3:02pm PT by Scott Feinberg
Oscars: Deciphering Shortlists With Foreign-Language Docs, a Lot of 'Jingle Jangle' and "Wuhan Flu"
Well, predicting the nominees for nine of the 24 Oscar categories just got a little easier. On Tuesday afternoon, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced its shortlists for best documentary feature, international feature, makeup and hairstyling, original score, original song, visual effects, documentary short, animated short and live-action short. And, as you might imagine, there are a lot of noteworthy inclusions and omissions to talk about.
An unprecedented 238 documentary features and 93 international features were vying to advance to their respective shortlists of 15 — and, notably, two films made the cut for both: Collective, a doc from Romania about corruption in that country's healthcare industry; and The Mole Agent, a doc about a man who goes undercover in a Chilean nursing home. Only two prior films, 2011's Pina and 2019's Honeyland, landed on both shortlists.
The 13 other titles on the doc feature shortlist include long-presumed frontrunners Time (Amazon), which depicts the impact of a harsh prison sentence on one family over many years; Crip Camp (Netflix), about a generation of activists who emerged from a 1970s summer camp for children with disabilities; The Truffle Hunters (Sony Classics), which follows the old men and their dogs who hunt for white mushrooms in Italy; Welcome to Chechnya (HBO), about LGBTQ abuse in the titular Russian republic; Boys State (Apple), a portrait of a student government gathering in Texas; Dick Johnson Is Dead (Netflix), in which the director confronts the inevitability of her father's death; and the voter suppression doc All In: The Fight for Democracy (Amazon), which prominently features Stacey Abrams.
Also advancing: 76 Days (the first-ever film on this shortlist for ex-HBO docs chief Sheila Nevins' young MTV Documentary Films), The Painter and the Thief (Neon), My Octopus Teacher (Netflix), Gunda (Neon), MLK/FBI (IFC) and another film that was an international feature entry, but did not make the cut in that category, Italy's Notturno (Super LTD).
Among the most notable doc feature omissions are two timely films from past winners of the category, Bryan Fogel's The Dissident, whose film may have been undercut by the presence of another film about the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Kingdom of Silence (Showtime), which also missed; and Alex Gibney's COVID chronicle Totally Under Control, which was co-directed by Ophelia Harutyunyan and Suzanne Hillinger.
Also missing: The Social Dilemma (Netflix), a widely discussed film about the dangers of social media; On the Record (HBO Max), which documented sexual misconduct in the music biz; The Human Factor (Sony Classics), from Dror Moreh, whose earlier film about the Middle East peace process was nominated; I Am Greta (Hulu), a behind-the-scenes look at climate activist Greta Thunberg; two films by the talented Dawn Porter, The Way I See It (Focus) and John Lewis: Good Trouble (Magnolia/Participant); The Fight (Magnolia/Topic); Ron Howard's Rebuilding Paradise (Nat Geo); and City Hall (Zipporah), meaning that the legendary 2016 honorary Oscar recipient Frederick Wiseman, 91, will go another year without his first Oscar nomination.
In something of a rarity, there are no shocking omissions from the international feature shortlist — go back and see how many years I have been able to say that! Present are Golden Globe and Critics Choice nominees Another Round (Denmark), Two of Us (France) and La Llorona (the first-ever shortlisted film from Guatemala). Two high-profile non-English-language films that received Globe and Critics Choice noms, Korean-language Minari and Italian-language The Life Ahead, were not eligible for Oscar recognition, the former because it's an American production and the latter because Italy opted to instead submit the aforementioned Notturno (which was not nominated in this category).
The rest of the shortlist includes Tunisia's first-ever shortlisted film, The Man Who Sold His Skin, and buzzed-about titles from Taiwan (A Sun), Russia (Dear Comrades!), Ivory Coast (Night of the Kings), Norway (Hope, which is now being adapted into an English-language series by Nicole Kidman), Iran (Sun Children), Czech Republic (Charlatan), Hong Kong (Better Days), Bosnia/Herzogovina (Quo Vadis, Aida?) and Mexico (Netflix's I'm No Longer Here, which has been touted by "the Three Amigos").
The two music categories are always closely watched, since they involve a lot of big-name contenders. And, sure enough, this year's original song shortlist of 15 includes tunes written by, among others, Janelle Monáe ("Turntables" from the doc All In: The Fight for Democracy), Mary J. Blige ("See What You've Done" from Belly of the Beast), Leslie Odom Jr. (Golden Globe and Critics Choice nominee "Speak Now" from One Night in Miami), H.E.R. (Globe and Critics Choice nominee "Fight for You" from Judas and the Black Messiah), Celeste (Globe nominee "Hear My Voice" from The Trial of the Chicago 7) and Christina Aguilera ("Loyal Brave True" from Mulan) — and two from John Legend ("Never Break" from the doc Giving Voice and "Make It Work" from Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey).
