It won’t exactly be on a par with Oscars nominations morning, but Monday will be one of the biggest December days in the history of the Academy Awards.
That’s because for the first time, the Academy isn’t systematically doling out the short lists of films that remain in contention. Instead, they’re dropping all the lists at once in a single press release that will trim the fields in Best Documentary Feature, Best Foreign Language Film, Best Original Song and six other categories.
One drop, nine categories, a total of 101 films that’ll get good news and far more that’ll be disappointed.
The strategy of dumping all the Oscars short lists at once has not been greeted with universal approval. For one thing, contenders in the different categories were used to having their individual moments in the spotlight. Music Branch voters, who are facing a pair of short lists for the first time, now have far less time to listen and decide than they used to. And pundits will need to whip up instant analysis in nine categories simultaneously.
But that’s the new rule, and all the lists will be out on the afternoon of Monday, Dec. 17.
(By the way, we hear that the news will come out in the afternoon because the procrastinators on the Foreign Language Film Award Executive Committee aren’t getting together until Monday morning to decide which three songs they’ll be adding to the six-film short list chosen by Oscars voters.)
Here’s the category-by-category breakdown of what will be coming on Monday.
Best Foreign Language Film
Three films seem guaranteed to land a spot: Mexico’s “Roma,” Poland’s “Cold War” and Lebanon’s “Capernaum.” Belgium’s “Girl” isn’t far behind, and voters reportedly adored Germany’s “Never Look Away.” Denmark’s “The Guilty” is a satisfying film that impressed voters, Sweden’s “Border” a twisted one that did the same.
The executive committee that adds three films to the shortlist may be hard-pressed not to take one or both of the two Asian standouts, South Korea’s “Burning” and Japan’s Palme d’Or winner “Shoplifters.” And watch out for the Paraguayan film, “The Heiresses,” which has strong support in both the general and executive committees.
Other possibilities include Iceland’s “Woman at War,” Norway’s “What Will People Say,” Colombia’s “Birds of Passage,” Hungary’s “Sunset” and Romania’s “I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians.”
Best Documentary Feature
The four box-office hits that made this one of the best years ever for nonfiction filmmaking should all land on the list: “Free Solo,” “RBG,” “Three Identical Strangers” and the de facto frontrunner, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” (On the other hand, it’d be uncharacteristic of the Academy not to leave at least one of them off the final list of five nominees, and not entirely surprising if one of them doesn’t make the short list.)
Ever since the doc-branch rules were changed to do away with special screening committees in this category, voters have gravitated toward the films that have gotten the most buzz and received the most nominations for the IDA Awards, the Cinema Eye Honors and the like. That should mean that critical and awards favorites like “Minding the Gap,” “Hale County This Morning, This Evening,” “Crime + Punishment,” “Bisbee ’17,” “Dark Money,” “Of Fathers and Sons” and “Shirkers” will all be in contention. And watch out for the Spanish film “The Silence of Others,” a potential sleeper.
We also shouldn’t rule out documentary legend Frederick Wiseman for “Monrovia, Indiana,” or other well-received docs like “On Her Shoulders,” “The Bleeding Edge” and “United Skates.” On the showbiz doc front, movies like “Hal,” “Filmworker” and “Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blache” have a shot, as does the released-at-last Aretha Franklin movie “Amazing Grace” and the Quincy Jones doc “Quincy,” whose subject has been highly visible on the campaign circuit lately. And I refuse to abandon hope that voters will recognize Eugene Jarecki’s sharp Elvis-and-America meditation “The King.”
Finally, Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9,” the followup to the top-grossing nonfiction film of all time, has been bypassed by nearly all the precursor awards and may well be left off of this one as well. But Moore could still find a way in — after all, he was the prime mover on the changes that led to the current method of picking the short list, and he’s still a strong voice in the doc world.
Best Original Song
The two music categories are introducing short lists for the first time ever, presumably in order to give all the members of the music branch to hear and consider the 15 semi-finalists before voting for nominations. But that means they have less time to consider all the contenders, which this year number more than 70 in the song category.
Yes, we know that “Shallow,” the one song entered from “A Star Is Born,” will make it. And probably at least one of the two songs entered from “Mary Poppins Returns.” The Music Branch’s taste for hip-hop might be tested by “All the Stars” from “Black Panther,” but why wouldn’t they want Kendrick Lamar at the Oscars?
They also have to consider songs from luminaries like Dolly Parton (“Girl in the Movies” from “Dumplin'”), Annie Lennox (“Requiem for a Private War” from “A Private War”), plus two competitive songs from movies about Ruth Bader Ginsburg: “I’ll Fight” from “RBG” (written by nine-time nominee Diane Warren) and “Here Comes the Change” from “On the Basis of Sex.” “Revelation” from “Boy Erased” has a real shot, as does “Gravity” from “Free Solo.” And if they want to get truly adventurous, how about the Coup’s “OYAHYTT” from “Sorry to Bother You,” or Thom Yorke’s “Suspirium” from “Suspiria”? (Would the Radiohead frontman show up at the Oscars?)
