Projection: Oscar – Shortlistin’


We’ve reached that point in the season when, even while we don’t know what films will be nominated (as much as we like to pretend we do), in a handful of categories we do know the pool from which the nominees will be chosen. The field has been whittled down, to varying lengths, by individual branches for these categories:

Best Documentary Feature
Best Foreign Language Film
Best Original Song
Best Visual Effects
Best Makeup and Hairstyling

If we want to get really technical about it, the official “shortlist” has been released for the Best Picture category as well – a total of 336 films released in 2016 have been deemed eligible. So, ya know, we are really starting to narrow it down. Although, to be fair, with the likes of The Brothers Grimsby, the Ben-Hur remake, and, of course, Passengers, all in “official contention,” it’s fair to surgically remove a large portion of this field.

In terms of the categories for which the contenders have been legitimately curtailed, now is the time to survey the potential nominees and determine where each category stands.

Best Original Song

The Best Original Song shortlist still isn’t “short” – at least relative to the four other shortlisted categories – with 91 songs deemed eligible. It’s certainly one of Oscar’s more inclusive categories, as evidenced by scrolling through the eligible titles. For example: a grand total of three songs from La La Land are eligible: “Audition (The Fools Who Dream),” “City of Stars,” and “Start a Fire.” Seems normal enough, until you realize that there are also three eligible songs from little-seen faith-based weepie Believe…and if that stat doesn’t give you Alone Yet Not Alone triggers, it certainly should. Also consider that neither of those films offers the most original songs still in contention. That honor belongs to What Happened Last Night, a micro-budget comedy released in a limited whisper last month, which has four (4) songs on the shortlist. Of course, much higher-profile contenders are in play from the likes of Moana, Sing Street, and Hidden Figures…but no film offers as many potential contenders as the *powerhouse* that is What Happened Last Night.

Such a deep and varied field results in a still-unpredictable final nominee slate. One naturally assumes the two big songs from La La Land will make it in, though with only five slots to fill, it’s possible that one of them could get left out. I’ve been picking “Audition” to win from the start of the season, though oddly enough, I also think it’s the most vulnerable to be left out entirely. “City of Stars” is the most familiar song to most folks, especially considering it led the film’s marketing campaign. Its slot is likely assured. If “Audition” makes it in, I think it wins. Landing the nomination is actually its biggest question mark.

Elsewhere, of the two eligible Moana songs, the best by far is the titular character’s signature anthem, “How Far I’ll Go,” though the widely played “We Know the Way,” performed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, has some cache. But with Miranda providing the music and lyrics for both songs, it’s not as if his potential EGOT is jeopardized either way. I assume only one of the film’s original songs will make the cut, most likely the former. Sing Street has a couple songs in contention, including Drive It Like You Stole It, which has been a critical favorite. Trolls and Sing are essentially regurgitated Top 40 karaoke sessions, though each has an original song in the mix – the former offer’s Justin Timberlake’s widely heard popular hit, “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” while the latter features “Faith,” helmed by the legendary Stevie Wonder. Not difficult to see either or both of those songs getting in. Hidden Figures offers a duo of fabulous songs, “Runnin’” and “I See a Victory,” either of which merit inclusion, specifically the former, which is deftly woven into the film’s narrative with humor and purpose. Animated darling Zootopia has a song – Shakira’s “Try Everything.” So, too, does Sausage Party, lest we forget “The Great Beyond,” but it seems like AMPAS never took the awards bait on the film in general.

Right now it feels safe – though not assured – to assume the top two songs from La La Land along with one from Moana will fill out three of the five nominee slots. That leaves two remaining, probably fought over by the Timberlake, the Wonder, the Hidden Figures songs, and “Drive It Like You Stole It.”

Best Documentary Feature

Now we come to the more manageable categories.

Fifteen titles remain in contention for nomination in the Documentary Feature category. They are:

Command and Control
The Eagle Huntress
Fire at Sea
Hooligan Sparrow
I Am Not Your Negro
The Ivory Game
Life, Animated
O.J.: Made in America
The Witness
Zero Days

First, the omissions. Werner Herzog’s Into the Inferno didn’t get shortlisted, nor did Barbara Kopple’s Miss Sharon Jones! Netflix properties Amanda Knox and Audrie & Daisy also missed. And though it seemed the current political climate might’ve ushered in the likes of Newtown or Before the Flood, that turned out not to be the case.

High-profile snubs notwithstanding, not much about this shortlist demonstrably changes predictions in this category. O.J.: Made in America leads the pack by a country mile, in spite of the ongoing debate, never to be settled, over whether the undeniably powerful accomplishment is actually a film, or a miniseries made for television. Ava DuVernay’s 13th and Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro also feel like sure nominees…though the Doc branch is finicky and unpredictable, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see one or both left off the final slate. Two shortlisted films integrate animation into their harrowing true-life accounts: Tower and Life, Animated. Gleason is extremely visible and very popular. Fire at Sea is a sleeper contender. Cameraperson is topping a lot of folks’ Best of the Year lists, and is maybe one to watch out for in terms of an upset win. And of course, Weiner is about as enthrallingly revealing and ultimately prescient pieces of any art form distributed all year. But no one can pretend this isn’t O.J.’s to lose.

