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Oscar Shorts: Get the Scoop on Those Tiebreaker Categories

You don’t need to guess blindly in the Oscar pool anymore — here’s TheWrap’s guide to all three shorts categories

For years, the short film categories were Oscar's annual tiebreakers. Except for Academy members who went to special screenings, many of the films were difficult if not impossible to see; viewers and handicappers were left to speculate about what might win based on titles or subject matter. (When in doubt, look for the one about the Holocaust!) Often as not, the person who got them right was the one who made the best blind guesses.

Oscar shortsBut it doesn't work that way anymore – and by now, if you really want to make informed predictions in the three shorts categories, there's no excuse.

For several years now, Shorts International and Magnolia Pictures have been screening all five nominated animated and life-action shorts, plus other films, at theaters around the country. The program has grown over the years, topping the $1 million mark in grosses for the first time in 2010. This year it included the nominated documentary shorts for the first time.

As in past years, the shorts will also be accessible on iTunes, where six of them will become available on Tuesday, and on cable TV via Movies On Demand. (Pixar's "Day & Night" is the one nominee not included.)

Several winners in the shorts categories have gone on to make well-received features: in live-action the winners have included Andrea Arnold ("Fish Tank") and Martin McDonagh ("In Bruges"), and in animation John Lasseter ("Toy Story"), Nick Park ("Chicken Run") and Chris Wedge ("Ice Age").

TheWrap has surveyed all three of the shorts categories in recent weeks, with thoughts on each film and its Oscar chances.

Animated Shorts: A 3D marvel from Pixar, a couple of kids' books, some social commentary and a travel scrapbook come to life.

Live-Action Shorts: Two student Oscar winners aim at the big prize, while most of the nominees contain twists that turn them darker, funnier or more satisfying.

Documentary Shorts: As usual, the slate is full of dark, socially-oriented docs about dire problems – though history suggests that the winner will provide some redemption and hope with its grim message.

Remember: it's not the size of their films, it's what they do with them.