The branch is well known for taking care of its own, which can’t hurt past winner Carole Bayer Sager’s “Living in the Moment” from “Book Club.” They also tend to like songs that are performed onscreen — which, in addition to being one more reason “Shallow” will get in, could help the songs from “Hearts Beat Loud,” the quintessential but twisted Disney-princess anthem from “Ralph Breaks the Internet” or the fatalistic cowboy tune “When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings” from “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.”
And then there are songs from Patti Smith and Robyn Hitchcock and Elton John and Arlissa and Quincy Jones and Post Malone and Kendra Smith and Aoife O’Donovan and Imagine Dragons and Sade and David Crosby … It’s a deep list, not a shallow one. (Sorry.)
Best Original Score
As usual, more than 100 scores are in contention, with early awards singling out a group that includes “Black Panther,” “First Man,” “If Beale Street Could Talk,” “Isle of Dogs,” “Mary Poppins Returns,” “A Quiet Place,” “Mary Queen of Scots” and “Green Book.” Most and perhaps all of those should make the list, with other contenders including “BlacKkKlansman,” “Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” “On the Basis of Sex,” “The Hate U Give,” “Hereditary,” “Bad Times at the El Royale,” “Red Sparrow,” “The Predator” and “Solo: A Star Wars Story.”
Best Makeup and Hairstyling
This is a category that’ll likely have three nominees, and one known for nominating films that won’t show up in any other category. This year, that could mean a “Suspiria” appearance on the short list. “Black Panther” and “The Avengers: Infinity War” will certainly be in play — and since makeup designed to make actors look like other people is usually a mainstay in the category, look for “Vice” and “Stan & Ollie” to show up as well. “Mary Queen of Scots” could make the cut too. And will Rami Malek’s Freddie Mercury teeth from “Bohemian Rhapsody” be enough to land that film a spot?
If a foreign film gets in, as one sometimes does (“A Man Called Ove,” “The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared”), it could be “Border,” which turned a couple of actors into trolls.
Best Visual Effects
A committee from the Visual Effects Branch has already narrowed the field to 20 films, so now it’s just a matter of cutting that number in half. The elaborate visions of “Avengers: Infinity War,” “Black Panther,” “Ready Player One” and perhaps “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindewald” and “Solo: A Star Wars Story” are clearly contenders, with the subtler effects of “First Man” and the more retro charms of “Mary Poppins Returns” definitely in the mix as well.
Dark horses could include “Christopher Robin” and “Paddington 2” for their blend of live action and CG figures, and the stop-motion “Isle of Dogs,” which would be following in the footsteps of recent nominee “Kubo and the Two Strings.” Several late-breaking films have a shot as well, including “Aquaman,” “Bumblebee” and “Welcome to Marwen.”
Best Documentary Short
The shorts categories are hard to predict because most of the films haven’t been widely seen. But Academy volunteers have been watching them to compile the three lists, and it’s possible to pick up some buzz from festival screenings and awards campaigns.
Netflix has been a major player in doc shorts recently (it won its first Oscar for “The White Helmets”), and this year it has “Zion,” “Out of Many, One,” “End Game” and “Lessons From a School Shooting: Notes From Dunblane,” at least two of which should end up on the list. The New York Times Op-Docs series has “Dulce,” “Earthrise,” “We Became Fragments” and the wry and well-liked “My Dead Dad’s Porno Tapes,” the only short nominated by both the IDA Awards and Cinema Eye Honors.
Other IDA and Cinema Eye nominees include “Black Sheep,” “Baby Brother,” “Concussion Protocol,” “Fear Us Women,” “Lifeboat,” “Los Comandos,” “Mosul,” “Sidelined,” “Skip Day,” “The Girl and the Picture,” “Volte” and “We Are Not Done Yet.” The DOC NYC short list also singled out “’63 Boycott,” “The Head & the Hand,” “RX Early Detection” and “Take Back the Harbor,” while “Lotte That Silhouette Girl” tells the story of a woman animation pioneer from the pre-Disney days and could be attractive to the Academy.
Best Animated Short
The Annie Awards, the top prize given to animated films, singled out “Grandpa Walrus,” “Lost & Found,” “Solar Walk,” “Untravel” and “Weekends.” Pixar’s big short this year is “Bao,” and Pixar’s big short usually gets nominated. DreamWorks Animation, which has less consistent success in the category, is represented by “Bilby” and “Bird Karma.”
Other possibilities include “La Noria,” “Animal Behavior,” “Crow: The Legend” and “Age of Sail,” a Google Spotlight VR short made by John Kahrs, who won an Oscar for “Paperman.” “Raccoon and the Light,” “Daisy,” “The Green Bird” and “Re-Gifted” qualified by winning Student Academy Awards, while “The Driver Is Red” won the industry prize at theWrap’s ShortList Film Festival.
Best Live-Action Short
In a category where it’s almost impossible to get an overview of the field unless you’re a festival shorts programmer, standouts include “Fauve,” “Wren Boys,” “Skin” and “Bonbone,” as well as “Souls of Totality,” featuring Tatiana Maslany, and “Dear Chickens,” with Philip Baker Hall.
Timely films about the refugee crisis in Europe include “Bismillah” and “Magic Alps,” and Student Academy Award qualifiers are “Spring Flower,” “Lalo’s House,” “This Is Your Cuba,” “Get Ready With Me,” “Almost Everything” and “A Siege”; if history is any guide, at least one of them will make the list.
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