By Will Mavity
Unlike in year’s past, instead of sprinkling shortlists of contending films throughout December, The Academy will release all of its shortlists of finalists for Best Makeup & Hairstyling, Best Visual Effects, Best Foreign Language Film, Best Documentary, and for the first time ever, Best Original Score and Best Original Song on a single day: December 17.
In one fell swoop, the Academy will narrow for of the below-the-line races down to a small field of contenders. In Best Makeup and Hairstyling’s jam-packed race, only seven films will make it to Oscar consideration. In Best Visual Effects, only 10. And in Best Original Song and Best Original Score, only 15. For each of these categories, The Academy will sponsor lengthy presentations where voters will view montages of the contending films and choose their nominations accordingly (in the room).
While the shortlists are notoriously unpredictable (seriously…look at Best Makeup & Hairstyling over the years), here is our best attempt at predicting them…
BEST MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING
We’re in the midst of a century-best Best Makeup & Hairstyling field. There are two dozen worthy contenders, and somehow only three will be nominated, unlike every other category. Only seven will even make it to the Academy’s ‘bake-off.’ Nothing is ever a given with these guys. Remember this time in 2012, people were expecting the makeup Oscar to be a battle between “Lincoln” and “Cloud Atlas?”
So what’s a given? Adam McKay’s “Vice” feels like the quintessential makeup nominee. Old age makeup and fatsuits. The film ages its stars Christian Bale, Amy Adams, and Steve Carell stage by stage as the film charts their lives over the course of forty years. And while Bale admittedly gained quite a bit of weight for the part, he was assisted by ample prosthetic padding courtesy of a team of artists that includes multi-Oscar winning makeup artist Greg Cannom. In addition, the film transforms Sam Rockwell and Tyler Perry into a spot-on George W. Bush and Colin Powell respectively.
Next, we have “Black Panther.” A Best Picture contender that features intensive makeup and hairstyling work on nearly every member of its cast. From Michael B. Jordan’s scarring to the river tribesmen’s lip plates and Dana Guria’s scalp tattoos, the film will play incredibly well at the bake-off.
“Mary Queen of Scots” will likely factor in here, given how much the branch loves royalty-centric period pieces. Margot Robbie’s Queen Elizabeth is buried under prosthetics for nearly the entire film, be it pus-filled boils, facial scarring, or deep white powder makeup. Co-star Saoirse Ronan boasts a huge variety of hairstyles. Most supporting men in the film are buried beneath prosthetic facial hair, especially an unrecognizable David Tenant.
The Makeup Branch cannot resist foreign language films with flashy makeup. Look no further than previous nominees such as “Il Divo”, “Man Called Ove,” and “The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared.” So don’t sleep on Swedish fantasy noir, “Border” which transforms its lead actress and actor into unrecognizable troll creatures complete with disturbing prosthetic genitalia. They’re of course not alone in that regard, as Amazon is throwing some serious weight towards campaigning the makeup in Luca Guadagnino’s “Suspiria.” The film transforms Tilda Swinton into an elderly man (complete with a prosthetic penis), as well as a boil-covered monster for the film’s third act. Of course, Swinton is not alone, with at least two other zombie-like creatures appearing, alongside some truly gruesome wound and broken bone makeup on several characters.
After “Suicide Squad” ran off with an Oscar, we can’t sleep on DC films here. “Aquaman,” like “Suicide Squad” uses makeup to transform characters so effectively that many viewers might think them CGI. At least two fish-faced supporting characters are entirely the result of Makeup, while Dolph Lundgren and Amber Heard are buried beneath dyed hair and wigs, all of which are courtesy of the Oscar-winning makeup team behind “Mad Max: Fury Road.” Sony Pictures Classics has been campaigning “Stan & Ollie” harder than any of their films, including “The Wife,” with much of the campaigns focusing on John C. Reilly’s transformative makeup work. The Academy loves fatsuits, and this is a particularly impressive one.
BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
Unlike Makeup & Hairstyling, we have already seen The Academy’s preliminary shortlist of 20 films. So we can firmly remove “Mowgli,” “Annihilation” and “Rampage” from our predictions, as they already missed the first round.
With some of Marvel’s strongest VFX work to date, especially Josh Brolin’s motion capture work as Thanos, “Avengers: Infinity War” is pretty much guaranteed a slot here, even though the VFX branch reportedly doesn’t love Marvel. Meanwhile “Black Panther,” despite having faced some criticism for its CGI in the third act, will likely at least make it this far based on the film’s overall popularity. Disney will likely round out the list with a mention for “Mary Poppins Returns,” which in addition to being a Best Picture contender, boasts a variety of CGI landscapes, even incorporating traditional 2D animation into the real world. And of course, no Star Wars film in history has ever missed the shortlist, so count on seeing “Solo: A Star Wars Story” here. Steven Spielberg’s “Ready Player One” was designed by VFX branch royalty, and is likely to flashy to ignore, especially given how Warner Bros. has run a targeted campaign for the film.
