Oscar Nominated Short Films 2013: Predicting the Winners

Even the most carefully-composed Oscar ballots can be thrown into disarray by the Short Film categories, a triad of perennially underseen and impossible-to-predict awards lumped together in some obscure corner of the TV broadcast.  And that’s a shame.  Not only have several past winners gone on to make their mark in feature-length productions – Taylor Hackford (Ray), Martin McDonagh (Seven Psychopaths), and Andrea Arnold (Wuthering Heights), to name a few – but the short subjects are often thematically or aesthetically riskier than the typical Academy fare.

Starting February 1, select theaters will be showing this year’s nominees for Best Animated Short, Live Action Short, and Documentary Short Subject back-to-back in special programs.  Odds are if you live in a major American city, you’ll have the chance to decide for yourself which shorts are destined for Oscar glory.  But just in case these flicks never make it to your hometown, I’m about to channel my inner Donovan Warren and help you win your Oscar pool with my predictions for the short film categories.

Note: screeners for the Documentary Short Subject nominees were not available as of press time, but you can check them out in select theaters–including LA’s Laemmle Music Hall 3–starting February 8. Check your local theaters for show times.


Best Animated Short Film

Given Pixar’s success in the Animated Feature category, it’s all too easy to assume that the studio dominates this category as well.  Unfortunately, that’s not the case: their last winning entrant was For the Birds in 2001.  Avoiding that mistake will be simple this year as the field is Pixar-free.  However, the typically eclectic mix of big studio-backed projects and indie/DIY shorts still makes this category a tricky call.


The Nominees

Adam and Dog: Man’s best friend befriends the first man in Minkyu Lee’s melancholy short Adam and Dog.  Lee, a Disney animator and character designer, spins an Edenic yarn that meanders a bit too much.  But at least it affords plenty of time to savor his gorgeous hand-drawn backgrounds: each frame is full of painterly detail that recalls the style of Japan’s renowned Studio Ghibli.

Fresh Guacamole: A whimsical stop-motion demo from video artist PES (aka Adam Pesapane), Fresh Guacamole piles on the visual puns in an ode to everyone’s favorite avocado-based dip, albeit with unusual ingredients like Monopoly pieces.  However, it’s probably too slight to win the statuette.  At a scant two minutes, it has the more of the feel of a viral video hit – which Pesapane had in 2009 with Western Spaghetti – than an Oscar winner.

Head Over Heels: Another stop-motion entry, Head Over Heels takes a “house divided” metaphor for marital discord and amplifies it, with one half of its estranged couple literally living on the ceiling.  Though the concept gets stretched pretty thin over 10 minutes and leans heavily on incongruously cartoonish slapstick, the subject matter has a maturity seldom seen in animated films.

Maggie Simpson in ‘The Longest Daycare’: An adventure set at the Ayn Rand School for Tots (a callback to the classic Simpsons episode “A Streetcar Named Marge”) finds the youngest Simpson child trying to protect a butterfly from her unibrowed nemesis, Baby Gerald.  Despite a couple of comin’ at ya 3D gimmicks – The Longest Daycare was originally attached to screenings of last year’s Ice Age: Continental Drift – the dialogue-free short captures that quintessentially Simpsons blend of irreverence and heart.

Paperman: The black-and-white, midcentury modern aesthetic of Paperman could easily work as the opening credits for a kiddie-friendly Mad Men.  Its story, however, is classic Disney romanticism: a lovelorn office worker gets a boost from some magic paper airplanes as he tries to attract the attention of a pretty fellow city-dweller.  Hitting all the right notes of hilarity and sentimentality, Paperman is much like its feature-length companion, Wreck It Ralph – another winning crowd-pleaser from Disney’s revamped animation wing.

Dark Horse: The Longest Daycare
Will Win: Paperman

Continue to page 2: Best Live Action Short Film

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The Author

Eric Ambler

Eric Ambler

Eric Ambler is a film critic and correspondent for Screen Invasion, as well as the founder of Ambler Amblog (https://ambleramblog.blogspot.com/). His parents named him after a Welsh spy novelist they found in a reference book. Someday he will get around to watching all the VHS tapes he bought at Goodwill.