And the Oscar Nominees Are … Surprising?

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.

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