The Academy has spoken, and their words say Spotlight remains the film to beat. Writer-director Tom McCarthy’s investigative journalism drama had been seen as weak coming into nominations morning, but that assessment always felt a little off base. While The Revenant and Mad Max: Fury Road may have been called out in seemingly every category (actually it was 12 for The Revenant and 10 for Mad Max: Fury Road), the big winner was Spotlight, which showed up everywhere it conceivably could have with nominations for Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Supporting Actor, Supporting Actress, and Editing.
That said, after its triumph at the Golden Globes, many will see director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Western revenge saga The Revenant as the likely frontrunner now that it is also the nominations leader. While Spotlight is sitting pretty above the line, it looks like The Revenant and George Miller’s post-apocalyptic action epic Mad Max: Fury Road will battle for supremacy in the below-the-line categories. Both were nominated in the same 10 categories – Picture, Director, Editing, Cinematography, Production Design, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Visual Effects, Makeup and Hairstyling, and Costumes – while The Revenant also picked up acting nominations for Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy.
In addition to Spotlight, The Revenant, and Mad Max: Fury Road, the other films nominated for Best Picture are The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, The Martian, and Room. The biggest surprise of the morning was the overall strength of Room, which also earned nods for Brie Larson in Lead Actress, Emma Donoghue for Adapted Screenplay, and Lenny Abrahamson’s direction. The Martian had a strong showing with seven nominations, while Bridge of Spies earned six and The Big Short came away with five. Brooklyn pulled up the rear in terms of Best Picture nominees with just three nominations, failing to score in either Production Design (rightly) or Costumes (unfortunately).
Carol (six) and Star Wars: The Force Awakens (five) led the way among films not nominated for Best Picture but took very different routes to get there. Carol came away with nominations for Actress, Supporting Actress, Adapted Screenplay, Cinematography, Costumes, and Score, while Star Wars: The Force Awakens showed strength in the crafts categories with nominations for Editing, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Visual Effects, and Score.
Regarding those acting categories we were all so curious about, the Academy went the easy way with tough decisions and listened to the campaigners. As a result, Alicia Vikander (The Danish Girl) and Rooney Mara (Carol) both showed up in Supporting Actress for their co-lead performances, probably shutting Vikander out of Supporting Actress for Ex Machina. On the other hand, the Academy avoided the question of Paul Dano in Love and Mercy by not nominating him at all. Sylvester Stallone did make it into Supporting Actor for Creed – to tremendous applause in the room – along with Hardy’s surprise nomination.
As far as my personal reaction, I could not be happier for Charlotte Rampling’s Best Actress nomination for 45 Years, my favorite performance of the year, and Mustang’s recognition in the Best Foreign Language Film category is a wonderful delight, though not wholly unexpected. As a huge fan of Abrahamson’s career and of Room, I was excited to see him show up in Best Director, and despite Vikander missing out in Supporting Actress for Ex Machina, I was thrilled to see that film show up in Original Screenplay and Visual Effects.
Snubs? Well, I will leave that to others. Many of my favorite films showed surprising strength this morning or showed up in categories where they had only slim hope, so I had a great morning. Others will grip and grouse, and that is their right. You are more than welcome to do so as well. Let me just say, though, people like to complain about the Academy Awards nominations every year, but in my experience – more than a decade now of following this race – the Academy gets it right more often than it gets it wrong. Take that for what it is worth.
The ceremony is still more than six weeks away, and there is a lot of room for movement in this race. From where I am sitting, it is still Spotlight out in front with The Big Short, The Revenant, and Mad Max: Fury Road not far behind. It should be a fun race all the way to the end with almost no category already decided, although DiCaprio should probably start working on his speech, just in case. As with last year, check in here at Last Cinema Standing throughout the next month and a half for analysis and predictions in all 24 categories as we make our way to the red carpet and Oscar night.
Click here for a full list of nominees.