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Oscar predictions 2017: Animated Feature, Documentary Feature, Foreign Language Film, and the shorts

These categories could make Zootopia and O.J.: Made in America Oscar winners.

Zootopia looks likely to win the Best Animated Feature prize.
Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

Sure, Best Picture is the Academy Awards’ big prize — but the Oscars annually reward six other “Best Pictures” in categories you probably ignore while waiting for the big awards and/or playing games on your phone.

But don’t sleep on the six categories listed below, which include some of the most exciting races of the night — and some of the best films of 2016. In particular, the Documentary and Animated Feature races this year are filled with great films, and the former is one of the most competitive categories at the awards.

Here are predictions for Foreign Language Film, Animated Feature, Documentary Feature, and the short film categories.

Foreign Language Film

The Salesman
Will The Salesman win the Oscar as a protest vote against Donald Trump?
Cohen Media Group

In essentially any other year, A Man Called Ove would win here handily. It’s a sweet, charming movie about a grouchy old man who becomes marginally less grouchy when he befriends the new family that moves in next door to him. It is, in other words, a story Oscar voters can relate to. (You’re supposed to see all five films nominated before voting — which typically favors older, retired voters — but in recent years, that requirement has switched to something more akin to the honor system, rather than having to attend Academy-sanctioned screenings, so its effect has been lessened.)

But we live in 2017, when President Donald Trump’s attempts to keep citizens from majority-Muslim countries from traveling to the US directly affected Asghar Farhadi, director of The Salesman and a previous winner in this category (in 2012) for A Separation.

The Salesman isn’t as good as Farhadi’s previous work, but there’s a real effort in Hollywood to vote for the film as a sign of resistance to Trump. Will it gain enough ground by the time voting is over? If The Salesman wins, you’ll know it has.

Will win: The Salesman

Might win: A Man Called Ove

Dark horse: Toni Erdmann

Should win: The critical favorite here is Toni Erdmann, but the other two films mentioned are probably too strong to allow a 160-minute German comedy about family togetherness and/or the integration of Eastern Europe into the eurozone to win. Sorry, Toni. I liked you a lot.

Documentary Feature

Watch literally any movie nominated here, and you’ll be glad you did. This category contains four of the best movies of 2016 — and the fifth (Life, Animated) is a wonderful little movie in its own right. But Life, Animated (which is about a family learning to communicate with an autistic son via Disney movies) lacks the political heft that usually wins in this category, so you can probably write it off. (Plenty of nonpolitical films have won this category, especially in recent years, but the overall political tinge of this ceremony suggests that won’t be the case in 2017.)

Documentary is often a chance for Oscar voters to try to bring attention to political issues they feel strongly about. (That, or they vote for documentaries about music, like recent winners Amy, 20 Feet From Stardom, and Searching for Sugar Man.) Fire at Sea is about the refugee crisis, which should win it some votes, but the other three are about the state of race relations in America — a big discussion in the midst of a Trump presidency and the Oscars’ own problems with diversity.

My guess is one of those three films wins, and their Oscar campaigns have all been sharp; they’re probably neck and neck. O.J. led for most of the season and has scooped up numerous awards at earlier ceremonies, but 13th boasts Ava DuVernay (who directed 2015 Best Picture nominee Selma) as its director, and I Am Not Your Negro has narrator Samuel L. Jackson actively campaigning for it around Los Angeles. This will be close.

Will win: O.J.: Made in America

Might win: 13th

Dark horse: I Am Not Your Negro

Should win: I’d be happy with pretty much any winner here, but if forced to cast a vote, I would go with I Am Not Your Negro, a tremendous, passionate essay of a film that stuck with me for days after seeing it.

Animated Feature Film

Here comes Zootopia.

This is another category where watching any random nominee will leave you feeling as if you’ve seen a very good to great film.

Though the category isn’t as strong this year as it was in 2016 (that was perhaps the best Animated Feature lineup of all time), it’s filled with terrific filmmaking — and, mercifully, it’s not dominated by Hollywood studio projects.

You can make a case for either Kubo (which received a surprise nomination in Visual Effects and has run a highly visible campaign) or Moana (which is the most beautiful nominee), but the political tinge of this year’s awards season subtly favors Zootopia, which is an elaborate animal allegory about resisting prejudice in all its forms. Also, the studio behind both Moana and Zootopia, Walt Disney Animation Studios, has won two of the past three prizes in this category (with Frozen and Big Hero 6) and is on a bit of a roll.

Will win: Zootopia

Might win: Kubo and the Two Strings

Dark horse: Moana

Should win: It’s a toss-up between Zucchini and Kubo for me, but I’m going to go with the Swiss film Zucchini, which offers a surprisingly sweet tale of kids living in a group home and hails from the perennially nominated distributor GKIDS, which has never won.

Animated Short Film

Predicting the shorts categories is always a crapshoot, since it’s impossible to say what the handful of Oscar voters who actually watch these movies will spark to.

But with that qualification in mind, the safe bet here seems to be Piper. It hails from Pixar, which hasn’t won this category since 2002 (for the delightful For the Birds) and is a perpetual nominee. It’s also about a very cute seabird, and it tells the most complete story (albeit a very simple one) of the five nominees, which is usually a boon. Maybe Pixar just needs to keep making short films about birds?

Will win: Piper

Might win: Borrowed Time

Dark horse: Blind Vaysha

Should win: The sad cowboy of Borrowed Time offers a more melancholy direction than this category sometimes goes in.

Live Action Short Film

Ennemis Intérieurs
A scene from Ennemis Intérieurs.

This is often the most depressing category of the night, filled with movies that examine man’s inhumanity to man. That makes it slightly surprising that this year’s five nominees are, on the whole, pretty optimistic and hopeful. Indeed, three of them are love stories.

That said, the winner will probably be Ennemis Intérieurs, which tackles a very contemporary problem — the hurdles noncitizens have to go through to immigrate to the West — and does so in searing, deeply troubling fashion. Even when this category goes light, the winner will probably go dark.

Will win: Ennemis Intérieurs

Might win: Timecode

Dark horse: La Femme et le TGV

Should win: Ennemis Intérieurs is the right choice.

Documentary Short Subject

The Syrian refugee crisis directly informs three of these nominees and indirectly informs a fourth (Joe’s Violin), which has nothing to do with the current refugee crisis but is about the US’s response to the Holocaust (sort of). Only Extremis — about making end-of-life decisions in an Oakland hospital — has nothing to do with the issue.

Strictly speaking, Joe’s Violin seems like the sort of film that usually wins this category. It’s uplifting, easily accessible online, and interested in topics the Oscars usually find compelling (chiefly, the Holocaust). But this might be another category where contemporary politics wins the day, in which case, expect The White Helmets (readily available on Netflix) to win.

Will win: The White Helmets

Might win: Joe’s Violin

Dark horse: Watani: My Homeland

Should win: 4.1 Miles, a riveting tale of a Greek coast guard captain having to save refugees from drowning at sea, is as compelling as any feature-length film you’ll see.

Watch: The Oscars' voting process awards safe movies

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