‘The Revenant’ and ‘Mad Max’ dominate 2016 Academy Awards Nominations

OscarsThursday morning our hearts sank as we tried to find positive kernels amidst sadness and defeat. It was Oscar nomination morning, a time of obsession, hopeful anticipation and, lately, of disappointment.

That disappointment shouldn’t dampen spirits entirely, as there’s plenty to feel warm and enthusiastic about in this splintered lineup, but we shouldn’t use optimism to mask our disapproval. The big letdowns of this lineup involved the Academy typically shying away from diversity, in gender, ethnicity and nationality. The below nominations are largely dominated by the same, buzzed about films, with liberating wild cards all too few and far between. It’s a lineup arguably whiter than last year’s, and without much hope of a woman-led film taking the big prize, reminding us that cinema needn’t tell the narrow stories of privileged white men.

Below is the full list of nominations, with our thoughts on each category.

Mad Max - Fury RoadBest Picture

  • The Big Short
  • Bridge of Spies
  • Brooklyn
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The Martian
  • The Revenant
  • Room
  • Spotlight

Thoughts: CAAAAAARRROOOOOOLLLLL! Well, that cements a fairly gentrified, male-dominant Best Picture race. Pretty extraordinary that Mad Max: Fury Road made the cut at all, though a part of me pines for it to seize the reins of its surprising dominance and become a certified Best Picture threat. It’d be a safer bet to call it a 3-horse race between The Big Short, The Revenant and Spotlight, but there’s still plenty of time for the game to shift unexpectedly.

RoomBest Director

  • Adam McKay, The Big Short
  • George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, The Revenant
  • Lenny Abrahamson, Room
  • Tom McCarthy, Spotlight

Thoughts: Again, hard to mount a convincing argument that Adam McKay did a better job directing than Todd Haynes, but I guess those who left Carol feeling a bit cold had their day. The biggest surprise, aside from once expected winner Ridley Scott missing the director field altogether, is Lenny Abrahamson showing up for Toronto favorite Room. It’s a refreshing inclusion of a rising, brightly humanist filmmaker. He may be the Benh Zeitlin of this year’s field, but at least he’s here. Also, what are the chances George Miller walks away with this? Favorable, I’d hope.

45 YearsBest Actress

  • Cate Blanchett, Carol
  • Brie Larson, Room
  • Jennifer Lawrence, Joy
  • Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years
  • Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

Thoughts: Rooney Mara missing out due to category fraud aside, what a world-class lineup! Five brilliant, dazzling, intimately detailed lead performances, each in films that deserved to be bigger presences in the Best Picture race. I can hardly feel sore about any one of these winning, though Brie Larson and Saoirse Ronan are likely on top of this race. Excited for the group picture of Blanchett and Rampling wrapped around their bright, beloved little Best Actress sisters.

Steve JobsBest Actor

  • Bryan Cranston, Trumbo
  • Matt Damon, The Martian
  • Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant
  • Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs
  • Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

Thoughts: Forgive me for the snarly attitude, but of all the fields this year, none disappoint me quite as fully as the male performance brackets; races starving for diversity that have crusted over with thick, masculine ego. If only they’d have sprung for a Jacob Trembley (Room), Michael B. Jordan (Creed), Tom Courtenay (45 Years) or Abraham Attah (Beasts of No Nation).

Upset over category fraud? Let's talk it over.

Best Supporting Actress

  • Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight
  • Rooney Mara, Carol
  • Rachel McAdams, Spotlight
  • Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl
  • Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

Thoughts: Not the brave, extraordinary field that the Best Actress field is, Supporting Actress is ultimately the brain-child of this year’s most egregious category-fraud cases. I’d honestly rather have Mara and Vikander shifted off the lineup altogether if it brought an end to this type of shady campaigning. Meanwhile Spotlight strengthened its Best Picture claim with a nod for Rachel McAdams, merely fine and serviceable in her film. I’m curious if, without category placement being a question anymore, Mara could give Winslet a run for prize. It’d be nice to see the Carol crew not go home empty-handed.

