|In the Shadow of Women|
|Fifty Shades of Black|
|The Finest Hours|
January closes out with three more discommendations and an unusually strong crop of Oscar-nominated short films:
Philippe Garrel's cheating-themed French import "In the Shadow of Women" has its moments, but the story's too thin (and the 73-minute runtime too short) to linger long in the memory. Stanislas Merhar does look great in a plain white t-shirt, though… A sprinkling of laughs in Marlon Wayans' spoof "Fifty Shades of Black," most from comic Jenny Zigrino as Hannah's big-ho roommate, Kateesha… "The Finest Hours" is two hours of Coast Guard corn. The writing for the crowd scenes really sets it apart. Among the Oscar-worthy lines: "Give him a blanket; he must be freezing" and my personal favorite, "They'll never make it back home without a compass."
And now let me help you with the hardest part of the annual Oscar pool: the shorts. I'll tell you who should win and who will win in each of the three categories.
Should win: Regular readers know my fondness for all things ursine, but "Bear Story" is truly sweet and poignant. I'd vote for it or for the wickedly hilarious "World of Tomorrow." There's also much to like about the cosmonauts in "We Can't Live Without Cosmos."
Will win: I didn't care for the video game-y "Sanjay's Super Team," but the Pixar brand and its wide audience (it showed before "Inside Out" last summer) make it the odds-on favorite.
Also nominated: The dark and unpleasant "Prologue."
Should win: In an exceptionally strong category, I'd vote for "A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness," about a Pakistani girl who survives an attempted honor killing by her father and uncle. Honor killings - another "gift" from Islam to the civilized world. My second choice would be the eloquent animated doc short "Last Day of Freedom," in which the brother of a PTSD-afflicted Vietnam veteran executed for a murder-robbery laments America's betrayal of those who fought for her. "Body Team 12," about Liberian aid workers charged with the removal and cremation of Ebola victims' bodies, merits commendation for its timeliness and immediacy.
Will win: Any category with a Holocaust-themed movie is a gimme. Add in a film director subject and the production values and clout of HBO, and "Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah" is a mortal lock.
Also nominated: The inspirational Vietnamese "Chau, Beyond the Lines," about a young man disabled by Agent Orange chasing his dream of a career as an artist by using his mouth to paint.
Live Action Short
Should Win: Two great - and totally different choices - in this category: the hilarious West Bank-set culture clash comedy "Ave Maria," in which a disputatious Israeli husband and wife (and his mother) accidentally crash their car into a statue of the Virgin Mary outside a nunnery and, it being Shabbat, can't use the convent phone to call for help; and "Everything Will be Okay (Alles Wird Gut)," a heart-in-your-throat real-time depiction of a desperate Austrian father's attempt to abduct his daughter and fly to Dubai, marking director Patrick Vollrath as a new talent to watch.
Will Win: Its Afghanistan war setting and female lead should check enough boxes to make "Day One" the winner, unless the charming Irish romance "Stutterer" leaves smiles on enough faces.
Also nominated: The well-constructed Kosovan "Shok," about two Albanian boys whose friendship takes a turn toward tragedy at the hands of Serbian soldiers.