"Saving Face"

War. Civil rights. Religion. Discrimination. Destruction. While the Academy’s list of best short subject documentaries may lack in duration, they more than make for in subject matter, emotion, depth and international scope.

"The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement"

On the domestic front, we have The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement by Robin Fryday and Gail Dolgin. Following octogenarian Mr. Armstrong, the viewer gets a first-hand look at the struggle of the blue collar African American archetype from the murderous start of the civil rights movement through the election of our first African American president. Reflecting on present day while noting the struggles of both his past and the nation’s, creators Fryday and Dolgin artfully weave events like racial integration (including Armstrong’s own son being admitted into an all white school) with lingering inequality that still quietly plagues the country as a whole. But with all the talk of elections, primaries and mud slinging quickly souring the nation into political overload, will the Academy focus on something a little more off the beaten path?

"God is Bigger than Elvis"

From a lifetime devoted to the rights of often overlooked Americans, we see a woman who shunned the national spotlight in favor of religious vocation in God is Bigger than Elvis by Rebecca Cammisa and Julie Anderson. Exploring the almost unthinkable idea that a young woman poised for fame and working with one of the world’s biggest superstars, abandoning Hollywood for the paradoxically unglamorous life of the cloister. The story of Mother Dolores (nee Dolores Hart) is a curious one and sure to pique the interest of Academy voters. Growing up in the Hollywood Hills, Hart quickly rose to fame and a seven picture deal with a studio and roles in Elvis Presley’s Loving You and later King Creole. But rather than fritter away her off time on Sunset Blvd, Hart followed her calling and abandoned acting in favor of a nun’s habit. With most young starlets willing to sell their sole for celebrity, this doc could prove to be a favorite across the board.

"The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom"

At the risk of generalizing, it seems like every year there’s a best documentary short subject entry that highlights a country’s resiliency to rebuilt from unspeakable disaster (see: Warriors of Quigang) and 2012 is no exception. While a standard look at rebuilding a country like Japan may not bring votes, The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom juxtaposes the cruel devastation of the 2011 earthquake and ensuing tidal wave that engulfed. Coincidentally (conveniently?) the symbol for new beginnings, the cherry blossom has long been a huge tourist draw both locally and abroad and one of the hardest hit communities bands together to keep the tradition alive. Filmmakers Lucy Walker and Kira Carstensen highlight both the heartbreak (a man watching his friend get washed away) to the impeccable beauty of traditional Japanese dress and custom. What remains to be seen is the Academy’s reaction to a westerner trying to explore an ageless culture like Japan with the unimaginable and lingering damage of the tsunami into a neat short documentary package.

"Incident in New Bagdad"

Down to the final two, Iraq and Pakistan may be linked by swaths of violence and terroristic perceptions, but the final two short documentaries are wildly different. Springing from the infamous Wikileaks releases, Incident in New Bagdad, James Spione combines underground footage of an unprovoked attack on Iraqi civilians with interviews of Ethan McCord, an Army specialist, who suffers from PTSD and now speaks across the country about the atrocities he witnessed in 2007. While emotionally rattling (the raw footage of McCord running with a injured child is tough to watch), the embittered, disillusioned soldier reminiscent of Poster Girl may prove old hat to the Academy that last year favored the uplifting, child-centric Strangers No More.

Saving Face by Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, focuses on the little known rash of acid attacks plaguing Pakistani women across the country. Tragically underreported by the government, hundreds of woman disfigured by caustic acid have little hope to regain their former visage. But thanks to the courageous work of British-Pakistani plastic surgeon, Dr Muhammad Jawad, the woman can obtain life-saving surgeries to help restore them mentally and physically to their former selves. Focusing on both the personal pain the victims face along with the country’s inequal treatment of women, these could prove to be a huge draw to the Academy. This may just be my pick…

Road to the Oscars Series

January 27: Best Live Action Short – Kit Bowen

January 31: Best Animated Short – Savanna New

February 1: Best Documentary Short – Christa Youngpeter

February 2: Best Documentary – Dantzler Smith

February 3: Best Foreign Language Film – Steve Neumann

February 4: Best Visual Effects – Michael Benedict

February 5: Best Sound Editing – Michael Benedict

February 6: Best Sound Mixing – Joseph Doherty

February 7: Best Makeup – Katie Mae Peters

February 8: Best Costume Design – Jax Russo

February 9: Best Art Direction – Scott Youngbauer

February 10: Best Film Editing – Michael Benedict

February 11: Best Cinematography – Scott Youngbauer

February 12: Best Original Score – Adam Spunberg

February 13: Best Original Song – Adam Spunberg

February 14: Best Animated Feature Film – Steve Neumann

February 15: Best Adapted Screenplay – Jeremy Martin

February 16: Best Original Screenplay – Jeremy Martin

February 17: Best Supporting Actor – Joseph Doherty

February 18: Best Supporting Actress – Angela Stern

February 20: Best Actress – Andrew Payne

February 21: Best Actor – Kit Bowen

February 22: Best Director – Andrew Payne

February 23: Best Picture – Kit Bowen