The Academy decided to shorten the time frame and the selection for some categories and then reveal the list all at once rather than separately at different times. The biggest change comes in the Original Score and Original Song categories. According to Variety, this was done (in Score) to give some lesser-known names a shot, given that the same names tend to be chosen again and again. Original Score historically has had a shockingly low number of female composers nominated: for instance, when Mica Levi was nominated for “Jackie,” she was the first woman nominated in the category since Rachel Portman for “The Cider House Rules” back in 1999.
One of the reasons Original Score nominations (along with a few other categories like Editing, Cinematography, and Costume Design) are somewhat easier to predict is that you can rely on well-known names or high status industry people to be recognized each year (like Roger Deakins, for instance).
But I was curious — who are the composers on the short list and does that satisfy that hope that it will be diversified a bit?
“Annihilation” — Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury (up-and-comers)
“Avengers: Infinity War” — Alan Silvestri (very well-known)
“The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” — Carter Burwell (very well-known)
“Black Panther” — Ludwig Göransson (up-and-comer)
“BlacKkKlansman” — Terence Blanchard (very well-known)
“Crazy Rich Asians” — Brian Tyler (well-known)
“The Death of Stalin” — Christopher Willis (up-and-comer)
“Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” — James Newton Howard (very well-known)
“First Man” — Justin Hurwitz (well-known)
“If Beale Street Could Talk” — Nicholas Britell (well-known)
“Isle of Dogs” — Alexandre Desplat (very well-known)
“Mary Poppins Returns” — Marc Shaiman (very well-known)
“A Quiet Place” — Marco Beltrami (well-known)
“Ready Player One” — Alan Silvestri
“Vice” — Nicholas Britell
I am not sure they will accomplish their goal in not choosing well known composers. They still ended up mostly with the well known, or big names, the reason being anyone in those branches will seek out those films to watch because they know the composers. In fact, I would bet that predictions would not shift all that much whether they released this shortlist or not. Those who would predict the category would still predict the big names or the buzziest films. The only big composing name left off from this group of finalists was Hans Zimmer for “Widows.”
A bigger question, in terms of the Oscar race, was asked to me by Awards Circuit’s Clayton Davis on Twitter. How do these lists impact the race overall? My answer is that we can’t really know until we live through it. It’s happened before, according to Variety, for Score and Song:
Interestingly, this is a return to an Academy tradition. From 1950 to 1979, the branch created a shortlist of 10 scores (the exception being 1977, when the list expanded to 23) from which the final five were chosen. The song category did this from 1958 to 1979, choosing 10 songs per year (although, again, 1977 was the exception, choosing only seven pre-finalists).
Here are a few ways I think it COULD impact the race:
1) It gives us an early look at what films we think MIGHT be the “buzziest.” That is, it confirms a few possibilities. For instance, it’s very interesting that both Black Panther and BlacKkKlansman made the short list for Score. Black Panther’s composer Ludwig Göransson spent a month in Africa to authenticate the sound – which is incredible (pictured above). It also shows that, despite the critics, at least for now, Vice is liked enough to like the score. It also shows a wee bit of an inclination to accept Crazy Rich Asians into the fold, which might mean it cracks some of the crafts categories. If, say, First Man’s score had not shown up that would have been telling — but it did show up. And that’s good for the movie.
2) Mary Poppins Returns showed up on the shortlists for Score, Visual Effects and twice in sound, which gives it a big bump. Black Panther is in Score, Visual Effects, and Song. Team Disney has a really good shot at dominating the crafts at least. Although it’s not known whether these films will ultimately crack the top categories, it is looking pretty good at the moment for Black Panther at least.
3) Is this a potential preview of what categories are going to be not shown on the Oscar telecast? The news around the changes coming were sucked up into the popular film category but there isn’t a lot of news out there about which categories will NOT be seen live. Could it be these are the ones they’ll have off screen? We know the shorts will likely not be shown, but what crafts? It’s really hard to imagine that Best Song or Visual Effects won’t be shown, since both are often tied to “popular” films.
4) Does it hurt films that really could have used the bump? I’m not sure. Probably there were a few Best Song contenders who were hoping to have a better shot at making it in. But the other categories? Visual Effects was going to release a short list anyway. I’m not entirely seeing all that much negative effect here. I think, instead, the competition becomes much more fierce in these categories because now they know they REALLY have a shot at a nomination. Imagine, say, if Best Picture was reduced down to 20. Imagine how competitive these 20 would be?
In all of the ways the Oscars have changed, and in all of the ways they will change to adapt to the changing times, the shortlist release, while interesting for sure, doesn’t seem to be all that much of a culture quake. I guess it just makes our jobs a wee bit easier on the predicting side.