Oscars Watch 2017: The Less-Depressing Campaign: Whittling Down the Shortlists

Hey everyone! We’re back from the holiday break and it’s time to get things moving. 2016 is over and voting for the 89th Academy Awards begins on Thursday. That’s right, we’re finally here.

There’s gonna be a lot to talk about, but none of that really is gonna start until voting gets underway, and the fight to be on the list begins. There’s dozens of movies that could make any given category (technically, though not realistically).

That is, unless you’re a shortlisting category! There’s a few categories that, for reasons of eligibility or sheer volume, get whittled down before the actual voting begins.

Bolded are the films that I think will be in the category. Italicized are Maybes.

Best Documentary

“13th”
“Cameraperson”
“Command and Control”
“The Eagle Huntress”
“Fire at Sea”
“Gleason”
“Hooligan Sparrow”
“I Am Not Your Negro”
“The Ivory Game”
“Life, Animated”
“O.J.: Made in America”
“Tower”
Weiner
“The Witness”
“Zero Days”

I’m not gonna lie to you. Thank goodness for the shortlists here because if you could pick four categories that I’d be worse at calling (that aren’t shorts), you couldn’t do too much better than these four.

I’m not a Documentary guy, but Documentary follows a lot of similar rules to how Best Picture tends to operate, just with a different medium. It’s about relevance, accessibility, and critical quality. Relevance is particularly important here, it’s a chance for the Academy to make clear what it finds important politically, especially in a year like this.

The two clearest locks here are OJ: Made in America and Weiner.

Weiner ended up becoming one of the most unexpectedly relevant films of 2016, a documentary about the sexual proclivities of powerful men and the damage that’s done, even more interesting once Anthony Weiner again became a player in the final days of the 2016 election, perhaps in the most damning way. The relevance, the enjoyability, and the unprecedented access these documentarians had to their subjects makes this a sure thing.

OJ: Made in America may be a bit controversial for this position. The debate has raged over whether this series aired on ESPN and commissioned by 30 for 30, yet also put out as an 8-hour movie in theaters, qualifies as a film. Well, the intention is that it’s a film, and it got shortlisted as a film, so it’s a film. Plus, OJ Simpson and his case ended up being another one of the most surprisingly relevant stories of 2016 (between this and the phenomenal American Crime Story), so between that and the apparently incredible quality and deep thought about race in America, that makes it a lock as well.

From there, we have Fire at Sea and 13th. Fire At Sea is a story of migrant populations that won the Berlin International Film Festival and 13th is a powerful look into the worst loophole of the 13th Amendment directed by the dynamite Ava DuVarney (giving her some recognition after she got shafted for Selma) that is the most absolutely accessible work on this whole list, being released on Netflix.

Then we have the possibilities. Cameraperson is an undeniably impressive work, but its more avant-garde form could be a bit of a drawback. I Am Not Your Negro is an incredibly well-reviewed work, a darling of the critics, but it’s anyone’s guess how many eyeballs this has gotten in front of.

Best Makeup and Hairstyling

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

This gets shortlisted because pretty much every movie has this in some capacity, you have the expert branch of the Academy whittling down to what’s actually truly exceptional work.

This tends to be one of the categories where bigger blockbusters get recognized, heavy and convincing prosthetic work is kind of the big showy thing that makes it into this category.

In other words, that’s why Deadpool and Star Trek Beyond are here. Deadpool is mostly hinged on the actual effect for Wade Wilson’s skin, considering how much of his time in the film it took up and how seamless and impressive it was in letting him act.

It’s similar for Star Trek Beyond except times like…1000. There’s so many aliens in this film with at least two major character operating under heavy prosthetics. The film has a major leg-up in simply the sheer amount of makeup work going on here.

Then A Man Called Ove is here because there’s always one weird squirrel here, and the lead character is under really heavy makeup and prosthetic.

Hairstyling doesn’t tend to fact

Best Visual Effects

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

This is the other category where big blockbusters get recognized. Interestingly enough, this is the first time in a while that there really hasn’t been a Prestige Picture in discussion, this is a category of big budget studio pictures this year. There won’t be an Ex Machina surprise like last year.

I do think, however, this is Disney’s category this year. Let’s go over why.

Rogue One is obvious enough. Besides the impressive work with K-2SO (and looking past the crime that was corpse puppeting Tarkin), it’s Star Wars. That series has a pass for years for essentially creating modern special effects.

The Jungle Book is the real film to beat this year though. The impossibly realistic and emotive animals and environment almost entirely generated out of thin-air is incredibly impressive, as big a step forward as Avatar. 

Then we have Doctor Strange with its  mindbending “Inception on peyote” visuals that show the superhero film still has room to impress. That “Bending New York” fight alone is gonna be points for it.

Then we have Fantastic Beasts and The BFG. This is just kind of a spitball based on the heavy amount of CGI characters involved in both and the particular sort of impressive that both have to pull off. Nothing else really has a particular WOW factor.

Best Foreign Language Film

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

To be honest with you, I haven’t seen any of these. I missed the one that came into Atlanta when it was here and nothing else has popped by yet. So, this is pretty much just an assessment of what everyone else seems to think, plus the few films that have torn things up critically.

The clearest frontrunner here is Toni Erdmann. An enormously popular film since its first festival drop, I think this is the only one with any sort of momentum without films like The Handmaiden or Elle in the mix.

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