One of the inarguable patterns that can be gleaned from this category is that American productions have a tough time getting nominated. Best Live Action Short is always heavy on international entries, resulting in a diverse cross-section of story content and cinematic styles. Shorts in this year's race hail from North Ireland, Switzerland, China, Israel, and the UK.
With this category now opened up to the full Academy membership, films with an overt emotional appeal are going to fare well. The Phone Call, which stars Sally Hawkins as a crisis hotline rep and Jim Broadbent as a distraught caller, is a real heart-string-tugger on that front and looks like a frontrunner. The fact that it features recognizable actors -- both of whom deliver moving mini-performances -- can only broaden its appeal.
But nothing is ever cut and dry when it comes to the Shorts, and there's plenty to please all tastes.
Will win: The Phone Call
Runner-up: Boogaloo & Graham
Should win: Butter Lamp
Should have been nominated: SLR
As a bonus, I'll tack on my prediction for Best Documentary, Short Subjects. Unfortunately, these do not get the same theatrical package as the animated and live action shorts, but I can understand why. The doc shorts are typically 40 minutes or longer, and stringing them together comes to well over three hours. Three hours of usually very heavy real-world subject matter is a tough sell.
The only nominee I've seen is Crisis Hotline: Veterans Press 1 on HBO (good stuff). You can read up on all the contenders at various Oscar-covering sites, but it still comes down to guesswork. I'm tentatively placing my chips on Joanna, the tear-jerking study of a terminal cancer patient.