far from upbeat. If anything, this picture shows how desperate they are to get the attention of Oscar voters.

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