The nominations for the 88th Academy Awards announced Thursday morning befitted a year in which no clear front-runner had emerged. The up-for-grabs feel that has typified Hollywood’s annual awards season should result in an Oscar ceremony on Feb. 28 that’s a little more suspenseful than usual.
Genre films that Academy members usually ignore, such as the post-apocalyptic action picture Mad Max: Fury Road and the sci-fi adventure The Martian nabbed Best Picture nominations alongside more traditional Oscar fare such as the Cold War thriller Bridge of Spies, the period drama Brooklyn and the financial-crisis exploration The Big Short.
Faring best overall was The Revenant, director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s wilderness survival epic, which landed 12 nominations — more than any other movie — including Best Actor for Leonardo DiCaprio, who is likely to take home his first Oscar statue this year. Iñárritu now stands a chance to join the esteemed likes of John Ford and Joseph L. Mankiewicz by winning back-to-back Oscars for Best Director, after taking home the prize in 2015 for Birdman.
In any other year, The Revenant, which also managed to snag a surprise Best Supporting Actor nomination for Tom Hardy, would become the instant early favorite. But Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight, about the Boston Globe’s investigation of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, earned six nominations (including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay) and is the sort of serious social commentary Academy members like to reward.
As expected, Mad Max: Fury Road took the apocalyptic action-picture genre out of the B-movie doghouse by landing 10 nominations, including Best Director for George Miller, who spent 15 years developing the project. The Martian, about an astronaut stranded on Mars, took seven nominations, including Best Actor for Matt Damon. But the lack of recognition for director Ridley Scott, who has never won an Oscar and was not nominated, implies the film will have to settle for technical awards.
Some movies fared better than expected. Room, the adaptation of Emma Donoghue’s novel about a mother and child held in captivity, earned four big nods, including Best Actress for Brie Larson and a surprise Best Director nomination for Lenny Abrahamson. The period drama Brooklyn earned Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay mentions in addition to Saiorse Ronan’s expected Best Actress nomination.
Carol, the critically acclaimed drama about the love affair between two women in 1952 New York, earned six nominations, including Best Actress (for Cate Blanchett) and Best Supporting Actress (for Rooney Mara). But the movie did not make the cut in the Best Picture category and director Todd Haynes was snubbed. He joins Quentin Tarantino, a perennial favorite with Oscar voters whose violent Western The Hateful Eight earned three mentions (Cinematography, Score and Best Supporting Actress for Jennifer Jason Leigh) but no recognition of Tarantino’s direction or screenplay.
Although the bulk of the nominations were expected (Sylvester Stallone’s Best Supporting Actor for Creed, Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander’s acting nominations for The Danish Girl, Michael Fassbender for his portrayal of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs), there were a few surprises no one saw coming, including the Best Original Screenplay nominations for Straight Outta Compton and Ex Machina and Best Original Score for Johann Johannsson’s unusual electronic compositions for Sicario. Most puzzling of all was the Best Original Song nomination for Writing’s on the Wall from Spectre. The song was derided as one of the worst Bond theme songs of all time yet was still favored by Academy voters, proving that when it comes to the Oscars, there isn’t always accounting for taste.