Oscars: Shortlists Include Few Glaring Omissions as Competition Heats Up

THR's awards columnist breaks down the notable inclusions and omissions from the Academy's unprecedented simultaneous announcement of nine Oscar shortlists.
Courtesy of TIFF
The acclaimed Netflix film 'Quincy' was not included on the best documentary feature shortlist, but is represented on the best original song shortlist by "Keep Reachin'."

With the Academy, for the first time, revealing all of its pre-nomination Oscar shortlists — in the categories of foreign-language film, animated short, documentary feature, documentary short, live-action short, makeup and hairstyling, visual effects, original score and best original song — on the same day, there was guaranteed to be high drama on Monday no matter which films did or didn't make the cut.

But the truth is, the shortlists themselves contained relatively few surprises.

The documentary feature shortlist is always among the most debated, since there are so many eligible films — 166 this year — and relatively few spots. Room was found among the final 15 for all three of the year's theatrical hits (Focus Features' Won't You Be My Neighbor?, Magnolia's RBG and Neon's Three Identical Strangers), as well as the one-of-a-kind film that could pose the biggest threat to them all, National Geographic's Free Solo. The streamers Netflix and Hulu combined to account for one-fifth of the list, with the former represented by Shirkers and the latter by Crime + Punishment and Minding the Gap, all of which are critics' darlings, as is The Cinema Guild's Hale County This Morning, This Evening, the Gotham Award winner. Also included: Spirit Award nominee Of Fathers and Sons (Kino Lorber) and The Distant Barking of Dogs (no U.S. distributor), films about growing up in present-day Syria and Ukraine, respectively; On Her Shoulders, about the young woman, Nadia Murad, who eventually won 2018's Nobel Peace Prize; social-issue films Charm City and Dark Money (PBS); The Silence of Others (no U.S. distributor) and Communion (no U.S. distributor).

Nine of the 15 films were also among the 15 shortlisted by DOC NYC, as curated by TIFF Docs chief Thom Powers. Five were among the 10 featured on the SCAD Savannah Film Festival's annual THR-moderated Docs to Watch panel. And, most interestingly, the inclusion of four of the 15 finalists — Communion, The Distant Barking of Dogs, Of Fathers and Sons and The Silence of Others — was only made possible by an Academy rule in practice for the first time this season: They earned spots on the long-list of eligible titles by winning a qualifying festival award, as opposed to having a theatrical qualifying run. (Of Fathers and Sons subsequently had a run, anyway.)

The highest-profile docs that missed the shortlist include Netflix's Quincy, a beautiful portrait of Quincy Jones directed by his daughter Rashida Jones and Al Hicks (there may have been a backlash to music-related docs after several won in recent years, which is unfair to this one because it's about so much more); Science Fair, which won audience awards at Sundance and SXSW (but may have been undercut by the presence of another science-fair doc in competition, Inventing Tomorrow); The Sentence; Studio 54; Filmworker; McQueen; Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes; The Price of Everything; Eating Animals, featuring Natalie Portman; Michael Moore's Trump-targeting Fahrenheit 11/9; and the long-awaited Aretha Franklin concert doc Amazing Grace.

As for documentary shorts, Netflix cracked the list of 10 with Zion, a film about a legless wrestler, which could prove hard to beat. Also on the list is A Night at the Garden, a movie that employs archival footage to show a Trump-ian Nazi rally at Madison Square Garden in 1939, from twice Oscar-nominated director Marshall Curry; End Game, from two-time doc feature Oscar winner Rob Epstein and one-time winner Jeffrey Friedman; Women of the Gulag, from producer Mitchell Block, a nominee in this category eight years ago; and Period. End of Sentence, a film about access to sanitary pads in India, which was produced by veteran awards strategist Lisa Taback, who is now poised to snag an Oscar nom on her own. But missing the cut, somewhat surprisingly, are all HBO shorts — this is the first time in many years that the cable network is not represented on the shortlist — and Take Back the Harbor, a film about combating pollution in New York from the winner of this award eight years ago, Roger Ross Williams, and Kristi Jacobson.

It is notable that the animated short shortlist, also comprised of 10, includes Pixar's Bao, which screened ahead of Incredibles 2. Assessments of quality aside, Disney and Pixar account for a massive portion of the membership of the Academy's short films and feature branch, which picks the nominees. As for the live-action short shortlist, it will require further study before a frontrunner can be identified.