Best Foreign Language Film

As ever, the Foreign Language Film shortlist offers its fair share of high-profile omissions. This year, the likes of Paul Verhoeven, Pedro Almodovar, and Pablo Larrain were left off. Perhaps most surprising is Verhoeven’s Elle, which has been enjoying near-constant notoriety of late, since star Isabelle Huppert has been winning a few Best Actress prizes per week on the critics circuit, and which was widely expected to make the cut here. Almodovar’s Julieta is yet another of the Spanish master’s unfortunate omissions. And for Larrain, who released a celebrated double-dip in 2016, the awards prospects for both films continue to dim. While his English-language debut, Jackie, seems to now peg its Oscar chances almost solely on Natalie Portman in Best Actress, his Chilean biopic, Neruda, failed to make the Foreign Language shortlist.

Nine films remain in contention. They are:

It’s Only the End of the World (Canada)
The King’s Choice (Norway)
Land of Mine (Denmark)
A Man Called Ove (Sweden)
My Life as a Zucchini (Switzerland)
Paradise (Russia)
The Salesman (Iran)
Tanna (Australia)
Toni Erdmann (Germany)

The big one here is Maren Ade’s Toni Erdmann, from Germany, which is the closest thing this category has to a juggernaut. It is, after all, the only 2016 film to merit inclusion in BBC’s list of the best films of the 21st century, and has been racking up Best Foreign Film prizes all season. It’s the favorite, though there are a handful of challengers. Oscar winner Asghar Farhadi is once again in the Oscar race with The Salesman, out of Iran. The Danish entry, Land of Mine, is coming off a solid showing at the European Film Awards (where Toni Erdmann otherwise dominated). Sweden’s A Man Called Ove is the kind of unassuming human story that could triumph here unexpectedly. AMPAS showed Xavier Dolan some love with the unexpected inclusion of his It’s Only the End of the World, from Canada. But the biggest surprise among the shortlisted titles is Australia’s Tanna, which seems so out of left field that I wonder if it actually lands a nomination, just cuz that’s how these things tend to work.

Best Visual Effects

Ten films comprise the VFX shortlist, largely consisting of expected choices:

Captain America: Civil War
Deepwater Horizon
Doctor Strange
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
The Jungle Book
Kubo and the Two Strings
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

You have to cut this list in half to reach your final nominee slate, and it seems to me that four of the choices are cut and dried: Jon Favreau’s The Jungle Book has been THE impressive VFX accomplishment for the first three quarters of the year. Of the late year onslaught, there have been three stand-outs: Arrival, Doctor Strange, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. If that group holds, there’s only one slot remaining to be filled in terms of the nominees (and between the four, it’s an intriguing toss-up to determine the winner). I suppose we could get a Marvel double-dip with the inclusion of Civil War, or maybe the branch goes with a less ostentatious choice, like Deepwater Horizon. But I actually wonder if there will be an unexpected choice, like Kubo and the Two Strings. It would be a little surprising, since both Kubo and The BFG face the debate between what constitutes visual effects vs. animation. But the practical workmanship that went into every last frame of Kubo might be enough to push it to a nomination.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

All about the snubs here. Check out this shortlist:

The Dressmaker
Florence Foster Jenkins
Hail, Caesar!
A Man Called Ove
Star Trek Beyond
Suicide Squad

Now check out this list:

Hacksaw Ridge
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
La La Land
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

The first is the actual shortlist. The second is just a sampling of the titles left out. You might recall that three of the omitted titles comprised my full nominee predictions in this category last week. So much for predictive expertise. Seven films remain in contention, of which only three will be Oscar-nominated. Deadpool and Star Trek Beyond seem likely based on the complex layers of makeup applied…quantity never hurts. Of the others, I might expect the unexpected. Something unassuming like A Man Called Ove or The Dressmaker feels right, maybe even Florence Foster Jenkins. I might actually run with Ove just as a first blush notion to fill that third slot. And for the win…would AMPAS really jump on the Deadpool train?

The announcement of these various shortlists obviously shapes the field and adds clarity, but also offers a broader signal: we are inching ever-closer to Phase Two. Just over a month until nominations are announced. Until then, we keep guessing in the dark…but at least these shortlists shed a little bit of light in the interim.


About Author

I married into the cult of cinema at a very young age - I wasn't of legal marriage age, but I didn't care. It has taken advantage of me and abused me many times. Yet I stay in this marriage because I'm obsessed and consumed. Don't try to save me -- I'm too far gone.