Brendan Shick | Freelance Film, Broadcast, & Digital Media

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Oscar Lineup & Predictions 2017

Feb 25 2017 by Brendan Shick Add Your Thoughts

As always, my annual Oscar picks are here to once again serve as your cheat sheet to winning your Oscar-guessing contests with some commentary on my favorites thrown in for good measure.

After several years of barely failed attempts, this year marks the first time I successfully screened all 62 nominees in all 24 categories, including the often harder-to-find shorts, foreign language films, documentaries…well you get the idea.


After last year’s abysmal performance – highlighted by my correct guess (along with just 7% of people) who knew Mark Rylance would win Best Supporting Actor – where I didn’t even guess Best Picture correctly, I’m looking to rebound and once again try to top my record of 20 picks.


Best Motion Picture of The Year


Will Win: La La Land

Dark Horse: Moonlight a distant second

My Favorite: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (overall), Fences (based on nominees)

Should Have Been Nominated: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Passengers, O.J.: Made in America

In most years, the top two categories are the easiest to predict and this year is probably even more clear cut than most.

La La Land has already won the top prizes from the Producer’s Guild and the Director’s Guild, which historically have predicted the respective Oscar results roughly 90% of the time. Add the fact La La Land scored a record setting 14 nominations, and there should be no doubt.

Add to this a bonus that the film is about artists making their way in Hollywood, the exact sort of thing that the Academy loves to bestow such honors upon – see Argo, The Artist or even Birdman to name a few recent winners. Now, you’ve pushed critically acclaimed Moonlight to a rather distant second place.

Best Achievement in Directing


Will Win: La La Land

Dark Horse: Moonlight

My Favorite: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story or Fences (overall), Hacksaw Ridge or Arrival (based on nominees)

Should Have Been Nominated: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Gareth Edwards or Fences, Denzel Washington

Expect a clear cut win from La La Land here as well for all the reasons listed above, plus the fact that director Damien Chazelle is clearly an Academy favorite, based upon his previous writing nomination for his first feature Whiplash a couple years ago. It surprised many when it deservingly won 3 of its 5 nominations overall.

A Barry Jenkins upset here would only be slightly more likely than in the Best Picture category, but is a clear cut second-place based upon the fact that Moonlight is a highly stylized piece and has one of the best all around cast performances from the bunch.

The only reason we’re not seeing a highly competitive Denzel Washington nomination here is because the cast of Fences had already performed that show over a hundred times on Broadway before starring in the film together. Though I understand how that thought process could dissuade people from voting the film in here, I think that the achievements in Fences still make it one of, if not the, greatest directorial achievement his year.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role


Will Win: Denzel Washington

Dark Horse: Casey Affleck

My Favorite: Denzel Washington

Should Have Been Nominated: Jake Gyllenhaal, Nocturnal Animals

This is the first place on your ballot where you have to make a real choice and is easily the closest race of the 4 acting categories. The two considered to have the best shot in this category until quite recently were Casey Affleck (lots of positive buzz about his role) and Ryan Gosling (La La Land has the most nominations, but he also learned to play piano for the role). That shifted when Denzel Washington took home the corresponding award from the Screen Actor’s Guild.

Since Washington had already performed the role on stage a hundred times to prepare the character, he probably suffers from much of the same bias against him winning that already denied him a Best Director nomination. This also prevented him from winning some of the smaller awards this season. That said, actors (essentially SAG) are the largest voting block in the Academy, so his win from the Screen Actor’s Guild is one of the stronger indications about whether or not the Academy as a whole will care about this train of thought.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role


Will Win: Emma Stone

Dark Horse: Isabelle Huppert

My Favorite: fairly even match

Should Have Been Nominated: Margot Robbie, Suicide Squad; Felicity Jones, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story; Annette Bening, 20th Century Women; Amy Adams, Nocturnal Animals

Though many say this is the second closest race of the four acting categories, most pundits ultimately give this one to Emma Stone. Prevalent singing and dancing in La La Land give any of the performances an added level of difficulty. Stone was nominated for Birdman two years ago, which didn’t win any of its three acting nominations.

After that it’s anyone’s guess really. Jackie had a lot of early awards buzz, which has since faded significantly. Said buzz was particularly related to Portman’s performance, who would have been considered the clear winner at the time, had she not recently won for Black Swan. Her performance is seamlessly intercut with actual historical footage of Jackie Kennedy. For this reason, her performance and the costume design are certainly the best part of the picture, but should Jackie take away an Oscar, expect it to be for the latter.