The shortlist for best foreign-language film, which was drawn from a long list of 87 titles, includes most of the presumptive frontrunners, led by Mexico's Roma and Poland's Cold War, black-and-white titles from major streamers (Netflix and Amazon, respectively); and famous auteurs (Alfonso Cuaron and Pawel Pawlikowski, respectively, the latter of whose Ida won this prize four years ago). Joining them, as expected, is Japan's Shoplifters, which won Cannes' Palme d'Or; South Korea's Burning; Lebanon's Capernaum, directed by Nadine Labaki, the only female director with a film on the list; Never Look Away from Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, whose The Lives of Others won this prize 12 years ago; Denmark's The Guilty; Colombia's Birds of Passage; and the considerably lower-profile Ayka, from Kazakhstan, which beat out two titles that some loved and others hated, Sweden's Border and Belgium's Girl. It is never publicized — and has not yet leaked — which three of these nine finalists was "saved" by a special committee, which picks three nominees after the shortlist vote is completed. That procedure was created a few years ago to save the Academy the embarrassment of snubbing important titles, as had been a problem in the preceding years.

The best makeup and hairstyling shortlist of seven titles, from which three will become nominees, does include the aforementioned Border, which seems poised to follow in the footsteps of two other Swedish films, The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared and A Man Called Ove, which landed mentions in two of the last three years. Vice, in which Christian Bale becomes Dick Cheney, and Stan & Ollie, in which Steve Coogan and John C. Reilly become Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, seem likely to join it, although one cannot count of Black Panther, Suspiria, Mary Queen of Scots or Bohemian Rhapsody.

The glaring omission from the list of 10 visual effects finalists is Mission: Impossible — Fallout, although that may have been undermined by the frequent assertions that Tom Cruise actually performs most of his own stunts in the film. The other five Critics' Choice nominees — Avengers: Infinity War, Black Panther, First Man, Mary Poppins Returns and Ready Player One — will compete for a nomination with Ant-Man and the Wasp, Christopher Robin, Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom, Solo: A Star Wars Story and Welcome to Marwen.

Finally, this was the first year of shortlists for best original score and best original song. Apart from Green Book, which was disqualified because it features too much pre-existing music, all of the best original score Critics' Choice nominees made the cut — Black Panther, First Man, If Beale Street Could Talk, Isle of Dogs and Mary Poppins Returns. Excepting Beale Street, those were also Golden Globe nominees, as was A Quiet Place, which also made the list of 15 here, as did Annihilation, Avengers: Infinity War, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, BlacKkKlansman (Spike Lee's longtime collaborator Terence Blanchard has never been Oscar-nominated), Crazy Rich Asians, The Death of Stalin, Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, Ready Player One and Vice.

As for the original song shortlist of 15, expect some big names to hit the campaign trail between now and the close of Oscar nomination voting (which runs Jan. 7-14), since several now have a reason to believe they are within spitting distance of a nom. These include Critics' Choice and Golden Globe double-nominees "All the Stars" from Black Panther (Kendrick Lamar), "Girl in the Movies" from Dumplin' (Dolly Parton) and "Shallow" from A Star Is Born (Lady Gaga and Mark Ronson), plus Critics' Choice nominees "The Place Where Lost Things Go" and "Trip a Little Light Fantastic" from Mary Poppins Returns (Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman) and "I'll Fight" from RBG (Diane Warren is hoping to land her 10th Oscar nom and first win for this anthem) and Golden Globe nominee "Revelation" from Boy Erased (Jonsi and Troye Sivan). Also in contention: "When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings" from The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, "Treasure" from Beautiful Boy, "We Won't Move" from The Hate U Give, "Keep Reachin'" from Quincy (Ronson with Quincy Jones), "A Place Called Slaughter Race" from Ralph Breaks the Internet (Alan Menken), "OYAHYTT" from Sorry to Bother You (Boots Riley), "Suspirium" from Suspiria and "The Big Unknown" from Widows. The most glaring omission: Golden Globe nominee "Requiem for a Private War" from A Private War, which was written and performed by previous Oscar winner Annie Lennox.

The branches will determine their final Oscar nominees next month and announce their nominees on Jan. 22. Then, the 8,104 active members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will pick the winners in all categories, which will be revealed on the 91st Oscars telecast on Feb. 24. A host has yet to be chosen.