Unlike almost every other category, Academy rules state that the general membership of the Academy cannot vote for each of the three short film categories unless they've seen all of their respective nominees. (For Documentary Short Subject, the films must be screened in a theater.) So popularity and name recognition matter (a bit) less than they do for the better known (and way better seen) feature-length nominees.
Best Animated Short
One of the most highly competitive categories this year includes a state-of-the-art hybrid 2-D and 3-D film by animation behemoth Walt Disney Animation; a sweet comic vignette featuring The Simpsons silent toddler Maggie; and the shortest nominee in the history of the Academy Awards.
Adam and Dog, Minkyu Lee
Fresh Guacamole, PES
Head Over Heels, Timothy Reckart and Fodhla Cronin O'Reilly
The Longest Daycare, David Silverman
Paperman, John Kahrs
Should win: Let's be clear here: All of these nominees are fan-frigging-tastic. The stop-motion Head Over Heels creates a lovely visual metaphor for a long marriage (i.e., one spouse lives on the floor, and the other on the ceiling). The one-minute-and-45-second Fresh Guacamole is packed with delightful visual puns (like dicing a baseball onion into actual dice). The Longest Daycare (which you can watch in its entirety below) tucks some witty commentary about education into a life-or-death thriller starring Maggie Simpson. And Walt Disney Animation better be hard at work making a feature-length film that looks as sumptuously gorgeous as the black-and-white short Paperman. But there is something about the haunting, lyrical beauty of Adam and Dog — about how the first dog came to befriend the first man in the Garden of Eden — that stands out as something truly special. You can watch it in its entirety above.
Will win: There's one school of thought that says it's foolish to bet against Disney. There's another that says the temptation to give The Simpsons an Oscar would be too great to pass up. But we suspect the uncanny quality of Adam and Dog will separate it from the pack just enough to lead it to an Oscar.
BONUS: Watch "The Longest Daycare" in its entirety
Best Documentary Short
Young struggling kids and the human face of the homeless are just a few of the heavy topics tackled among these nominees.
Inocente, Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine
Kings Point, Sari Gilman and Jedd Wider
Mondays at Racine, Cynthia Wade and Robin Honan
Open Heart, Kief Davidson and Cori Shepherd Stern
Redemption, Jon Alpert and Matthew O'Neill
Should win: Choosing which one of these nominees to single out is a bit like deciding how much of a good person you don't want to be. Do you ignore the film about "canners" who struggle to make a living collecting recyclables from the trash (Redemption)? Or the story of a homeless teenager who turns to art for therapy and survival (Inocente)? How about the doc about the eight Rwandan children with a life-threatening heart condition who are selected for open-heart surgery (Open Heart) — are you going to ignore that one? And let's not forget the story of a single Florida retirement center (Kings Point): Are you really going to turn your back on your gramdma? Alas, the answer to all these questions is yes, because for us, Mondays at Racine — about a hair salon that accepts cancer patients for free — most directly tugged at our hearts and our minds.
Will win: Open Heart could easily steal enough hearts to walk away with this category, and one should never underestimate the power of adorable senior citizens — which is why HBO will air Kings Point March 11 at 9 p.m. By focusing on a single girl's story, however, we think the stunningly photographed Inocente has the best chance of a win.
Best Live Action Short
If you're looking for uplift and good cheer, look elsewhere. Death hovers over all five of these nominees — and in the case of one, literally plays a central role.
Asad, Bryan Buckley and Mino Jarjoura
Buzkashi Boys, Sam French and Ariel Nasr
Curfew, Shawn Christensen
Death of a Shadow (Dood Van Een Schaduw), Tom Van Avermaet and Ellen De Waele
Henry, Yan England
Should win: Several of these nominees take greater formal risks and bring us to further-flung places than most of their fellow feature-length nominees. Asad focuses on two boys trying their best to avoid the pull of piracy amid the chaos of life in Somalia. Buzkashi Boys illuminates the unusual Afghan sport of Buzkashi, which is like polo except with a dead goat carcass. Death of a Shadow spins a macabre tale of a WWI soldier who uses a specialized camera to capture shadows for Death. Curfew brings together a young girl and her suicidal uncle. Henry flips the Amour script and imagines what life is like from inside the experience of an elderly man with Alzheimer's. So which one is the best? Let's go with Buzkashi Boys, if only for making a film about a sport involving a dead goat carcass — and the boy who aspires to become a national hero in the sport — so damn compelling.
Will win: Curfew seems to have the best combination of emotional heft and accessibility, plus it stars the current voice of Dora the Explorer (Fatima Ptacek). Expect star and director Shawn Christensen (who also penned the Taylor Lautner thriller Abduction) to take home the Oscar.
Other category predictions:
(This post has been corrected to reflect the different voting rules for Animated and Live Action Short, and Documentary Short Subject.)