Oscars 2017 Category Breakdown: Best Documentary Short-Subject
Every year, as we lead up to the Oscars, I break down each of the 24 categories. I do this to familiarize everyone with the category; what the trends are, how the guilds and stuff help (or don’t), etc. I also do it as a precursor to my giant Oscar ballot. I get most of the heavy lifting out of the way here, so that way when I get to the article, I’m just kind of riffing on how I think it’ll turn out and talking myself into all the bad decisions. It’s like college. And this is the pregame.
How these articles work is — I give you all the previous winners and nominees of each of the categories, then tell you how accurate each of the respective guilds and precursors are in what they vote for versus what wins the Oscar, tell you how each of them voted this year, then give you this year’s category, along with a quick rundown of how we ended up with that category (what was a surprise, etc). After that, I rank each of this year’s nominees in terms of how I see them right now in terms of their likelihood to win. Which is nothing more than my perception (notice that underline, even though you won’t) of how the category seems at the moment based on everything I know and have seen. Which will give you a general sense of the favorites.
Today, we’re talking Best Documentary Short. The category you don’t care about but just wanna know who’s gonna win so you can win your pool.
|Year||Best Documentary (Short Subject) Winners|
|1942||The Battle of Midway
Kokoda Front Line!
Moscow Strikes Back
Prelude to War
|1944||With the Marines at Tarawa|
|1946||Seeds of Destiny|
|1949||(tie) A Chance to Live
So Much for So Little
|1953||The Alaskan Eskimo|
|1955||Men against the Arctic|
|1956||The True Story of the Civil War|
|1957||No Award Given.|
|1964||Nine from Little Rock|
|1965||To Be Alive!|
|1966||A Year Toward Tomorrow|
|1968||Why Man Creates|
|1970||Interviews with My Lai Veterans|
|1971||Sentinals of Silence|
|1972||This Tiny World|
|1973||Princeton: A Search for Answers|
|1975||The End of the Game|
|1976||Number Our days|
|1977||Gravity Is My Enemy|
|1978||The Flight of the Gossamer Condor|
|1979||Paul Robeson: Tribute to an Artist|
|1980||Karl Hess: Toward Liberty|
|1982||If You Love This Planet|
|1983||Flamenco at 5:15|
|1984||The Stone Carvers|
|1985||Witness to War: Dr. Charlie Clements|
|1986||Women – for America, for the World|
|1987||Young at Heart|
|1988||You Don’t Have to Die|
|1989||The Johnstown Flood|
|1990||Days of Waiting|
|1991||Deadly Deception: General Electric, Nuclear Weapons and Our Environment|
|1993||Defending Our Lives|
|1994||A Time for Justice|
|1995||One Survivor Remembers|
|1996||Breathing Lesosns: The Life and Work of Mark O’Brien|
|1997||A Story of Healing|
|1998||The Personals: Improvisations on Romance in the Golden Years|
|2004||Mighty Times: The Children’s March|
|2005||A Note of Triumph: The Golden Age of Norman Corwin|
|2006||The Blood of Yingzhou District|
|2009||Music by Prudence|
|2010||Strangers No More|
|2013||The Lady in Number Six: Music Saved My Life|
|2014||Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1|
|2015||A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness|
|2016||The White Helmets|
No precursors, just a shortlist of ten. Of the ten, three were New York Times docs, and none of them made it on. Netflix got one on. Based on what I saw from the trailers and such, only one film (Kayayo, the Living Shopping Baskets) seemed right up their alley and was a surprise omission. Otherwise, they were all pretty solid docs.
One thing I do each year is tell you what the last ten years of winners were, so you can get an idea of what generally wins in this category, issues-wise:
- 2016 — The White Helmets, aka men who save people from the rubble of buildings in Syria
- 2015 — Honor killing in the Middle East.
- 2014 — Hotline for veterans having PTSD problems.
- 2013 — Holocaust survivor plays music every day and used music to overcome the horrors she’s encountered in her life
- 2012 — Homeless girl paints in order to overcome her situation and surroundings.
- 2011 — Doctor who performs surgeries on Iranian women who have had acid thrown in their faces
- 2010 — School in Israel has kids from 30 different countries and all different backgrounds coming together to learn
- 2009 — A girl with a deformity overcomes the prejudice against people with her condition (in her country, people with her deformity are usually left for dead or cast aside) to make music
- 2008 — A little girl in India is given surgery to fix a cleft palate.
- 2007 — A dying police officer wants her death benefits to go to her partner, but the state won’t allow it because they don’t consider same-sex relationships to be legitimate
This year, the subjects are:
- A 95 + 96 year old interracial couple get married. Pretty soon, there’s a custody battle within their family that threatens to separate them.
- A woman with mental illness is able to describe her mental state in art pieces.
- About some women who try to help people against the ever-growing opioid crisis.
- An upscale French restaurant hires ex-cons to be part of their kitchen and wait staff
- A black woman is the victim of a brutal traffic stop
Best Documentary Short-Subject
Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405
5. Knife Skills — This is my favorite of the documentaries, just because I really like the idea of a bunch of ex-cons being taught French cuisine and actually learning how to work in a restaurant. I don’t really know anymore just what people respond to in this category, but my gut says, this one isn’t it. So I’ll call it a fifth choice, even though, as per usual, this category feels like anything could win.
4. Heroin(e) — It’s Netflix, and they won last year, and some people will think it wins based on that and based on Netflix’s power as a campaigner. And the three past categories have either gone to HBO or Netflix. Plus, the opioid crisis is a big deal issue. However, I don’t see what’s so affecting about this one. Maybe it’s a higher choice and I’m wrong. It could be like the suicide prevention hotline for veterans one. I didn’t particularly love that one, but it won. So I don’t know. This category is usually a crap shoot. Right now, I’m keeping all my options open, but I feel like the other three fit the category better, and the only thing going for this is “Netflix.”
3. Traffic Stop — Its HBO, which is very much up their alley, and is definitely a subject matter that’s in the news today… excessive police force. The dash cam footage is the most powerful stuff in this entire category. The rest of the documentary is them showing you who she is as a person. I think this has a legitimate shot and could come down with a win, even if I wouldn’t consider it a favorite.
2. Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405 — They like artists overcoming obstacles. This one’s got all the mental illness stuff built in, and then shows you all these cool pieces she created. Plus, it takes place in LA. They like that too. This has them written all over it. Maybe it’s too cynical to assume this will win, but I’d definitely place it in the top three.
1. Edith+Eddie — This feels exactly like something they go for. 95 year old and 96 year old get married. Interracial couple. And they’re kept apart because of some exterior circumstances. Plus, it ends on a very emotional note. All around, the kind of thing they respond to. So I’ll make it the favorite, even though we should all know — in this and in Live-Action Short… there are no favorites.
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