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7 Things We Learned from 10 Oscar Shortlists: Never Underestimate Netflix

Meanwhile, Billie Eilish had a good day, with shortlist mentions for both her documentary feature and Best Song for "No Time to Die."

DON'T LOOK UP (L to R)  LEONARDO DICAPRIO as DR. RANDALL MINDY, JENNIFER LAWRENCE as KATE DIBIASKY. Cr. NIKO TAVERNISE/NETFLIX © 2021

“Don’t Look Up”

NIKO TAVERNISE/NETFLIX

This year’s 10 Oscar shortlists are voted on by six branches of the Academy — Music, Documentary, Animation and Shorts, VFX, Makeup and Hairstyling and, for the first time, Sound — as well as willing members from all over the world able to watch a minimum of a dozen qualifying international features. Parsing these shortlists reveals the strengths and weaknesses of Oscar contenders heading into the final round of voting for the final five nominations, which begins on Thursday, January 27, 2022, and ends on February 1, 2022. Nominations are announced on Tuesday, February 8, 2022.

With the calendar back to normal, more Oscar voters went out to screenings and theaters, although many made their selection from a wide range of movies available on the Academy portal. Back in the mix were such postponed movies as Denis Villeneuve’s day-and-date success “Dune” and Steven Spielberg’s success d’estime “West Side Story,” along with a smattering of arthouse and streaming fare. Clearly, many Academy voters are in the Netflix habit. That’s a huge advantage on the road to an Oscar nomination: getting your movie seen.

The full shortlists are here.

1. Never underestimate Netflix
The streamer’s relentless awards team pursued every category, landing 16 shortlist slots across 13 films. They grabbed three shortlist Best Song spots for H.E.R. song “Automatic Woman” from Halle Berry’s directorial debut “Bruised,” Kid Cudi and JAY-Z’s “Guns Go Bang” from period western “The Harder They Fall,” and Ariana Grande and Kid Cudi’s “Just Look Up” from Adam McKay end-of-the-world comedy “Don’t Look Up.” The latter two also landed Score slots, along with Jonny Greenwood’s score for Jane Campion western “The Power of the Dog” (he also landed a slot for Neon’s “Spencer”).

Netflix also landed two out of 15 International slots (Mexico’s “Prayers for the Stolen” and Italy’s “Hand of God,” from Oscar-winner Paolo Sorrentino), two out of 10 Sound slots (“The Power of the Dog”  and Lin-Manuel Miranda musical “Tick, Tick, Boom”), one out of 15 documentary slots (Robert Greene’s “Procession”), and one out of 10 animated short slots (Aardman’s “Robin Robin”).

Netflix also notched four shortlisted films in the documentary short category — “Audible,” “Camp Confidential: America’s Secret Nazis,” “Lead Me Home,” and “Three Songs for Benazir.”

Sing 2 Illumination

“Sing 2” Ash (Scarlett Johansson) and Clay (Bono)

Universal

2. Never overestimate the Music branch — or Diane Warren
Notorious for strange out-of-the-box choices, this year’s voters not only went for “Bruised” but nominated long-overdue songwriter (and tireless self-promoter) Diane Warren for “Somehow You Do” from Rodrigo Garcia’s little-seen Sundance indie “Four Good Days.” The music branch is determined to get Warren her long-overdue Oscar after 12 nominations.

Animated films always pull a few songs, including Bono and U2’s “Your Song My Life” from “Sing 2” and “Dos Oruguitas” from “Encanto,” which also landed in Best Score. Another musical landed a slot for the Amandla Stenberg tearjerker “The Anonymous Ones,” from the much-maligned “Dear Evan Hansen.”

A notable omission was “Cyrano” for Score and Song (“Every Letter”); apparently, Matt Berninger, Carin Besser, Aaron Dessner, and Bryce Dessner’s The National doesn’t register with the music branch.

To their credit, music voters also included a song from a documentary, Brian Wilson’s “Right Where I Belong” from “Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road.” Inevitably, music stars score slots, from Ireland’s Bono and Northern Ireland’s Van Morrison (“Down to Joy” from “Belfast”) to Beyoncé Knowles-Carter and Dixson’s “Be Alive” from “King Richard.” There’s also Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson, who may be struggling to land her second Best Actress nod for playing Aretha Franklin in “Respect,” but could nab a consolation prize for her song “Here I Am (Singing My Way Home),” written with Jamie Alexander Hartman and Carole King.

It’s a sign of strength that two indies landed Song slots, the Sparks Brothers’ “So May We Start” from “Annette” (Amazon) and “Beyond the Shore” from Sundance prize-winner “CODA” (Apple TV+).

Expect Billie Eilish’s “No Time to Die” from the latest Bond film to lead the final nominations field.

