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Rotundo’s Oscarology, Part II: The Tiebreakers


Today, we will discuss a raft of lesser-known Oscars: Foreign Language Film, Documentary Feature, Documentary Short, Animated Short Film, and Live Action Short Film. You know–the awards you usually miss because you’re in the bathroom or getting a snack while they’re being handed out. Let’s call them The Tiebreakers.

And the nominees are:

Foreign Language Film
The Baader Meinhof Complex
The Class
Waltz with Bashir

Documentary Feature
The Betrayal (Nerakhoon)
Encounters at the End of the World
The Garden
Man On Wire
Trouble the Water

Documentary Short
The Conscience of Nhem En
The Final Inch
Smile Pinki
The Witness: From the Balcony of Room 306

Animated Short Film
La Maison en Petits Cubes
This Way Up

Live Action Short Film
Auf der Strecke (On the Line)
Manon on the Asphalt
New Boy
The Pig
Spielzeugland (Toyland)

The lowdown:

These categories make for great tiebreakers in your Oscar pool, because no one has seen them–including most members of the Academy (with one notable exception; see below).

Even in those years when I have some familiarity with the nominated films, I have found these categories notoriously unpredictable. You’d think that better known movies would fare better here, but you’d be wrong. This is especially true for Foreign Language Film, since only those who have seen the foreign nominees can vote on them; they get a special ballot not available to the rest of the voters. This makes for a considerably smaller demographic than the Academy at large. So for every popular foreign film winner like Life Is Beautiful, I can cite a loser like Pan’s Labyrinth. (Pop quiz: Can you name the film that beat Pan’s Labyrinth to take home the 2006 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar? Without resorting to the Internet? Me, neither.)

The lesson: Don’t get too comfortable just because you may have actually heard something about films in these categories.

Now as it happens, I’ve actually seen one of this year’s documentaries–Man On Wire, chronicling Philippe Petit’s astonishing 1974 high-wire walk between the towers of the World Trade Center. Werner Herzog’s Encounters at the End of the World is also relatively well known, if only because of Werner Herzog. But again, these are highly unpredictable categories, so I’m leery of leaning toward either of those two choices solely on the basis of their familiarity.

All that said, there are a few rules of thumb I find useful:

1. For documentaries, movies about weighty topics–like the Iraq War, for instance, or the Holocaust–stand a better chance. AMPAS loves to think that by rewarding such films, they’re "making a statement" about those weighty issues. Dumb, yeah, but that’s how it is.

2. For animated shorts, anything by Nick Park (he of Wallace and Grommit fame) is a lock. If Park doesn’t have a film in the running, lean toward Pixar.

3. The foreign language category has historically been dominated by European films.

With these rules in mind, one would expect The Betrayal (Nerakhoon) and Trouble the Water to be favorites for Best Documentary (weighty topics). But Man On Wire seems to have the most buzz. I suppose one could see it as a kind of tribute to the World Trade Center, a line of thinking that could very well carry the day. And it is a pretty interesting story.

For Documentary Short, The Conscience of Nhem En, about the Khmer Rouge, and The Witness, about Martin Luther King’s assassination, also fall under the "weighty topics" rule.

For Foreign Language Film, there are three European entries: Baader-Meinhof (Germany), The Class (France), and Revanche (Austria). Even so, the buzz seems to favor Israel’s Waltz with Bashir, which won a WGA award earlier in the month, and which may qualify as the oddest duck of the season: an animated foreign-language documentary. Uh-oh. An animated documentary? Nominated for an Oscar? OK, so it We know how the Academy feels about animation, don’t we? Ew. Icky.

In the Animated Short Film category, we have nothing from Nick Park, and one from Pixar: Presto–which really wasn’t that wonderful of a film, but it was fun.

For Live Action Short, the favorites appear to be The Pig and Spielzeugland. I have no intelligence on either of these films. What can I say? I haven’t seen them. Then again, neither have you. And one should never let a little thing like total ignorance get in the way of one’s Oscar predictions–especially when we’re talking about The Tiebreakers.

More Oscarology tomorrow!


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