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Playing Oscar’s Numbers Game

We’ve got the figures on eligible films in each category, and how animators have the best odds

We’ve given details on the eligible films in the Oscar screenwriting and original-score categories, but what about the rest?

Overall, 274 films are eligible for the 82nd Academy Awards (we have the entire list here), but they’re not all eligible in every category.

“Michael Jackson’s This Is It” (below), for instance, can compete for best picture, film editing, cinematography, sound mixing and sound editing, and art direction, but not for costume, score, screenplay or documentary.

When Oscar ballots in 15 categories went in the mail last week, most came with what the Academy calls “Reminder Lists,” which delineate all the eligible films in each category. In four categories – cinematography, film editing, and the two sound categories – every one of the 274 films in the field were deemed eligible.


But the costume design reminder list, for instance, includes 239 films, leaving out the documentaries and animated films eligible in other categories. Among the films deemed ineligible is “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” Wes Anderson’s stop-motion film, in which the characters wear meticulous hand-sewn costumes. “Where the Wild Things Are,” which had been the subject of some speculation that the visual-effects component of the creature costumes might disqualify it, did indeed qualify.

Art direction, which does allow animated films to compete but leaves out most documentaries, has 251 eligible films.

The acting awards did not come with a reminder list, but the Academy’s booklet of all eligible films, which was sent to voters prior to the ballots, includes 252 films for which cast members are listed. The list does not include “Seraphine,” for which Yolande Moreau was named best actress by the National Society of Film Critics and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association. (Moreau will be eligible next year, if her film has qualifying runs in Los Angeles and New York during 2010.)

The two writing categories, original screenplay and adapted screenplay, qualified 259 films, 153 original scripts and 106 adapted. Some but not all documentaries made the cut here: “The Cove” and “Capitalism: A Love Story,” but not “This Is It” or “Food, Inc.”

The most restrictive of the 15 categories, original score, qualified 81 films.

The numbers, including the categories that didn’t receive ballots last week but had already announced their fields:

Best Picture: 274 eligible films. (list here)
Acting Awards: 252 films, thousands of eligible performances.
Animated Feature: 20 films.  (list here)
Art Direction: 251 films.
Cinematography: 274 films.
Costume Design: 239 films.
Directing: 274 films.
Documentary Feature: 89 films, currently narrowed to a 15-film shortlist.
Documentary Short: 37 films, narrowed to an eight-film shortlist.
Film Editing: 274 films.
Foreign Language Film: 65 films (list), which should be narrowed to nine by mid-month.
Makeup: A committee is currently looking at qualifying films and will release a seven-film shortlist on 1/11.
Original Score: 81 films. (list here)
Original Song: 63 songs from 47 films. (list here)
Animated Short: 37 qualified, narrowed to a 10-film shortlist.
Live-Action Short: 71 qualified, narrowed to a  10-film shortlist 
Sound Editing: 274 films.
Sound Mixing: 274 films.
Visual Effects: 15 semifinalists, which will be narrowed to seven on 1/6.
Original Screenplay: 153 (list here)
Adapted Screenplay: 106 (list here)

If you’re playing the odds, that means animated feature is the best category in which to compete, since a full 25 percent of the eligible films will receive a nomination. And apparently it pays to be an animator, because the next best showing is animated short, with a 13.5 percent success rate.

Documentary short, with a 10.8 percent rate (assuming that, as usually, four films are nominated) is the only other category where more than 10 percent of the qualifying films receive nominations.

Song, foreign-language film, live-action short and documentary feature have success rates between five and eight percent. Everything else is below five percent.

Only 3.6 percent of eligible best pictures will receive nominations, but that’s still better than the 1.8 percent return if this was a year of five rather than 10 best-pic nominees.