Huppert probably has the most difficult and convincing performance, but considering the production of Elle had to be moved to France when no Hollywood actress would accept the role, I find it a little unconvincing that Stone would gather fewer votes than Huppert. As always, Streep seems to be the wild card here. Being a nominee nearly annually makes it tempting to count her out, but it wouldn’t be the first time she had a surprise out-of-nowhere win – think The Iron Lady as recently as 2012.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role


Will Win: Mahershala Ali

Dark Horse: possibly Jeff Bridges

My Favorite: Mads Mikkelsen or Sunny Pawar (overall), Jeff Bridges (based on nominees)

Should Have Been Nominated: Mads Mikkelsen, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story; Donnie Yen, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story; Sunny Pawar, Lion

Though not as much of a lock as Davis in the Supporting Actress category, Mahershala Ali is certainly a much clearer front-runner than anyone in the two leading categories. Moonlight is seeing a lot of awards love and would probably win more awards in a year without a perceived powerhouse like La La Land competing in so many categories. Since this is one of only a few categories where Moonlight isn’t nominated against La La Land, one would expect it’s one of the few Oscars it actually pockets.

Ali’s performance as a very different character in thrice-nominated Hidden Figures probably adds a few points to his odds as well. Though that performance doesn’t hold a candle to this one, it did score him a joint Screen Actor’s Guild Award for Best Ensemble Cast in addition to his win there as a supporting actor in Moonlight.

This is also the first acting category that’s squarely just a two-horse race. Jeff Bridges is a clear second place. One enormous benefit to his role is a great script for Hell or High Water that gives his character a lot more to do than Ali’s along with many great one-liners to boot.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role


Will Win: Viola Davis

Dark Horse: unlikely

My Favorite: Viola Davis (as a lead), Naomie Harris (as supporting)

Should Have Been Nominated: Greta Gerwig, 20th Century Women; Jennifer Lawrence, Passengers

Viola Davis winning here is one of the most certain things about Oscars night 2017. Her performance is such a standout that it would be hardly worth elaborating, were it not for the fact that she is undeniably the *leading* female in Fences. However, she was submitted as a supporting role for awards consideration, because it was thought she would have a better shot in this category, given less competition. Though this often happens, I find it particularly disheartening in this instance, given that I would have placed her in the front of the Best Actress pack too were she nominated there instead.

Naomie Harris is probably the more reasonable choice for winning here, were the Davis situation reversed. Michelle Williams is an interesting nomination, given that she’s nominated based on basically just a single, short, tearful scene in Manchester by the Sea. Though the script doesn’t really give her much more opportunity beyond that for awards consideration, it’s clear from that one moment that she would have nailed it should it have.

One curious omission from this list is Greta Gerwig in 20th Century Women. I just happened to screen 20th Century Women and Jackie on the same day – nearly back-to-back – and was surprised to learn later that Gerwig and Billy Crudup starred in both films. I wouldn’t have realized that otherwise, as the characters they portray in each film are polar opposites on the spectrum in every way.

Best Writing, Original Screenplay


Will Win: Manchester by the Sea

Dark Horse: La La Land virtually tied for first, Hell or High Water close behind

My Favorite: Hell or High Water

Should Have Been Nominated: Passengers, Captain Fantastic, Paradox

I’ve gone back and forth on this one more than any other category save Best Costume Design. It’s very, very close between Manchester by the Sea and La La Land. If this goes to La La Land, we’re probably looking at a 4-way tie for the previous record of 12 Oscar wins (with Ben-hur, Titanic, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King).

What tips me toward Manchester by the Sea is two-fold. One, the script is considered La La Land‘s weakest characteristic. Two, Manchester by the Sea had so much awards buzz as far back as last year’s Sundance that I can’t imagine it leaving with nothing. This would be the most likely shot.

Not to mention, La La Land is basically a modern, American adaptation of Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, which won 4 of its 5 Oscar nominations in 1966 (Best Writing [won], Best Music 3x [won], Best Foreign Language Film [believe or not, nominated but didn’t win]). Though general audiences may be uncultured enough to be completely oblivious to this fact, I promise you there’s not a single person in the Academy who missed this…well, other than whoever decided La La Land should be eligible in the original screenplay category, that is.

The real gem here is Hell of High Water, and I doubt anyone would deny it has the best dialogue of the bunch. In most years, that is usually something the Academy goes La La over, and because of that, few would say it’s far behind. This one *could* be a three-horse race ending with a pleasant surprise.

Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay


Will Win: Moonlight

Dark Horse: Hidden Figures

My Favorite: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (overall), Fences (based on nominees)

Should Have Been Nominated: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Nocturnal Animals

Adapted Screenplay is the less competitive category this year by a significant margin, and will almost definitely go to MoonlightMoonlight is heavily nominated and considered the runner-up for Best Picture, yet is likely to leave with only two Oscars – possibly just one had it been nominated against La La Land for writing.

With separate screenplay categories, there’s no competition to interfere. Expect voters to take advantage.

One year ago, amidst the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, one might have expected Hidden Figures to get this award, if only for perception’s sake. Instead, votes for Moonlight and Fences can vicariously fill that role – and both of those screenplays are stronger. Should Fences nominee August Wilson pull out a much deserved win, it would be the most posthumous Oscar ever awarded, given that Wilson passed away in 2005.

On a personal beef, how did the Academy fail to nominate the best screenplay of the year – and perhaps one of the best all-time – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story?

Best Achievement in Cinematography


Will Win: La La Land

Dark Horse: unlikely chance for Moonlight

My Favorite: Arrival

Should Have Been Nominated: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Hacksaw Ridge, Tanna

Clearly after giving this award to Emmanuel Lubezki three years in a row (Gravity, Birdman, The Revenant), the Academy felt it was time for a change. Instead of eight-time nominee Lubezki, we have 4 first-time nominees and second-time nominee Rodrigo Prieto.

I don’t think there were as many cinematographic masterpieces this year as in years past, but La La Land gets one of its easier technical wins here. The execution isn’t the greatest, but the way the film is shot – lots of camera moves and long takes – has both a high level of difficult and is integral to the musical’s storytelling. Since cinematographers are a minority of Academy voters, the poor lighting that resulted from this creative decision will be almost entirely overlooked, if voters have the background to notice at all.

Arrival is my personal favorite – proving that what you don’t see is often more important than what you do. The subtle camera moves and locked off shots mean it’s less showy. It won’t get recognized simply because it doesn’t call attention to itself, but that’s part of the masterpiece.

Best Achievement in Production Design


Will Win: La La Land

Dark Horse: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a long-shot

My Favorite: La La Land, Passengers, or Arrival

Should Have Been Nominated: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Florence Foster Jenkins, Allied

Production design is one of La La Land‘s greatest strengths and this is another sure win for the flashy musical. It’s more typical for this category to go to a period piece, but Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Hail, Caesar! just don’t seem to fit that profile on anything more than a technicality.

On some occasions, a sci-fi film will also do well here, so I can hold out faint hope for the rare originality of the alien design in Arrival or the magical world of a space ship, turned empty cruise ship, in Passengers.

Best Achievement in Costume Design


Will Win: Jackie

Dark Horse: La La Land

My Favorite: either

Probably the closest race on the ballot, I can hardly decide between La La Land and Jackie. The former is a classic musical that boasts vivid colors, vibrant dresses, and likely a related win in Best Production Design, but Jackie may ride its earlier success to a win here.

That possibility wouldn’t be a fluke. The production had to painstakingly mimic the iconic dresses that Jackie Kennedy wore, and even intercut the reproductions with actual historic footage. This also meant that they had to nail the colors in sequences shot in both color and black & white – which actually required a separate reproduction of each dress for each camera they would film with.

Colleen Atwood is a perennial contender in this category, so you can’t entirely count out her Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, though that seems unlikely with such strong competition. The question will come down to how much steam Jackie lost since early awards season buzz versus how many awards the Academy *really* wants to give La La Land.

Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling


Will Win: Star Trek Beyond

Dark Horse: A Man Called Ove

My Favorite: Star Trek Beyond

After back-to-back years awarding Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, and Best Makeup & Hairstyling to the same film (The Grand Budapest Hotel, Mad Max: Fury Road), we’re sure to have an outlier among the 3 this year. The only film with multiple nominations here is A Man Called Ove – which is a tad reminiscence of last year’s The 100-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, also a foreign language novel adaptation that was nominated for Best Makeup & Hairstyling.

My initial thought after screening this year’s nominees was that they are quite evenly matched. Of course that changes quickly when you realize the aliens seamlessly integrated across the Star Trek Beyond galaxy are, of course, works of makeup. Proof that ofttimes, the greatest compliment in the filmmaking craft is to fail to notice someone’s work at all.