"The Power of the Dog"

“The Power of the Dog”

Netflix

As for Original Score, the shortlist is marked by experimentation, invention, and representation of color. There’s Hans Zimmer’s frontrunning “Dune,” which conveyed the beauty and danger of the Arrakis desert planet, driven by a choir of female voices; Jonny Greenwood’s “The Power of the Dog,” which twisted orchestral instruments into unique sounds to convey Benedict Cumberbatch’s loneliness, isolation, and yearning; Kris Bowers’“King Richard,” which evoked the sound and feeling of tennis through strings, harp, piano, prepared piano, and percussion; Carter Burwell’s “The Tragedy of Macbeth,” which conveyed the sense of dense black and silky gray to complement the monochromatic visuals; Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe’s “Candyman,” which delivered a visceral soundscape in tune with the movie’s urban legend about racist violence; Jeymes Samuel for his all-Black western, “The Harder They Fall,” which contained a multi-genre mash-up; and Nicholas Britell for his offbeat “Don’t Look Up,” which utilized toy piano, banjo, and mandolin.

In addition, Zimmer also made the shortlist for “No Time to Die,” containing an appropriate John Barryesque vibe for Daniel Craig’s farewell as James Bond (with nice nods to “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”), as did Greenwood for “Spencer,” Pablo Larraín’s fable about the painful Christmas holiday of ’91 for Kristen Stewart’s Princess Diana, which is filled with the colorful chaos of jazz set against a traditional orchestra.

Also noteworthy was the inclusion of Spanish composer Alberto Iglesias (winner of the LA Film Critics Award) for Pedro Almodóvar’s “Parallel Mothers”; two-time Oscar winner Alexandre Desplat for his jazz-induced “The French Dispatch”; Nicholas Britell for “Don’t Look Up”; Germaine Franco for Disney’s animated musical, “Encanto,” the studio’s first woman composer to score an animated feature; and Daniel Hart for David Lowery’s “The Green Knight.”

Nominations will likely go to “Dune,” “The Power of the Dog,” “Parallel Mothers,” “King Richard,” and “The Tragedy of Macbeth.”

WEST SIDE STORY, from left: Ariana DeBose, David Alvarez, 2021. ph: Niko Tavernise / © 20th Century Studios / Courtesy Everett Collection

“West Side Story”

©20th Century Studios/Courtesy Everett Collection

3. Sound finally gets a shortlist
The sound shortlist runs the gamut of sci-fi (“Dune,” “The Matrix Resurrections”), horror (“A Quiet Place Part II,” “Last Night in Soho”), superhero (“Spider-Man: No Way Home”), musical (“Tick, Tick, Boom,” “West Side Story), action-adventure (“No Time to Die), and western (“The Power of the Dog”). The odd-man-out surprise is Kenneth Branagh’s semi-autobiographical “Belfast,” about his upbringing during the Catholic/Protestant strife of ’69. Creatively, though, the highlights include “Dune’s” otherworldly soundscape that is hallucinatory yet gritty, from supernatural voices that rattle the mind to colossal sandworms that shake the sand dunes of Arrakis; “A Quiet Place Part II,” expanding the alien creature sound design with a larger vocabulary for John Krasinski’s horror sequel; “The Power of the Dog” exploring a visceral soundscape around the natural world; and “No Time to Die,” utilizing the larger soundscape for Daniel Craig’s swan song, especially for the opening assault on the Aston Martin DB5. Likely nominations should go to “Dune,” “A Quiet Place Part II,” “No Time to Die,” “The Matrix Resurrections,” and “West Side Story.”

“Summer of Soul”

4. It will be hard to catch up with “Summer of Soul” for Best Documentary Feature
Music maven Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s lauded directorial debut “Summer of Soul” (Searchlight/Hulu) is nothing if not authoritative, as he places a heretofore forgotten 1969 Harlem concert in living, breathing context. Its only challenge comes from another film scoring plaudits across awards groups, Denmark’s animated immigration documentary “Flee” (Participant/Neon), which, like Romania’s “Collective” last year and Macedonia’s “Honeyland” the year before, landed on both the documentary and international shortlists. It’s also a long shot for a Best Animated Feature nomination.

“RBG” nominees Betsy West and Julie Cohen landed on the shortlist with “Julia,” their feminist take on chef and television star Julia Child (Sony Pictures Classics), but did not score a slot for “My Name Is Pauli Murray.”

Music docs did well this year, including R.J. Cutler’s observant “Billie Eilish: The World’s A Little Blurry” (Apple TV+) and Todd Haynes’ ’60s culture-fest “The Velvet Underground” (Apple TV+).

