By John Young
February 18, 2009 at 10:01 PM EST

So you want to win your Oscar pool? Then you have to know your shorts. The Academy Awards’ short film categories are notoriously difficult to predict. There are no precursor awards (i.e. Golden Globes or SAG Awards) to help us gauge whether a film is clicking with Academy members. Furthermore, voters are required to see all of the nominees in each category, and that can lead to surprises. For example, the last four Pixar shorts all lost the Best Animated Short Oscar. Currently, you can watch the nominated animated and live-action shorts at theaters in select cities, or you can also download the films on iTunes. But if neither of those options works for you, EW is here to help. The Academy screened all the animated and live-action shorts at its annual “Shorts!” program on Tuesday at L.A.’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater, and I was there to survey what worked with the crowd and what didn’t.

Best Animated Short Film
To me, it’s a battle between three shorts. Pixar’s Presto, which played in front of WALL-E and follows the slapstick antics of a hungry rabbit tormenting its magician master, brings down the house in Looney Tunes fashion. The French Oktapodi, an equally loopy CGI adventure in which two octopi attempt to escape from the clutches of a chef, crams all the laughs of Presto in less than half the time. And Japan’s La Maison en Petits Cubes (pictured, top), my personal favorite, is an achingly poignant and beautifully animated tale of an old man who must continually add floors to his house as the surrounding water level rises. Any of these three could win, but Petits Cubes is the only one that tugs at the heart. Prediction: La Maison en Petits Cubes (Note: EW’s Oscar gurus, Dave Karger and Thom Geier, already predicted Presto for the win. That’s an equally safe choice, but I think the Academy, which skews older, will appreciate the nostalgic grace of La Maison en Petits Cubes.)

Best Live-Action Short Film
While the animated films felt full of wonder and excitement, the live-action entries seem weighed down by an obligation to be important. Nothing seems more important to Oscar voters than the Holocaust, so this will most likely go to Germany’s Spielzeugland (Toyland) (pictured, bottom), which examines the soon-to-end friendship between a German and Jewish boy. I preferred the French Manon on the Asphalt, which considers the thoughts that might go through a young woman’s mind right before her death. But if the Best Picture nomination of The Reader taught us anything, it’s that you should never count out the Holocaust film, and I won’t here. Prediction: Spielzeugland (Toyland)

As for the short-subject documentary category, well, you’re on your own there. Good luck, PopWatchers!