The rest of the list is filled out by two songs written by perennial Oscar bridesmaid Diane Warren, "Io Si (Seen)" from The Life Ahead (a Globe and Critics Choice nominee ) and "Free" from The One and Only Ivan, "Green" from Sound of Metal, "Show Me Your Soul" from Mr. Soul!, "Rain Song" from Minari and two numbers from laugh-out-loud comedies: Critics Choice nominee "Husavik" from Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga" (which star Will Ferrell promised me he would sing on the Oscars if it is nominated) and "Wuhan Flu Song" from Borat Subsequent Moviefilm (the MAGA gun rally performance of which almost led to the lynching of Sacha Baron Cohen).
MIA: Andra Day's Globe and Critics Choice nominee "Tigress & Tweed" from The United States vs. Billie Holiday, Taylor Swift's "Only the Young" from the doc Miss Americana, Justin Timberlake's "Just Sing" from Trolls: World Tour (he was nominated for the prior installment's "Can't Stop the Feeling!"), Critics Choice nominee "Everybody Cries" from The Outpost and Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo's "I Love Boobies" from Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar.
Which brings us to original scores. Among the shortlisted 15 are all of the usual suspects: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross' Mank and Soul (the latter of which they composed with Jon Baptiste), both of which are Globe and Critics Choice nominees; three other Globe and Critics Choice nominees: Alexandre Desplat's The Midnight Sky; James Newton Howard's News of the World and Ludwig Goransson's Tenet; Emile Mosseri's Critics Choice nominee Minari; plus Terence Blanchard's Da 5 Bloods, Daniel Pemberton's The Trial of the Chicago 7, Dustin O'Halloran and Volker Bertelmann's Ammonite, Benjamin Wallfisch's The Invisible Man, Gabriel Yared's The Life Ahead and Mulan by Harry Gregson-Williams (who was also a writer of the aforementioned "Loyal Brave True").
If there is one surprise about the list, it is that Elliot Goldenthal's The Glorias was beaten out by Lolita Ritmanis' Blizzard of Souls and John Debney's Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey.
The 10 makeup and hairstyling finalists, which will each be invited to present seven-minute excerpts at a March 6 "bake-off," include four of the six nominees for the corresponding Critics Choice Award, Emma, Hillbilly Elegy, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom and Mank. (The two that missed: Promising Young Woman and The United States vs. Billie Holiday.)
Some expected to see The Prom show up on this shortlist, but it was beaten out by Birds of Prey, The Glorias, Jingle Jangle: A Christmas Journey, The Little Things, One Night in Miami and Pinocchio.
My colleague Carolyn Giardina, our tech editor, has more to say than I will about the visual effects shortlist of 10 titles (each of which will get to present 10-minute excerpts at a March 6 bake-off). But, to me, it is not surprising to find Tenet, Mank and The Midnight Sky on the list, not to mention less acclaimed but large-scale studio projects like Birds of Prey, Bloodshot, Love and Monsters, Mulan and The One and Only Ivan. I'm a bit surprised, but pleasantly, that the list also includes animated Soul and documentary Welcome to Chechnya, the latter of which employs controversial "deep fake" technology to protect the identities of LGBTQ people and their protectors in the titular Russian republic. I would have thought that The Invisible Man would have made the cut, too, but it did not.
Finally, there are the three shorts shortlists — try to say that quickly a few times in a row — of 10 each. I do not profess to be familiar with many of the titles that did or did not make the cut, since I generally do not check out shorts prior to the announcement of the shortlists. But I will say that I am delighted by the inclusion on the live-action list of Two Distant Strangers, a sort of Groundhog Day about police brutality, which I discussed with co-director Travon Free and executive producer Sean 'Diddy' Combs on a recent episode of my podcast (it is still seeking distribution but, in this Black History Month, I expect a streamer to pick it up pronto); and of two impressive Netflix entries, A Song for Latasha and What Would Sophia Loren Do?, on the doc short shortlist, and a third, the 2D If Anything Happens I Love You, on the animated short shortlist.
Nominations voting for all categories will run March 5-10. Nominees for the 93rd Academy Awards will be announced on March 15. And the Oscars ceremony itself will take place — in one form or another — on April 25.