CreedBest Supporting Actor

  • Christian Bale, The Big Short
  • Tom Hardy, The Revenant
  • Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight
  • Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies
  • Sylvester Stallone, Creed

Thoughts: Again, I’m fairly disappointed by this plain, unimaginative field, scooped from the Best Picture nominees and reigning frontrunner Sylvester Stallone. No Paul Dano (Love & Mercy). No Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation). No Benicio Del Toro (Sicario). As male-centric as this year’s nominees are, this isn’t a strong showcase of the great male performances of 2015.

Straight Outta ComptonBest Original Screenplay

  • Bridge of Spies
  • Ex Machina
  • Inside Out
  • Spotlight
  • Straight Outta Compton

Thoughts: Ex Machina was perhaps the only wild card of this year’s nominations, showing up on waves of enthusiasm and support. Only two of these nominees are Best Picture players, much to the chagrin of Pixar’s psychological adventure Inside Out and F. Gary Gray’s NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton, both of which this writer would describe as schematically etched out screenplays leaving room for more specificity. This seems safely in Spotlight‘s pocket, given that much of the film’s dense power comes from its screenplay.

BrooklynBest Adapted Screenplay

  • The Big Short
  • Brooklyn
  • Carol
  • The Martian
  • Room

Thoughts: If only we lived in a world where there were this were filled with Best Picture nominees. At least Carol gets the street-cred of being the most nominated film post-expansion not to make the Best Picture field. It also speaks to a packed Oscar race, particularly in this category. The heavy-weights seem to be Adam McKay’s The Big Short, a rapid-fire, all-over-the-place effort, and The Martian, a charismatic, handsomely charming western.

When Marnie Was ThereBest Animated Feature

  • Anomalisa
  • Boy and the World
  • Inside Out
  • Shaun the Sheep Movie
  • When Marnie Was There

Thoughts: The widest smile of my morning came from seeing When Marnie Was There on this quite superb list. It’s quite an incredible field when Inside Out starts to feel like the square of the group. What distinctive, delightful batch!

The Look of SilenceBest Documentary Feature

  • Amy
  • Cartel Land
  • The Look of Silence
  • What Happened, Miss Simone?
  • Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom

Thoughts: I’m glad two of my big blind spots here, What Happened, Miss Simone? and Winter on Fire, are readily available on Netflix. I haven’t caught up with Cartel Land, but I can happily sign off on Amy and The Look of Silence, the year’s best documentary features by some distance.

Son of SaulBest Foreign Language Film

  • Embrace of the Serpent
  • Mustang
  • Son of Saul
  • Theeb
  • A War

Thoughts: I am not cold to this lineup, though as of yet I’ve seen none of them. Expect Son of Saul to walk away with this one, but do try seeking out the whole array of players before the ceremony.

CarolBest Cinematography

  • Carol
  • The Hateful Eight
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The Revenant
  • Sicario

Thoughts: Few big surprises here, though I can’t complain about the handsome craft of Sicario, the dynamism of Mad Max: Fury Road, or the disarming, ethereal grain of Carol. Robert Richardson’s lensing of The Hateful Eight is stifled by its very claustrophobic set-up;¬†Emmanuel Lubezki’s The Revenant work, stifled by Inarritu’s blind ambition.

CinderellaBest Costume Design

  • Carol
  • Cinderella
  • The Danish Girl
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The Revenant

Thoughts: This is the most bizarre Revenant mention, particularly given the glorious work omitted from this category in its favor – Far From the Madding Crowd, The Assassin, Brooklyn. Carol, Cinderella and The Danish Girl felt intelligently, extravagantly and floridly assured, respectively, the former two stitched lavishly together by Sally Potter, who damn well better take this award home for something. The delight of the group was Mad Max: Fury Road, its character-ful concoctions doubling the manic joy of its experience.

