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The Lens: Oscar prognostication - part 3

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 1, 2010 - Eight categories down, 16 to go. Just one-third finished, but we're already at the stage at which panic may set in while filling out your ballot.

How am I supposed to know the difference between sound editing and sound mixing? Has anyone actually seen the documentary shorts? I can understand taking notice of the Vulcan ears and Romulan brows in “Star Trek,” but what was special about the make-up in “The Young Victoria”? How am I supposed to determine a good screenplay when the industry itself can't even agree on who wrote it?

Before trying to make sense of the “technical” awards, let's wrap up what I call the “specialty” films, the categories that have slightly different voting requirements and aren't seen by as many voters as the regular nominees. These, more than any of the other awards, take a little knowledge of Academy procedures, a little research and a lot of guess work.

Best Documentary Feature

To qualify for an Academy Award, documentary films have to have received a week-long theatrical engagement – like every other nominee – and then be accepted by a nominating committee (whose role has been questioned in recent years). Academy members can only vote in this category if they've seen the films at an Academy-sanctioned screening, eliminating the convenience of mailing out screeners. While in theory this can work against films that have had fairly successful theatrical runs, the last few years have tended to award reasonably popular documentaries like “An Inconvenient Truth.” Last year's “Man on Wire” was something of a crowd-pleaser, and I suspect that this year will follow suit by awarding “The Cove.”

Best Documentary Short Subject

For short subjects, the same rules apply, but the subject matter may not necessarily be as popular. This year's nominees include films about natural disasters, economic downturns, a vote on assisted suicide, a disabled songwriter in Zimbabwe and wild rabbits living within the ruins of the Berlin Wall. My prediction – a guess, really – is that the winner will be “Music by Prudence” - the Zimbabwe musician.

Best Live Action Short Film

One of the least consistent awards, this year's nominees range from whimsy to suspense – with no clear pattern to be found. I'm guessing that “Kavi” has an edge, simply because it follows some of the themes of last year's best picture “Slumdog Millionaire” (minus the game show and the musical numbers).

Best Foreign Language Film

Another category where popular favorites have no advantage, the selections for foreign film are chosen by their native country, screened and nominated by an Academy committee (Fred Willard is on it) and then voted on by members who have attended Academy screenings. The nominees frequently include films that haven't even received a U.S. distributor (as is the case with this year's “The Milk of Sorrow”). This year, despite the fact that the award rarely goes to any film that has already been an art-house success - (last year, you may recall, a relatively unknown Japanese film, “Departures” won over more popular selections like “Waltz With Bashir” and “The Class”), it seems like the well-received “Un Prophete” and “The White Ribbon” have an edge. I'm placing my bet on the latter, which also received one nomination (for cinematography) in the straightforward categories.

The Lens is a blog provided by Cinema St. Louis.

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