A Cheat Sheet To Winning Your Office Oscars Sweeps

Everyone knows Cate Blanchett's a lock, but what about those mysterious minor categories? We've seen them all, and we're here to help.

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If you’ve paid attention for even the briefest of moments — and, come to think of it, even if you haven’t — everyone can earn a solid score on their office Oscars pool. With so many pre-Oscars award ceremonies and so many online pundits telling us what will and won’t win, it’s easy to perfectly predict winners in the major categories like ‘Best Picture’ and ‘Best Actress’, even though, blissfully, this year’s rivalry between 12 Years A Slave and Gravity (and to a lesser extent American Hustle) has proven to be a tighter match of tug-of-war than recent years have offered (maybe host Ellen Degeneres is behind it all?).


However, if you’re like 99% of people in the world, once it gets to the lesser known ‘Foreign’, ‘Documentary’ and ‘Short Film’ categories, it becomes scarcely possible to tick a box with any certainty at all. Well, I am here to help! For once, I’m able to label myself amongst ‘the 1%’: I’ve seen them all, and can guide you through what are literally some of the hardest choices you will ever make.

Best Foreign Language Film

And the nominees are…

The Broken Circle Breakdown (Belgium)
The Great Beauty (Italy)
The Hunt (Denmark)
The Missing Picture (Cambodia)
Omar (Palestine)

It’s an uncharacteristically competitive year for the subtitled category. I’m not a fan of Belgium’s bluegrass-and-child cancer drama, The Broken Circle Breakdown, but people have reportedly been reduced to puddles of tears by it and that helps in a category such as this. Likewise, The Hunt is an affecting, emotional tear-jerker, but some found it problematic.

The Missing Picture was my favourite film of 2013, and I was so happy on hearing Chris Hemsworth announce its nomination that I actually screamed (actual screaming). It hasn’t a hope in hell of winning, but I hope people seek out this Cambodian documentary — the nation’s first nomination, and only the second documentary ever nominated after Israel’s Waltz With Bashir (2008) — when it’s released locally in March. The statue will likely come down to Palestine’s Omar, a thriller that examines loyalty and romance in the West Bank, and The Great Beauty, a Fellini-esque romp across Rome and the Italian countryside. The latter’s likely appeal to the Academy’s older members gives it the edge.

Junkee Predicts: The Great Beauty (Italy)

Best Documentary Feature

And the nominees are…

The Act of Killing
Cutie and the Boxer
Dirty Wars
The Square
20 Feet from Stardom

This category is perhaps the most prone to controversy — whether it’s the snubbing of acclaimed instant classics like Paris Is Burning (1990) and Hoop Dreams (1994), or voting restrictions, or the enviable situation of there simply being too many contenders — but this year’s collection of five is a stellar list.

Rule of thumb dictates that the biggest hit is usually the winner, but after last year’s Searching For Sugarman, will they be wanting to award another music doc in the form of 20 Feet From Stardom? And while The Act Of Killing — about deadly Indonesian mafia re-enacting their horrific crimes in the form of a surreal gangster musical — is the most critically acclaimed, it’s probably too daunting a film to win. On the other hand, Dirty Wars and Cutie and the Boxer are too small scale. I suspect The Square, with its up-to-the-moment documentation of the Egyptian revolution, will take out the category in a moment of politically aware excellence.

Junkee’s Prediction: The Square

Best Documentary Short

And the nominees are…

Cave Digger
Facing Fear
The Lady In Number 6
Karama Has No Walls
Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall

In these specialty categories, there are two things that generally help you win: WWII and children. That gives The Lady In Number 6 the leg up, telling the story of Jewish musicians who were sent to special concentration camps where they were entertained Nazis, and focusing on 110-year-old Alice Herz Sommer who sadly died just last week. It’s just a shame that Malcolm Clarke’s film is so blandly made, terribly narrated, and uses more Vaseline lenses than Burlesque. Similarly, Facing Fear has potent material — a gay man brutally bashed by a neo-Nazi confronts his attacker — but it’s little more than an anti-bullying PSA masquerading as a film. I have worked as a documentary short programmer, and I would have passed on each.

Cave Digger follows a man who carves cave houses in California for people, and answers the question of what to get somebody who already has everything. Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall, a HBO production, is touching as it follows an 82-year-old prisoner in his dying days. And I like the symmetry of the Academy rewarding Karama Has No Walls, given it follows the political revolution in Yemen that was inspired by the Egyptian riots seen in The Square. Sara Ishaq’s film is by far the best of the nominees, but schmaltz may just win in the end.

Junkee’s Prediction: The Woman In Number 6

Best Live Action Short

And the nominees are…

That Wasn’t Me
Just Before Losing Everything
Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?
The Voorman Problem

Remember what I said about WWII and children? Well, Helium is about a doctor trying to ease the sadness of death for a child as he lies in hospital awaiting the inevitable. This Danish film plucks more strings than an orchestra, but there’s only one of the nominees that deserves the prize and that is the excellent domestic abuse drama, Just Before Losing Everything. This French film by Xavier LeGrand, about a woman attempting to escape her abusive husband, isn’t just the very best in this category, I’d actually say it’s one of my favourite nominated films period, and a straw poll on Twitter suggests others feel the same.

Elsewhere, The Voorman Problem has a fun premise about a prisoner who believes he is God, and stars Martin Freeman and Tom Hollander; That Wasn’t Me is interesting, but doesn’t do enough with its potent subject matter; and Do I Have to Take Care of Everything? is a waste of time, better suited to the creaky stage of Tropfest than the Oscars. If Just Before Losing Everything doesn’t win, I will riot. Riot right to the refrigerator and angrily pour another glass of wine.

Junkee Predicts: Just Before Losing Everything

Best Animated Short

And the nominees are…

Get a Horse!
Mr Hublot
Room on the Broom

One of my favourite categories: not only because Australians have won here several times — Leisure (1976), Harvey Krumpet (2003), and The Lost Thing (2010) — but because it’s a great way of discovering filmmakers that will eventually be helming films at big animation studios like Pixar, Disney, Aardman, and Dreamworks. There’s nothing quite as visually eye-popping as last year’s Fresh Guacamole, the record-holder for shortest film ever nominated for an Oscar, but the closest — and my personal favourite — is Possessions, about a Japanese warrior who gets lost in a forest and imagines a series of Miyazaki-esque creatures.

Disney’s Get a Horse! features Mickey and Minnie Mouse and played in front of Frozen so it’s obviously the most seen of the lot, but no company has won both cartoon categories since the Animated Feature category was instated in 2001 (and Frozen is the odds-on favourite). Elsewhere, Room on the Broom is forgettable, cutesy nonsense about a witch and her animal friends chased by a dragon, while Feral is visually dazzling, but darkly confronting. Lastly, but not least, is Mr Hublot, the story of a lonely man and the dog he rescues off the street. This industrial animation looks lovely, but familiar — Shane Acker’s Oscar-nominated short 9 (2005) had a similar style. Furthermore, I didn’t care for the sentimental tone and simplistic emotions. But alas…

Junkee Predicts: Mr Hublot

Good luck! I take no responsibility for your losing to Francine in accounting (she cheats, I swear).

The 86th Academy Awards will air on Nine on Monday March 3 at 12:30pm.

Glenn Dunks is a freelance writer and film critic from Melbourne, and currently based in New York City. His work has been seen online (Onya Magazine, Quickflix), in print (The Big Issue, Metro Magazine, Intellect Books Ltd’s World Film Locations: Melbourne), as well as heard on Joy 94.9.