We don't know about you, but until the last few years, whenever it came time to make our picks for Oscar pools/wagers, there's always one section of the awards that so often comes down to luck -- the short films. In the years since shorts stopped playing widely before features, it became harder and harder for the layman to actually watch nominees, and even harder to predict what would actually win.
But these days, things are better. Many of the films make their way online in advance of Oscar night, or are shown at special screenings around the world. But if you haven't managed to catch the films in time for next Sunday's awards, no fear, because we have. So, whether you're an Academy member wondering what to put on your ballot, or someone looking for the edge in your annual office Oscar pool, check our our verdicts on the films, and their chances of winning, below. And if you have seen the films concerned, let us know your thoughts in the comments section.
Best Animated Short
In any other year, we suspect that "Adam & Dog" would be the runaway winner. As it is, it still has a good chance, even if it has stiffer competition from Pixar. Directed by CalArts graduate Minyun Lee (who worked for Disney doing character design on "Winnie The Pooh" and "Wreck-It Ralph," it's the beautifully animated 2D tale of the friendship between the first man and the first dog. More substantial than most in the category at fifteen minutes, the lo-fi (and yet reminiscent of classic Disney) look is pretty stunning and painterly, and it's the kind of non-traditional fare that so often does well in the category. With voting now open to the wider membership, we wonder if it might be too meditative for general tastes, especially up against "Paperman," but if anything can beat the Disney film, it's this one, especially given that it won the 2012 Annie award for animated short subject. [A-]
Directed by American animator PES (Adam Pesapane to his ma), "Fresh Guacamole" is notable as the shortest film ever to be nominated for an Oscar, at only one minute and 45 seconds. A stop-motion walk-through of how to make the titular avocado-based dish, using household objects, it's funny and inventive, but suffers a bit if you've seen PES's predecessor "Dirty Spaghetti," which does the same thing, but first and better. There's a lot of damn fine craft at work here, but it feels much too slight to be a potential winner this year. [C]
Winning the Best Student Film award at the Annies this year, "Head Over Heels" is very much the underdog here. It's not made by established studios or their employees, but by American animator Timothy Reckart, who produced the effort at the National Film And Television School in London. Made on a dime in traditional stop-motion style, it follows a middle aged couple who have grown distant enough that they now live on different planes of gravity, he on the floor, her on the ceiling, in a floating house. It's a touching and intimate little film, with some top-flight production design, even if it's a bit on-the-nose, and rough around the edges (and, it should be said, somewhat reminiscent of "Up"). Will Academy members respond to a film from such a total newcomer? Our gut says that in a tough year, this would struggle to hit first place, but it's one to keep an eye on. [B-]
Fox failed to get an Animated Feature nomination in 2008 for "The Simpsons Movie," but Springfield's finest finally got some recognition this year with this film, the first ever Simpsons theatrical short, which played initially before "Ice Age: Continental Drift" (and got a recent re-release in front of "Life Of Pi"). Directed by series veteran (and "Monsters Inc" co-director) David Silverman, the wordless short is probably the best thing to involve Simpsons characters in years. But even then, despite the higher-profile, it's unlikely to really figure. It's actually using many of the same techniques as "Paperman," but it's unlikely to get similar credit, and ultimately will probably feel too slight and corporate. We don't envision many Academy members going for this over the Disney film. [B-]
The Walt Disney Animation Studios short is the one you've likely seen if you've seen any. It played before "Wreck-It Ralph" in theaters, and racked up a few hundred thousand hits on YouTube when Disney placed it online. Directed by John Kahrs, the incredibly sweet tale of a couple's missed connection, before they're brought together by paper airplanes, is genuinely progressive, formally speaking, cunningly blending Pixar's CGI animation with a 2D look that's reminiscent of classic Disney, and it's this that may give it a leg-up over the competition. Traditionally, winners in the category have been smaller, more independent productions, but with the rules changing this year, opening up voting to all Academy members, the Disney name, and the overall quality of the short look likely to pay off for them. Plus, it won the 2013 Animated Short award at the Annies, who are traditionally reluctant to vote for Disney fare. [A]