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Oscar obscurities

Picks on the lesser-hyped categories of film excellence



Bet as many Lincolns as you can scrape together on Daniel Day-Lewis taking Best Actor. Anne Hathaway will be carrying away a Supporting Actress gold statuette for dreaming a dream. And you can Argo to the bank on Ben Affleck's film as a Best Picture favorite. In several 2013 Academy Award categories, the only suspense involves what the winners will say in their acceptance speeches.

But if you're having an Oscars party, or otherwise filling out your own ballot for a "guess the winners" game, that leaves plenty of categories where the outcome is uncertain, and perhaps even more where the average person on the street doesn't know how to even begin to make a guess. So come along as we delve into the more obscure categories, to see if history and/or momentum can help us score some prediction wins.

Sound Editing/Sound Mixing: Picking these categories has always been hardest on laypeople, for the simple reason that most of them still don't understand the difference between the two, and there's a lot of overlap. According to a writer for, "sound editors assemble all the sound elements except music and edit it into a soundtrack that is synchronized to the images on screen. ... everything from dialogue tracks recorded on location to sound effects, Foley and ADR, or additional dialogue recording. The mixer then takes the elements of the edited soundtrack and the music and adjusts the volume levels and 3D placement in the theatrical environment."

That should help make it clear why Les Misérables — which made much of the fact that its song performances were recorded live — should be considered the favorite in the Sound Mixing category. Sound Editing has frequently gone to a big action blockbuster, but the closest thing in the category this year is Skyfall. While Life of Pi is an extremely strong contender, and most likely to pull the upset if there's going to be one, the odds are with 007.

Documentary Short: How many of them have you seen? That's what I thought. But unlike in the Documentary Feature category, where capital-I "Importance" can sway voters, history suggests that the winner in this category is the one that delivers the most straightforward, emotionally affecting story. That would seem to work in the favor of Mondays at Racine, by director Cynthia Wade, a winner in this category in 2007, which follows women trying to live normal lives through cancer treatment.

Short Film (Animated): Entries from Disney and/or Pixar have received 10 nominations in the previous 10 Academy Awards, but exactly zero wins. So don't assume the most widely seen nominee, Paperman, which showed before Wreck-It Ralph, is a favorite. But voters do seem to prefer something with a genuine emotional kick over humor or technique, so I'd lean toward the longest entry: Minkyu Lee's lovely tale of the first man's-best-friend, Adam and Dog.

Costume Design: You're rarely mistaken if you assume that the winner in this category will be whatever features the flashiest period-piece costumes, which favors Anna Karenina's Jacqueline Durran this year. Of course, that strategy wouldn't have helped you last year, when The Artist won for garments that weren't even seen in color. And this year, there's the additional wild card of Mirror Mirror designer Eiko Ishioka being up for the honor posthumously. Sentiment could swing the vote for Ishioka, but Anna Karenina just feels too much like the kind of work Oscar can't resist.

Editing: For years, the Best Picture favorite could safely be considered the favorite in the Editing category as well. Recently, though, there's been more divergence, with voters in this category giving the award to movies that really move. Argo definitely has a strong shot here, but I'll go with the multiple storylines that Dylan Tichenor and William Goldenberg had to pull together, plus the tense climactic raid, for Zero Dark Thirty.

Cinematography: Trying hard not to let emotions sway my guess here, because Roger Deakins is a remarkably talented veteran who has never won, and whose work in Skyfall was simply mind-blowing. Conventional wisdom seems to be on the side of Life of Pi's Claudio Miranda as the favorite, for a film that's brighter and more vivid than the darker Bond film. But ... ah, what the hell, I'm sticking with Deakins. What good is all the "being right" if you don't have something to root for?

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