I find an upset here incredibly unlikely, but A Man Called Ove – which is also nominated in the Best Foreign Language category – would be your runner-up, if only because Academy voters will refuse to admit they sat thru Suicide Squad.

Best Achievement in Film Editing


Will Win: La La Land

Dark Horse: Arrival

My Favorite: Passengers (overall), Hacksaw Ridge or Arrival (based on nominees)

Should Have Been Nominated: Silence, Fences, Passengers, O.J.: Made in America

La La Land is considered the clear favorite here, which is ironic since the film is mostly long takes. Arrival or Hacksaw Ridge would be the runners-up.

I tend to think that the easiest way to judge this category is thru pacing – which means I would have liked the more restrained pace of Silence, Fences, or Passengers to be represented. La La Land has enough appeal that it won’t be hurt by those voting the more traditional route, even though Arrival, Hacksaw Ridge, and Hell or High Water are expertly paced as well.

Best Achievement in Sound Editing


Will Win: Hacksaw Ridge

Dark Horse: La La Land

My Favorite: Arrival

Should Have Been Nominated: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

The two sound categories are supposed to be different, but can be a little unpredictable because they tend to go to the same film. This trend has been healed somewhat in recent years, as voters seem to be learning the distinction between the two categories. I expect this trend to continue, especially in a year where only 3 of the 5 nominees overlap. With 3 serious contenders, splitting your ballot might be the safe bet this year anyway.

It’s generally safe to discount the nominee(s) that don’t appear in both categories, which leaves you with 3. La La Land fever could sweep both categories, but it’s less likely to win in editing than mixing. As an intense war film, Hacksaw Ridge probably has the lead, but Arrival is not out of the question. For both of those pictures, a sound award is their most likely takeaway on Oscars night.

Arrival has possibly the best sound design of any film I have ever seen. To the cause of the sound editing category specifically, the design of the alien language is the most massive achievement.

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing


Will Win: La La Land

Dark Horse: Hacksaw Ridge

My Favorite: Arrival

Should Have Been Nominated: Sully

Again Arrival has the best sound I’ve ever heard put to film. To the cause of the mix, I love the scene where the helicopter visits Amy Adams’s house and overpowers everything, including the following conversation inside the chopper until the headsets are put on. That transition is just marvelous and really stands out, but Arrival is also a film about restraint, what you *don’t* see and in this case, what you *don’t* hear as well.

That said, although sound-heavy Arrival or Hacksaw Ridge do have a very real shot, I find it hard to believe a musical with record-setting nominations will leave the Oscars without either sound award. If it only wins one, this one would make the most sense. See Les Miserables for another year where the hit musical won sound mixing without sound editing to go with it.

Best Achievement in Visual Effects


Will Win: The Jungle Book

Dark Horse: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

My Favorite: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Should Have Been Nominated: Hacksaw Ridge, Passengers

This is always a troubling category, because the Academy has a habit of sometimes picking the worst possible choice (see former winners like The Golden Compass over Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End and Transformers, or Avatar over Star Trek and District 9) and other times surprising you with the best choice (see former winners like Gravity or Ex Machina).

That question comes into play this year as well. The Jungle Book is considered by many the front-runner. Though not entirely photo-realistic, it possibly has the most extensive visual effects – creating all the animal characters and the jungle using CGI. In many ways, you can consider it the Avatar nominee as far as the visual effects are concerned – extensive, but often overly stylized. To be clear though, Deepwater Horizon and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story are also very much in the hunt.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is in the opposite camp. There are obvious parallels to Gravity in the creation of the environments, but regardless of how you viewed the execution of the Tarkin/Leia shots, it’s hard to imagine that 10 years from now there will be some other VFX achievement from the year 2016 we talk about more. Rogue One is the deserved winner because the execution and innovation are ground-breaking and spot on. In the 3D cut specifically, Tarkin was as photo-realistic as anything on screen the past year – despite having the highest difficultly.

Best Achievement in Music, Original Score


Will Win: La La Land

Dark Horse: Moonlight

My Favorite: Passengers

Should Have Been Nominated: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, O.J.: Made in America

Musical La La Land really loses a lot of its awards credibility if it can’t pull off a win here. This is another case where Moonlight could pull out a win, though the score honestly doesn’t seem to fit the film.

