And the Oscar Nominees Are … Surprising?

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It’s that time of year again, the time when we movie geeks hold our collective breath at the brink of Oscar nomination time, wondering what lucky films will be nominated for Hollywood’s highest honor.

Well, the nomination news is in. And some of the choices this year feel a bit, well, surprising.

I’m going to focus mostly on the eight films nominated for Best Picture: The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, Mad Max: Fury Road, The Martian, The Revenant, Room and Spotlight.

Before I begin to delve into what did—and didn’t—make that coveted list, however, I’ll note that The Revenant, a brutal survival story from 1820s starring Leonardo DiCaprio, scored the most total nominations: 12. It was followed by Road Warrior sequel Mad Max: Fury Road with 10; Ridley Scott’s Red Planet rescue, The Martian, with seven; Spotlight (a drama about the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandal) with six and Wall Street thriller The Big Short with five.

The Best Picture nominee list this year, it could be argued, strives mightily to be all things to all movie fans. Big-budget box office spectacle is well represented by actioners The Martian and Fury Road. Grim ‘n’ gruesome grit—always an awards season proclivity—permeates The Revenant. Touching ‘n’ tender narratives unfold in the indie dramas Brooklyn (a sweet story about a young Irish woman immigrating to New York City in the 1950s) and Room (a difficult but deeply poignant tale of an abducted mother and her son). Meanwhile, Steven Spielberg’s Cold War espionage thriller Bridge of Spies joins Spotlight and The Big Short in the burgeoning “based on a true story” subgenre.

It’s an interesting list, to be sure. But just as interesting, perhaps, are some notable films many thought were strong contenders this year.

Perhaps highest on that list is Quentin Tarantino’s latest Western, The Hateful Eight, which has been one of the most buzz-generating films of the last several months and one many observers felt was a lock for at least a nomination, if not outright victory in the hallowed category.

Another critical darling was the 1950s-based lesbian love story Carol, starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. Now, I’m not shedding any tears about this one’s exclusion (nor The Hateful Eight, for that matter), but given Hollywood’s embrace of all things LGBT in the last decade or so, it’s a bit of surprise that this one didn’t make the list.

Where I might have a tear or three to spare, however, is the exclusion of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Now I understand that it may not be an arsty, critical darling. But it was an immensely satisfying film (for me as a long-time fan of the franchise, at least) that would likely have brought a few more eyeballs forcefully to the Oscar broadcast. But, alas, no. I mean, seriously, even Avatar (a vastly inferior film, in my not-so-humble, Star Wars fanboy opinion) got a nom back in 2010. Fan interest aside, I thought the Academy would’ve been interested in capitalizing on the success of a beloved sequel that’s well on its way to making a cool billion dollars at the domestic box office. Guess not.

For that matter, another fan fave that failed to make the cut this year is Pixar’s truly delightful Inside Out. Admittedly, animated films are often an even bigger longshot than sci-fi and fantasy fare, in part because they have their own category. Still, Inside Out was, in many reviewers’ estimation, one of Pixar’s best efforts to date, a psychological and relational journey that worked as well (or perhaps even better) for adults as it did for kids.

Other films that had been considered possibilities but were shut out of the premier category include the latest Rocky sequel, Creed; the border drug-and-police drama Sicario; and the biopic about the influential rap group N.W.A, Straight Outta Compton.

Speaking of Creed and Straight Outta Compton, controversy is brewing for the second year in a row with regard to the all-white field of best acting nominees, with Michael B. Jordan (Creed) and Will Smith (Concussion) failing to earn noms after critically praised performances in their respective films. New York Times writers Brooks Barnes and Michael Cieply say of those omissions, “Without the diverse Straight Outta Compton—last year’s field at least had Selma—the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is certain to face blowback for its selections. ”

So there’s the list for this year. What do you think? Did the Academy get it right, wrong or somewhere in between? What, if anything, surprised you about the choices this year?

Who wrote this?

Adam R. Holz is a senior associate editor for Plugged In. He also writes for Focus on the Family’s Clubhouse magazine and has been a Boundless contributor. In his free time (which there is sometimes precious little of) Adam enjoys playing guitar and constructing LEGO kits with his son. Adam and his wife, Jennifer, are the proud parents, in fact, of three children, one boy and two girls.

Have something to say? Leave a comment.

Anonymous More than 1 year ago
First off I can't judge the nominations based on a viewer standpoint since I haven't seen these films.  But that alone says a lot.  Honestly, I wish I was seeing more wholesome films being selected (which I was thrilled to see several produced this past year) but I am not surprised by their decision.  If I may humbly offer though, I do think though that filmmakers might stop producing such secular films if more Christians took a stand on their convictions and made a choice on what films they support.  Hollywood's goal is to make money, and they produce what is popular.  With over 50% of America professing Christianity, we can make a difference.  I have no desire to be judgmental, but that is a fact worth taking into consideration.  There is a blog article making a similar point that seems insightful.  https://transeptmedia.wordpress.com/

