The Revenant, the grizzly frontier saga starring Leonardo DiCaprio as a bent-on-revenge, back-from-the-dead fur trapper, led the pack with a dozen nominations as the contenders for the 88th Academy Awards were announced Thursday in Beverly Hills.
Right behind the violent wilderness adventure were two more epic tales of survival: the postapocalyptic feminist action pic Mad Max: Fury Road, with 10 nominations, and The Martian, starring Matt Damon as an astronaut stranded on the Red Planet, with seven shots at the statuette.
There were surprise snubs aplenty. One of the bigger brush-offs of the day was the omission of The Martian's director, the highly regarded Ridley Scott, from the roster of directing nominees.
And check out the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, posted on Twitter right after the nominations were announced. Like last year (when the same hashtag went viral), not one of the 20 acting nominees is a person of color. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, an African American, has been addressing the issue of diversity in the film industry — and in the academy. But the almost 6,000 voting members of AMPAS still skew white and male. There's a long, long way to go.
Too bad for Michael B. Jordan, magnetic and moving as the title character in the Philadelphia-shot Creed. Jordan won the National Society of Film Critics best actor prize two Sundays ago, but he was missing from the list of best actor candidates. Creed, directed by Ryan Coogler (also African American), was definitely best-picture-worthy, too.
Don't expect the Oscar telecast's designated host, comedian Chris Rock, to ignore the phenomenon when the show – coproduced by African American filmmaker Reginald Hudlin – airs on the last Sunday of February.
In all, there were eight (out of a possible 10) best picture nominations. In addition to The Revenant, Mad Max: Fury Road and The Martian, they are: The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, Room, and Spotlight.
The directing category had only five slots. Adam McKay, who grew up in Malvern and is better known for writing and directing numskull Will Ferrell comedies, filled one of those with The Big Short, his smart, snappy breakdown of the 2008 housing bubble and ensuing economic collapse. Irishman Lenny Abrahamson received his first Oscar nomination, for the gripping tale of abduction and parenting, Room. George Miller got his first directing nod, for his relentless, rip-roaring sequel, Mad Max: Fury Road. Tom McCarthy also landed a first directing nomination, for the investigative-journalism drama Spotlight.
The only repeat nominee in the directing bunch is Alejandro G. Iñárritu, who won last year for the tour de force Birdman. If the Mexico City-born director wins again with The Revenant (right now, odds are in his favor), he will become only the third helmsman in Academy history to have done so, joining the company of John Ford (The Grapes of Wrath in 1940 and How Green Was My Valley in 1941) and Joseph L. Mankiewicz (A Letter to Three Wives in 1949, All About Eve in 1950).
The four acting categories were relatively free of surprises, with the majority of names already familiar in Hollywood circles, thanks to endless weeks of guild and critics group awards and last Sunday's Golden Globes.
For actor in a leading role, Bryan Cranston's jaunty turn as the blacklisted screenwriter in Trumbo is up against Damon in The Martian, DiCaprio in The Revenant, Michael Fassbender as the Apple cofounder in Steve Jobs, and last year's best actor winner, Eddie Redmayne, back again, with the transgender period piece The Danish Girl.
The lead actress lineup includes two-time Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett, in the title role of the lesbian love story Carol, and Brie Larson, for her Golden Globe-winning turn as the imprisoned mom in Room. Jennifer Lawrence earned her fourth nomination in six years, for the Miracle Mop inventor story, Joy. Veteran British actress Charlotte Rampling scored her career-first Oscar nod for 45 Years (opening in Philadelphia next Friday), and Saoirse Ronan rounds out the five with Brooklyn, playing an Irish immigrant in early 1950s New York with incredible grace and nuance. (Ronan received her first Oscar nomination – for supporting actress in the 2007 release Atonement – when she was only 13.)
In the supporting actor field, Sylvester Stallone's generous handoff of the Rocky franchise in Creed earned the veteran star a nomination (he won a Golden Globe in the same category _ and flubbed his acceptance speech). Stallone is joined by Christian Bale for The Big Short, Tom Hardy as Leo's non-ursine nemesis in The Revenant, Mark Ruffalo as one of the intrepid reporters of Spotlight, and Mark Rylance as a Russian spy at the center of all the Cold War hugger-mugger in Bridge of Spies.
For supporting actress, Jennifer Jason Leigh was responsible for one of only two nominations for Quentin Tarantino's ballyhooed The Hateful Eight. Her colleagues (and competition) in the category are Rooney Mara as the object of Blanchett's affection in Carol, Rachel McAdams as a member of the Boston Globe team in Spotlight, Alicia Vikander as Redmayne's character's sacrificial spouse in The Danish Girl, and Kate Winslet as one of Jobs' confidants in Steve Jobs.
Josh Singer, an Ambler native, received an original screenplay nomination (with cowriter and director McCarthy) for the powerful reportorial procedural Spotlight.
I could go on about who's not on these lists: For best actor, Johnny Depp (for Black Mass); Steve Carell (The Big Short – though, in a crowded cast, that's barely a lead performance); and Tom Hanks (Bridge of Spies).
Little Jacob Tremblay, who stars opposite Larson in Room, was also worthy of a best actor or best supporting actor nod. The kid, all of 8 at the time this intense, remarkable film was shot, is amazing.
Ex Machina, the excellent artificial-intelligence chamber piece, recived nominations for original screenplay and visual effects. Why not best picture? And The Danish Girl's Vikander could have – and should have – been nominated for her work in the cerebral sci-fier instead. Ex Machina's other two stars – Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac, both part of the ensemble of that little thing called Star Wars: The Force Awakens – should have been recognized, too.
In the animated feature field, Pixar landed its 25th Oscar nomination for Inside Out. Easily the front-runner in the category, the inventive computer-animated film was joined by the low-budget, stop-motion existential drama Anomalisa and by the little-seen Boy in the World, Shaun the Sheep Movie, and When Marnie Was There. No The Good Dinosaur, no Minions, no The Peanuts Movie.
The 88th Academy Awards ceremony takes place Sunday, Feb. 28, at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, beginning at 8:30 p.m. on ABC.