Two hard looks at China made the cut: Jessica Kingdon’s visually innovative “Ascension” (MTV Documentary Films) and Nanfu Wang’s “In the Same Breath,” which also deals with COVID, along with Matthew Heineman’s New York hospital immersion, “First Wave” from NatGeo, which also represented with Thai survival thriller “The Rescue,” from “Free Solo” Oscar winners Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi.

Five of these will likely make the final nominations list.

Among the missing were high-profile archive dives from Edgar Wright (“The Sparks Brothers”), Liz Garbus (“Becoming Cousteau”), Lucy Walker (“Bring Your Own Brigade”), and Val Kilmer, who did not direct “Val” but may as well have.

PARALLEL MOTHERS, (aka MADRES PARALELAS), from left: Rossy de Palma, Israel Elejaides, Penelope Cruz, Milena Smit, 2021. ph: Iglesias Mas / © Sony Pictures Classics /Courtesy Everett Collection

“Parallel Mothers”

©Sony Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

5. International Oscar voters love auteurs
As expected, films from established auteurs made the cut, including Asghar Farhadi’s Cannes prize-winner “A Hero” (Amazon), which could mark his third Oscar win for Iran; Paolo Sorrentino’s auto-fiction “Hand of God,” which could be his second win; Joachim Trier’s “Worst Person in the World” (Neon), which won Best Actress at Cannes, and is his third time trying for a Norway nomination; and Fernando León de Aranoa, who could land his first nomination after two Spanish submissions, for “The Good Boss,” starring Javier Bardem.

The two frontrunners, though, are lauded critics’ fave “Flee,” the Danish Oscar entry and, despite its three-hour running time, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s “Drive My Car,” which won Best Film from both the New York and Los Angeles film critics.

Among the missing are French Palme d’Or winner “Titane,” from Julia Ducournau, as well as Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s meditative Tilda Swinton vehicle “Memoria” (Colombia), and “Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn” (Radu Jude, Romania). All may have played better for critics than Oscar voters, and might have benefitted from the usual executive committee “saves,” which were eliminated last year, as soon as voters could see the films online.

Again, it’s all about getting seen.

Timothee Chalamet in Denis Villeneuve’s space spectacular “Dune.”

Legendary/Warner Bros.

6. Always expect surprises from the VFX Branch
The VFX shortlist, as expected, was headlined by Denis Villeneuve’s frontrunning “Dune,” highlighted by DNEG creating the iconic CG sandworms, which cause the entire desert to vibrate like water with the help of custom-built mechanics; four Marvel movies (“Black Widow,” “Eternals,” “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” and “Spider-Man: No Way Home”); “Matrix Resurrections,” which updates the innovative “Bullet Time”; and “No Time to Die,” in which the VFX brought an emotional connection to Daniel Craig’s farewell as James Bond during the high-octane action sequences. They were joined by the video game antics of “Free Guy,” which blurs the line between real and CG, “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” with MPC using CG animation to bring to life the late Harold Ramis as Dr. Spengler, and the surprising animated battle of “Godzilla vs. Kong.”

Left out were “Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” and the wonderful Legacy FX robotic work in “Finch,” the Tom Hanks survival drama.

In terms of securing nominations, look for “Dune,” “Matrix Resurrections,” “Eternals,” “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” and “No Time to Die.”

CRUELLA, Emma Stone as Cruella de Vil, 2021. © Disney+ / Courtesy Everett Collection

“Cruella”

©Disney+/Courtesy Everett Collection

7. Makeup and Hairstyling’s frontrunners are clear
The Makeup/Hair shortlist once again emphasizes transformation: “Dune’s” complex prosthetic work by Donald Mowat on the nightmarish Baron Harkonnen (Stellan Skarsgård), riffing on Marlon Brando’s Kurtz from “Apocalypse Now”; “House of Gucci’s” unrecognizable Jared Leto as the disrespected Paolo, courtesy of prosthetics designer Göran Lundströn; Jessica Chastain as Tammy Faye Bakker in “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” thanks to the creative team of makeup artist Linda Dowds, hairstylist Stephanie Ingram, and prosthetics designer Justin Raleigh; Emma Stone’s ’70s punk look in “Cruella,” courtesy of makeup and hair designer Nadia Stacey; and the return of Eddie Murphy’s Afro-punk look as Prince Akeem in “Coming 2 America,” courtesy of prosthetics designer Michael Marino.

They were joined by “Cyrano,” “Nightmare Alley,” “The Suicide Squad,” “No Time To Die” (Rami Malek’s disfigured Safin), and “West Side Story.” Left out of the running were the transformations of Jennifer Hudson’s Aretha Franklin in “Respect” and Kristen Stewart’s Princess Diana in “Spencer.”

Look for “Dune,” “House of Gucci,” “Cruella,” “The Eyes of Tammy Faye,” and “The Suicide Squad” to secure noms.

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