SpotlightBest Film Editing

  • The Big Short
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The Revenant
  • Spotlight
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Thoughts: For a brief moment, everyone thought Star Wars might be nominated for Best Picture again. Film Editing will do that. There are few particularly subtle examples of editing in this field, The Big Short and Mad Max: Fury Road both representing fiercely energetic resolve in the editing room. The Revenant and Star Wars both felt like anxious, under-cooked films in terms of editing. Spotlight, meanwhile, is such an densely detail-driven script that the editing has to keep the endeavor focused and streamlined.

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and DisappearedBest Makeup and Hairstyling

  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared
  • The Revenant

Thoughts: Two slices of grizzled Tom Hardy and an obscure Swedish comedy fronted by old age makeup. I think it’s time to expand this category to five. It’s not as minor a field, or race, as the 3-nomination long ballot suggests.

SicarioBest Original Score

  • Thomas Newman, Bridge of Spies
  • Carter Burwell, Carol
  • Ennio Morricone, The Hateful Eight
  • Johann Johannson, Sicario
  • John Williams, Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Thoughts: Looks like John Williams was nominated twice this year after all, considering the drippy Williams impersonation Newman is pulling on his Bridge of Spies score. This seems like Morricone’s for the taking – his brand is too distinct and bewildering to ignore – but I’m glad they saw fit to nominate Johann Johannson’s exciting, unconventional score for Sicario.

Fifty Shades of GreyBest Original Song

  • “Earned It”, Fifty Shades of Grey
  • “Manta Ray”, Racing Extinction
  • “Simple Song #3”, Youth
  • “Till It Happens To You”, The Hunting Ground
  • “Writing’s On the Wall”, Spectre

Thoughts: If there’s a case to be made for the extinction of this category – which I rather like – this year made it. Five films, none nominated in any other category. I think Lady Gaga and Diane Warren have this in the bag for sexual assault survivors balled “Till It Happens To You”. Personally, I’m not sure any nominee is as movingly composed or thematically presented in its film as “Earned It” in Fifty Shades of Grey (Though I’d turn it over for “Love Me Like You Do”. Buried in this race, however, is a monumental first: Antony Hegarti, who worked on Racing Extinction is the first transgender person ever nominated for an Oscar! So that’s big.

The Danish GirlBest Production Design

  • Bridge of Spies
  • The Danish Girl
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The Martian
  • The Revenant

Thoughts: One of my biggest issues with this list of nominations is how exclusively the tech categories feel divided between the same small group of films. Production Design hardly feels like a strong suit for such a wilderness immersed feature like The Revenant, or such a work of scientific accuracy like The Martian. Couldn’t those slots have made room for less expected choices, like The Assassin?

The RevenantBest Sound Editing

  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The Martian
  • The Revenant
  • Sicario
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Thoughts: I’m glad Sicario‘s here, a work not of Oscar proliferation, but intense, hard-edged craft. Not that Mad Max isn’t but when a certain number of films steamroll the tech categories, it’s difficult to feel passionate. The Revenant will probably take at least one of these.

Star Wars - The Force AwakensBest Sound Mixing

  • Bridge of Spies
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The Martian
  • The Revenant
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Thoughts: Same, but with less Sicario enthusiasm, so even harder to find passion.

Ex MachinaBest Visual Effects

  • Ex Machina
  • Mad Max: Fury Road
  • The Martian
  • The Revenant
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Thoughts: I don’t have to write about Avengers: Age of Ultron or Jurassic World as Oscar contenders, while the minimalism of¬†Ex Machina breaks through! What a day. What a lovely day!!!! If only Under the Skin were so lucky last year.

World of TomorrowBest Animated Short Film

  • Bear Story
  • Prologue
  • Sanjay’s Super Team
  • We Can’t Live Without Cosmos
  • World of Tomorrow

Thoughts: Can’t say much for three of these, but Don Hertzfeldt! World of Tomorrow is now on Netflix! Have fun losing hours of your day obsessively watching this 16-minute marvel!

Best Documentary – Short Subject

  • Body Team 12
  • Chau. Beyond the Lines
  • Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah
  • The Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness
  • Last Day of Freedom

Best Live-Action Short Film

  • Ave Maria
  • Day One
  • Everything Will Be Okay
  • Shok
  • Stutterer

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