Newman’s score for Passengers stood out to me the most. I’m already a fan of Newman’s work, even though the themes from any one of his scores are usually copy-and-pasted from any of his others. Not the case here though – there was only one instance during Passengers‘ largely atmospheric score that revealed the composer. Otherwise dark and foreboding, it’s a great compliment to the film as well.

A huge shout out to the non-existent score in Martin Scorcese’s 3-hour Silence. It seems silly to nominate it here, but it’s a huge standout – being the perfect score for that film.

Best Achievement in Music, Original Song


Will Win: “City of Stars”

Dark Horse: “How Far I’ll Go”

My Favorite: “Get Back Up Again” (overall), “How Far I’ll Go” (based on nominees)

Should Have Been Nominated: “Get Back Up Again” from Trolls, “Start a Fire” from La La Land

La La Land is nominated against itself here. Between being a musical and being the favorite pretty much everywhere, one would assume it will beat itself. Some have pointed out “Audition” is the song that sums up the heart of the film, but “City of Stars” is the track from the film most audience members remember after leaving the theater.

Should the two split votes, Lin-Manuel Miranda (of “Hamilton” fame) will complete an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) with the dark horse Moana win.

Another distant possibility worth noting is that Oscar balloting allows the possibility of a tie. Though this is rare enough that it basically never comes into play, should La La Land tie with itself here and win in 11 other categories, the history books will have a conundrum on their hands determining whether it tied or broke the previous record of 12 Oscar wins (Ben-hur, Titanic, Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King).

Although both of the major musicals from the past year are represented (La La Land, Trolls), the Academy notably failed to nominate the best song from either (“Start a Fire” and “Get Back Up Again” respectively).

Best Documentary Feature


Will Win: O.J.: Made in America

Dark Horse: 13th

My Favorite: O.J.: Made in America

Should Have Been Nominated: The Ivory Game, Into the Inferno, Fastball

There are two main issues in the world today that are prevalent among all media and both are massively represented in this year’s Oscar nominees. Roughly 7 of the 62 nominated films deal with race in America – 3 in this category alone. Fire at Sea is one of 5 nominated documentaries about the crisis in Syria (out of 11 documentaries total), not including another 4 nominees that address immigration or refugees in a broader sense.

Though I was initially tempted to say having so many nominees addressing similar subject manner would split the vote and lead to a loss for all three, O.J.: Made in America is just too far out ahead of the other two to think that the vote will actually be split. The fact that a 7-8 hour documentary exists, let alone received a nomination, is enough of a talking point to create a very special buzz around the film. Once voters screen it, they’ll quickly see why it’s deserved.

Obviously, Life, Animated is the only odd man out this year thematically. In light of such a lack of variety, I would have liked to see a wider spread of nominees here, as there were several other documentaries that are just as worthy to be in the hunt. The Ivory Game, Into the Inferno, and Fastball come to mind among the top documentaries I screened this year.

Best Foreign Language Film


Will Win: Toni Erdmann

Dark Horse: The Salesman, possibly A Man Called Ove

My Favorite: Tanna

Should Have Been Nominated: Elle and My Life as a Zucchini

It was relatively easy to screen all 5 foreign nominees this year – a task that’s not always possible in the US before the awards are handed out except in NY or LA. That may contribute to a tighter race – and the top three are certainly all right on each other’s heels. It’s a literal toss up, and in a year where most people are going with a lot of surefire La La Land on their ballots, this might become the obvious tie breaker in your pool – even the shorts seem a little easier to predict this year.

A Man Called Ove benefits from being based on a popular novel. Many were eagerly awaiting the film adaptation for years – and many have it listed first. More of a light-hearted comedy, Toni Erdmann seems popular for more inexplicable reasons. I’m placing it on top because it seemed to have the greatest audience reaction at my screening – despite the gorgeous locations and cinematography of Tanna being my personal favorite.

However, the spoiler effect goes squarely to The Salesman. My favorite of the three front-runners, it seemed the unlikely contender early, since director Asghar Farhadi had just won this category recently with much-loved A Separation. Things took a turn when it was feared that the travel ban would affect his ability to be present at the ceremony in LA – and he since announced he will be absent in protest regardless. This may have transpired too late to change enough votes, but if there were ever a film primed for assistance from a political protest, it would be this one. Documentary short nominee Watani: My Homeland is in a similar situation.