I also wanted to thank Mr. Holz for the effort he and all the Plugged In staff put into writing these articles.  They are very helpful.  Thank you!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I hope your no-go list doesn't include Inside Out, which, though it was passed over for a BP nom, was still nominated  for Original Screenplay and Animated Film.
[removed] More than 1 year ago
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bobed More than 1 year ago
The Academy didn't make the wrong decision in my opinion. Do You Believe was very poorly received by critics. The 33 was received with mixed/negative reviews. Neither were, in my opinion, worthy of an Oscar. Though faith is a very big part of how I judge a movie, I also judge a movie based on how good it is, and in my opinion Do You Believe was corny enough to fill a cob and The 33 was a middling-to-alright yet forgettable flick. 
charitysplace More than 1 year ago
Bit surprised "Suffragette" came and went with no notice. Seems just the sort of thing the Academy would like. Oh well. I loved it.
Caleb Van Nice More than 1 year ago
I think Ryan Coogler should have gotten a nod for Creed. Their was some fantastic directing going on in that film. And Inside Out should have gotten a best picture nod as well.
AryandilMithian More than 1 year ago
At least Inside Out scored a nomination for Best Animated Picture. I would be thoroughly shocked if that hadn't received a nomination in that category at all; it'd be ridiculous.
bobed More than 1 year ago
None of the nominations surprised me - they went just the way I expected. Now it's easily predictable that The Revenant will win best picture unless something crazy happens. As for the new Star Wars, it's no big shock to me that it wasn't nominated - it was a marginally good film at best, certainly not worthy of any Oscars unless it's for SFX. Also, who's Michael B. Smith? Think you might've made an error there, PI. 
Paul Asay More than 1 year ago
Thanks, bobed. All fixed now.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Posted by Smith.

The inclusion of Big Short, and the exclusion of Carol, both stunned me.

In addition, I was very surprised that both Spies and Martian were not nominated, but their respective directors, i.e. Spielberg and Scott.

Leave it to the Academy to keep surprising you.

(This is unrelated, but allow me a word for the late Alan Rickman, a terrific and charismatic actor. Losing him at only 69 is a great loss to us all. 

Sincere regards to his family.)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Posted by Smith.

Correction: Spies and Martian were nominated, but not their directors.
Jacob Montgomery More than 1 year ago
I am actually quite pleased with the nominations this year. I would've liked to have seen "Inside Out" get a Best Picture nomination, as it was my favorite film of 2015, but nevertheless, this is one of the strongest group of nominees in a while. The only major snub I saw was "Ridley Scott" not getting a Best Director nod for "The Martian." Other minor ones included Michael Keaton not getting a nomination for "Spotlight," and Aaron Sorkin's script for "Steve Jobs" being left out.

I am actually genuinely surprised that "Carol" was not nominated for Best Picture, though I'm certainly not upset about it. I was pleasantly shocked that Rachel McAdams snuck into the Best Supporting Actress category for "Spotlight." And I was also glad to see Stallone get in for his great work in "Creed." In the technical categories, both "The Danish Girl" and "Black Mass" not getting Best Makeup is a little stunning to say the least, in lieu of a film I've never even heard of, "The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared." Also I think Bryan Cranston's nomination was more of a legacy nomination, though I haven't seen "Trumbo," so I can't say that with certainty.

All in all though, I think the Academy Awards are at least trying to spread their wings by nominating more mainstream films, rather than art house films, like they've been doing since the mid-90s. The only ones that I think could be considered "artsy" are "The Revenant," and "Room." The others appear to be more mainstream, which I think is mostly a good thing.


bobed More than 1 year ago
I'm not sure if that IS a good thing. Why overlook lesser-known films that might be superior in favor of big-box-office Hollywood flicks? It should be a mix of both, based on merits, not popularity. 
Jacob Montgomery More than 1 year ago
What I meant was that the mixture of the two is a good thing. Sure, that can backfire like when "Avatar" was nominated for Best Picture, but I am glad that genuinely well crafted and entertaining big budget films like "The Martian" and "Mad Max" can be nominated, alongside well made smaller scale films, like "Spotlight" and "Brooklyn." It's certainly better than the era where the clear majority of the films nominated were art house ones, and mostly inaccessible to the general public. A smaller scale film should not be nominated just because it's small scale, if there is a more well known one that is better.
wapotter More than 1 year ago
What is overlooked in this discussion is the fact that truly top-notched films get bypassed by the Academy in favor of the "message" film.  There are many films nominated that would never have gotten a first look by many people except for the mention by the Academy.  Great film making is NOT putting your message out there regardless of whether anyone cares, but telling a compelling story in an interesting way that causes people to care about the characters, plot and message.  This is why Citizen Kane, Casablanca, The Godfather and such are always listed in lists of great movies.  In my humble opinion, none of the movies nominated for best picture this year would ever make it into the best of the best.  Creativity has been bypassed to present the "humdrum and lackadaisical".  I loved Inside Out, but would not place it on a par with some of the best movies ever made, however, I would say that it showed more creativity than those nominated.  One measure of a great film (even award-worthy films) should be whether or not it was viewed by more people than the filmmakers' immediate families.
Marissa More than 1 year ago
I'm thrilled that Fury Road was nominated, even though it won't win. Despite the male title character, it's very much a female-driven film, with the simple, unapologetic message that sexual exploitation of women is wrong. Hollywood is one gigantic bucket of sexism, so here's hoping Fury Road's nomination is a step in the right direction. Though I am also sad (if unsurprised) about the exclusion of the similarly female-led The Force Awakens. It definitely deserved a nom. I had actually forgotten that Avatar was nominated back in 2010. Yeesh, what a joke. That film was an absolute trainwreck. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago

No big surprise that Star Wars didn't get nominated, but Fury Road caught me off guard. I never saw that one coming.

Yes, Inside Out should have received a nomination. Maybe Finding Dory will exceed our expectations for the next round of Oscars.

Antilles58 More than 1 year ago
I still need to see both Fury Road and Inside Out.