From here on out, the list becomes increasingly tricky to predict. “Paddington 2” has its fans, but Warner Bros has done exactly zero campaigning for it. “A Quiet Place” has proved popular overall with awards voters, but its VFX were criticized. “Isle of Dogs” hopes to recreate the success “Kubo and the Two Strings” had a few years ago with this branch, but its effects are deliberately rougher looking, and animated films frequently make the first round, but rarely make it to the second. “Welcome to Marwen” is reportedly full of flashy VFX, but remains something of an unknown quantity. “Aquaman” boasts better than average reviews for a DC film, but DC films never make it to the bakeoff. Seriously, not even “Wonder Woman.” None of them have done it since “The Dark Knight” films.
Universal is campaigning “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” but people hate that film, and there may be a sense of been there, done that surrounding it. The same could apply to “Bumblebee,” which at least boasts better reviews, but the last two Transformers films have been complete non-factors in this race. And of course, “Fantastic Beasts” merits a mention. But the film’s reviews were dire, its VFX were criticized, and VFX voters have never been particularly friendly to the franchise. Only 3 Harry Potter films have ever been nominated for Visual Effects. “First Man” and “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” may also contend, but their emphasis on practical effects and lack of CGI may count against them (Remember that “Dunkirk,” although it made the bakeoff and was a Best Picture contender, did not ultimately get the Oscar nomination for Best Visual Effects). Peter Jackson films have always performed well with this branch, but the poor reviews and lack of promotion for “Mortal Engines” will likely work against it. So where does that leave us? Our best guess:
BEST ORIGINAL SCORE
We essentially need to throw everything we know about predicting the Best Original Score category out the window this year. Where in year’s past, voters have often fallen back on “Oh yes, I love John Williams, I guess I’ll vote for him, no matter what this score sounds like,” they will instead have to sit in a room and watch presentations that showcase the scores in context with the films themselves, and feature composers talking in-depth about their work. These voters will then IMMEDIATELY vote on the films after seeing these presentations. So, a good presentation will mean everything here.
Still, only 15 films will make it to this point, and presumably, the committee choosing those 15 films will give precedence to composers they like. Which means, count on frequent nominee Alexandre Desplat showing up for “Isle of Dogs,” and potentially “The Sisters Brothers” as well. Look for 5-time nominee Marc Shaiman showing up for his work in “Mary Poppins Returns.” The music branch also seems to like Marco Beltrami, and his surprise Golden Globe nomination suggests there’s a lot of love going around for his “A Quiet Place” score right now. Hans Zimmer is never as much of a sure thing with AMPAS as are some composers, but he should be able to crack a list of 15 based on name recognition for his work in “Widows.” The same applies to Alan Silvestri’s work in “Ready Player One.”
Max Richter may never have been nominated before, but he’s undeniably popular in the music world and has already won at least one composing award this year. Look for him to show up for “Mary Queen of Scots.” Carter Burwell has only been nominated twice, but his name recognition and the fact that his score for “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” is really good should help him get in as well. Previous winners Michael Giacchino and Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross could show up as well for their work in “Incredibles 2” and “Mid90s” respectively as well.
And then we have the films guaranteed a slot based on nothing more than merit. Both Justin Hurwitz and Nicholas Britell have shown up with critics group after critics group for their “First Man” and “If Beale Street Could Talk” scores respectively. Look for overall “Black Panther” love to bring Ludwig Goransson along as well. Terrence Blanchard’s “BlacKkKlansman” score is reportedly popular among voters and has shown up at multiple critics groups as well. From here on out, it’s a crapshoot. Anna Meredith’s “Eighth Grade” score has passionate fans (as does the film). The same goes for Thom Yorke’s “Suspiria” score. John Carpenter could make an appearance for “Halloween” because…wouldn’t that be a cool narrative?
As exciting as it would be to see a posthumous nomination for Johann Johannsson for “Mandy,” The Academy recently ruled that the film was not eligible here. The same goes for “Green Book,” “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” and “The Other Side of the Wind“.
And there is no score in “The Favourite.” You’re hearing a random assemblage of pre-existing classical tracks that Yorgos liked.
So…the final 15? Your guess is as good as mine.
The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald
If Beale Street Could Talk
Isle of Dogs
Mary Poppins Returns
Mary Queen of Scots
A Quiet Place
Ready Player One
The Sisters Brothers
And of course, knowing these lists, everything will get tipped on our heads and a slew of frontrunners won’t even make it to the final round. For now, cross your fingers and wait. As for the Original Song, Documentary and Foreign Language categories, your guess is as good as ours and could go in any direction. Be sure to take a look at our latest predictions for those categories and for the Best Foreign Language Film category specifically, follow Brian Perry on FilmTwitter as he does a great job every year of narrowing down which films each country is submitting and seeking them out so that we gain a more clear idea of how this particular race will shakeup.
In the meantime, what do you see making these shortlists? Let us know in the comments section below.
You can follow Will and hear more of his thoughts on the Oscars and Film on Twitter at @mavericksmovies