Best Animated Feature


Will Win: Zootopia

Dark Horse: Kubo and the Two Strings or Moana

My Favorite: The Red Turtle

Should Have Been Nominated: Trolls

I think it’s now safe to say that since Disney’s acquisition of Pixar, they’ve been gradually transferring the talent and ideas behind that brand over to their own Disney Animation brand. Though this year didn’t bring us a standout masterpiece of the likes of Wreck-It Ralph!, Frozen, Up, or Wall-E, it did bring us a once unheard of 2 nominees from Disney and 0 from Pixar proper.

Certainly a story of our times, Zootopia seems to be the front-runner. Moana is also quite popular, and should the two Disney titles split enough votes, stop-motion/CGI hybrid Kubo and the Two Strings (Laika Studios) even has a shot.

I’m not traditionally a fan of Studio Ghibli. However, hand-drawn, dialogue-free The Red Turtle marks the second year where their entry was my personal favorite animated feature nominee (along with last year’s When Marnie Was There). The studio hasn’t won since 2003 though.

French language, stop-motion Ma vie de Courgette (My Life as a Zucchini) comes to us from Switzerland and rounds out this year’s choices. Personally, I would have loved to see room made for Trolls somewhere in the list as well.

Best Short Film, Animated


Will Win: “Piper”

Dark Horse: anyone’s guess

My Favorite: “Asteria” (overall) or “Borrowed Time” (either)

Should Have Been Nominated: “Asteria”, “The Head Vanishes”, “Indice 50”

The three short categories tend to have a reputation for being hard to predict, but at least there’s usually a clue in the animated category. Typically, one of the nominees is a Pixar or Disney Animation short that played theatrically in front of one of their Best Animated Feature nominees. That short is the winner maybe 50% of the time, so “Piper” should be considered the safe bet.

That said, it’s never a sure bet on this one, and my personal preference would be for “Borrowed Time” to pull out an upset victory. Though not an official Pixar short, it was made by a pair of Pixar animators, has a much darker tone than what you’d expect that to entail, and is beautifully realized. I do think that several of this year’s highly commended shorts (which play with the annual VOD/theatrical compilation of the nominees) should have garnered nominations.

Best Short Film, Live Action


Will Win: “Ennemis intérieurs”

Dark Horse: “Timecode”

My Favorite: either “Timecode” or “Ennemis intérieurs”

Though it’s rare for a clear consensus to form around the short film categories, most people seem to be going with “Ennemis intérieurs”, which dramatizes the issues of immigration and terrorism in 1990s France – fueling the current zeitgeist, but using a historic context to do it. I also couldn’t help but think of the obvious comparisons with the recent 2015 winner in this category (“The Phone Call”) during the screening.

There is actually such a strong consensus around this choice that it was hard to pick a runner-up, as there honestly may be little difference between 2nd and 5th place. I’m calling “Timecode” the dark horse pick simply because it seemed to have the most positive audience response during my theatrical screening of the nominees. It’s also the only light-hearted picture of the nominees, so if votes get split between the more serious nominees, it may rise to the front of the pack for that reason too.

Best Documentary, Short Subject


Will Win: Joe’s Violin

Dark Horse: The White Helmets

My Favorite: Joe’s Violin

Strangely there’s also a consensus forming in this category – around “Joe’s Violin”. It is a beautiful little short, though honestly the nominees are fairly evenly matched.

However, it’s said that you should never bet against a nominee that is related to the Holocaust – historically and statistically speaking, this is actually rather sound advice. It has applied to the winner in this category 2 of the past 3 years alone (“Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah”, “The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life”), not to mention in last year’s Best Foreign Language category (Son of Saul). Though “Joe’s Violin” is only tangentially related by comparison, it’s still the safest bet.

Runners up include 3 shorts dealing with the current Syrian crisis, which may ultimately just pull votes from each other and give “Joe’s Violin” an even clearer path to victory. Also noteworthy is that 4 of the 5 nominees could be found for free online this year (“Joe’s Violin” – The New Yorker, “4.1 Miles” – NY Times, “The White Helmets” & “Extremis” – Netflix streaming). Despite the fact that titles here are usually among the hardest to screen, I’d seen two before the nominations were even announced.

Brendan Shick

Brendan Shick is a freelance DP, gaffer, and sports broadcaster serving primarily the Chicago, IL; Pittsburgh, PA; Grand Rapids, MI; and Fort Wayne, IN, regions. You can find out more by following this blog, his recent work on Vimeo, or by connecting with him on Twitter or LinkedIn. Brendan is also an occasional contributor to the Project Updates feed for one of his most recent films, To Turn Back Time.

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