Oscars: Europe Loses Ground and 6 Other Lessons We Learned From This Year’s Short Lists

From foreign films to docs and songs and scores and shorts, the lists revealed a few things about this year’s races

For first time, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences  didn’t dole out its Oscars short lists one category at a time this year. Instead, it released them in one fell swoop on Dec. 17, singling out 101 films that will move to a second round of voting in nine categories.

When the dust had cleared, here’s what we had learned.

1. Europe lost its stranglehold on the foreign-language category. With four films from Asia, three from Europe, one from North America and one from South America, this is the first year since the Oscars foreign short list began in 2006 that a continent other than Europe has placed the most films on the list. (Europe and Asia tied with three films each in 2011; every other year, Europe had the most.)

And after being called out for consistently failing to recognize films from East Asia (including by TheWrap), the Academy put Japan’s “Shoplifters” on the list and, crucially, gave South Korea its first-ever spot on the short list for “Burning.”

(It’s likely that one or even both of those films were placed on the list by the executive committee rather than embraced by the voters at large, but it’s a start.)

2. The doc process unerringly goes to commercially and critically successful films. The 15-film short list in the Best Documentary Feature category includes the year’s biggest nonfiction hits (“Free Solo,” “RBG,” “Three Identical Strangers” and “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”), the biggest winners in other awards shows (“Minding the Gap”) and the films with the biggest buzz (“Hale County This Morning, This Evening,” “Shirkers,” “Of Fathers and Sons” …).

With voting no longer in the hands of small committees that spread out the viewing equally, it’s much harder than it used to be for a more obscure film to be noticed, though the Polish doc “Communion” did it.

3. If the songs are going to be performed on the Oscars show this year, things could get very interesting. At a time when the Academy is determined to bring the show in at three hours, the songs could be expendable — but the artists represented by the shortlisted songs include Lady Gaga (“Shallow” from “A Star Is Born”), Kendrick Lamar (“All the Stars” from “Black Panther”), Dolly Parton (“Girl in the Movies” from “Dumplin'”), Lin-Manuel Miranda (“Trip a Little Light Fantastic” from “Mary Poppins Returns”), Troye Sivan & Jonsi (“Revelation” from “Boy Erased”) Quincy Jones with Mark Ronson and Chaka Khan (“Keep Reachin'” from “Quincy”), Sade (“The Big Unknown” from “Widows”) and even Radiohead’s Thom Yorke (“Suspirium” from “Suspiria”).

4. A movie with lots of songs can still be recognized for score. In the past, the Academy often looked askance at original scores if they were “diluted” by the use of songs. But Ludwig Göransson’s score for “Black Panther” and Marc Shaiman’s for “Mary Poppins Returns” coexist with lots of new songs and Carter Burwell’s score for “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” frequently references old folk tunes like “The Unfortunate Rake.” They all made the short list and at least two will probably be nominated.

5. Makeup artists love making actors look like famous people. Over the last 12 years, Oscars have gone to makeup artists for “Darkest Hour,” “The Iron Lady” and “La Vie en Rose” — and this year, three of the seven spots on the short list went to artists who made Christian Bale look like Dick Cheney (“Vice”), Rami Malek look like Freddie Mercury (“Bohemian Rhapsody”) and John C. Reilly look like Oliver Hardy (“Stan & Ollie”).

6. Netflix remains a major player in doc shorts. The company, which landed its first Academy Award for the short film “The White Helmets” two years ago, is now represented on the short list by “Zion” and “End Game.” Plus, Netflix’s VP of awards, ace Oscars strategist Lisa Taback, was one of the producers on another shortlisted doc short, “Period. End of Sentence,” with her daughter Claire Sliney.

7. This wasn’t a very good year for the Student Academy Awards. Winning a Student Oscar automatically qualifies a film for the big Oscars, and most years see a couple of student winners advancing to the short list and at least one getting nominated. But this year, none of the 15 winning student films made the short lists in the Animated Short, Live Action Short and Documentary Short categories.

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