Thursday, January 14, 2016

Nominations for the 88th Annual Academy Awards

Christmas Eve has finally arrived! Yes, I know that it's actually January 14 and Christmas Eve is over 11 months away (or just three weeks past, if you're a glass-half-empty type). But the day of the Oscar nominations is mine and every Oscar fan's Christmas Eve, the day the Academy brings us a fun grab bag of recognition that we will trash and complain endlessly about for the next two months and debating and studying for years. For the next few weeks, these will either be the greatest films ever made or the absolute worst examples of the form. They will confirm the joys of cinema and prove that it is dead. And ultimately, none of it will matter, because all of this is subjective and Oscars are a horrible way of evaluating films. But they are a great entryway into thinking critically about cinema and, most importantly, they're so much fun to debate and discuss.

With that mission statement out of the way, let's talk about the actual nominations. Alejandro G. Iñárritu's brutal Western The Revenant leads the way with a total of 12 nominations, with surprising critical darling Mad Max: Fury Road close with 10 nominations (for the record, that's 10 more than the previous Mad Max films combined). There are a fair number of surprises - that Best Director lineup! Jennifer Lawrence! Straight Outta Compton! - but for the most part the nominations reflect the wide spread of films that received praise this year. That nothing was overwhelmingly dominant (outside the aforementioned leaders, which both missed out on the screenplay categories, it should be noted) should be evidence that it was a good year for quality films.

(Yes, Fifty Shades of Grey is an Oscar nominee, which should derail that argument, but don't lie to yourself - you love The Weeknd's silky Screamin' Jay Hawkins riff "Earned It.")

Below is a full list of the nominees with commentary. Did your favorites make the cut?


The Revenant; Arnon Milchan, Steve Golin, Alejandro G. Iñárritu, Mary Parent, and Keith Redmon, producers

Spotlight; Michael Sugar, Steve Golin, Nicole Rocklin, and Blye Pagon Faust, producers

Mad Max: Fury Road; Doug Mitchell and George Miller, producers

Room; Ed Guiney, producer

The Martian; Simon Kinberg, Ridley Scott, Michael Schaefer, and Mark Huffam, producers

Bridge of Spies; Steven Spielberg, Marc Platt, and Kristie Macosko Krieger, producers

The Big Short; Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner, and Jeremy Kleiner, producers

Brooklyn; Finola Dwyer and Amanda Poser, producers

Given the divisive nature of the awards season, I'm surprised there aren't more than eight nominees. And they're an interesting bunch: Brooklyn and Bridge of Spies managed to sneak in after everyone assumed they'd been forgotten, while Room and The Big Short made good on their late surges. The biggest surprise here, though, is Carol: where is it? Given the passion surrounding the film with critics, it seemed like a shoo-in. But the Academy apparently felt otherwise (perhaps two women in love with each other is too much for them?). 

Also, if you're feeling sad about Star Wars: The Force Awakens missing out here, don't cry too much for them. Now that it's the biggest film of all time domestically and still breaking box office records (in addition to making "Weird" Al Yankovic seem like prescient genius), I don't think J.J. Abrams, Lucasfilm, and Disney are losing too much sleep over it. Besides, its five total nominations are the most for a Star Wars film since the original in 1977, and matches the combined nomination total of the prequel trilogy. So technically it did pretty well today!


Brie Larson, Room

Cate Blanchett, Carol

Saoirse Ronan, Brooklyn

Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years

Jennifer Lawrence, Joy

Rampling doesn't come as much of a surprise to me because I predicted her. In recent years, there's been at least one acting nominee who missed out at the Globes and SAGs but came up with an Oscar nod: Marion Cotillard last year, Christian Bale in 2013, Emmanuelle Riva and Quvenzhane Wallis in 2012. Rampling fit the bill and, with an esteemed career and the best reviews of her life, she makes sense as a nominee. More surprising, however, is Lawrence. She's her film's only nomination, which, coupled with the 0-for-10 record of American Hustle two years ago, seems to suggest the Academy is ready to move on from director David O. Russell (praise Thor). With her fourth nomination at the age of 25, she surprises Jennifer Jones' nearly 70-year-old record for the youngest actor to reach four nominations. 


Leonardo DiCaprio, The Revenant

Michael Fassbender, Steve Jobs

Matt Damon, The Martian

Bryan Cranston, Trumbo

Eddie Redmayne, The Danish Girl

This is pretty much exactly how it was expected to happen, with newly-minted comedian (though not always very funny) Matt Damon seeming like the only one capable of catching up to presumed frontrunner Leonardo DiCaprio (he almost died for this, you know). Cranston is the only newcomer in the group, and for him a nomination only seemed like a matter of "when," not "if."

The rest of the nominees after the jump.


Kate Winslet, Steve Jobs

Rooney Mara, Carol

Jennifer Jason Leigh, The Hateful Eight

Alicia Vikander, The Danish Girl

Rachel McAdams, Spotlight

So much category fraud here: both Vikander and Mara are co-leads in their films, but went supporting most likely because they're not the known entities that their co-stars are. Leigh is finally an Oscar nominee, which is awesome but I'm kind of sad it was for this role (I was not a fan of The Hateful Eight; more on that in a later post). And I couldn't be more excited for McAdams: she is terrific in Spotlight, a true "supporting" performance that works perfectly within the ensemble in service of the story. After barely making a dent in the season, I'm glad her fine work was noticed by the Academy.


Sylvester Stallone, Creed

Mark Ruffalo, Spotlight

Mark Rylance, Bridge of Spies

Christian Bale, The Big Short

Tom Hardy, The Revenant

#OscarsSoWhite has returned; Idris Elba (Beasts of No Nation) had the best shot in this category, but he most likely missed because the Academy is not ready to support Netflix's original feature films just yet. That being said, there are plenty of actors of color doing great work, so step up your game, Academy. I'm disappointed that Michael Keaton didn't get in for Spotlight, as he delivered the film's single-best performance (which is really saying something in a film so uniformly strong), but Ruffalo is a fine choice. Hardy is perhaps the biggest surprise, but his nomination, like Cranston's, feels like a culmination of frequently-great work.


Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu, The Revenant

Lenny Abrahamson, Room

Tom McCarthy, Spotlight

Adam McKay, The Big Short

George Miller, Mad Max: Fury Road

It's not quite as unexpected awesome as the 2012 lineup, but there are some big shake-ups in this category. For starters, neither cinephile favorite Todd Haynes (Carol) nor veteran workhorse Ridley Scott (The Martian) were nominated. The latter is especially surprising, since many pegged him as a lock for a nomination and a strong contender to win his first Oscar. The former, on the other hand, has never been Oscar's type, but it doesn't sting any less. McKay, a frequent collaborator of Will Ferrell's, and Abrahamson, a former actor who has a quirky resume as a director, are both interesting selections. I haven't seen either of their nominated films, but based on previous work, they're perhaps both a tad underrated. And of course, we have to celebrate the fact that Miller is finally a nominee in this category.


Carol; screenplay by Phyllis Nagy

The Martian; screenplay by Drew Goddard

Brooklyn; screenplay by Nick Hornby

Room; screenplay by Emma Donoghue

The Big Short; screenplay by Charles Randolph and Adam McKay

Notably absent here: The Revenant, which of course dominated everywhere else. I haven't seen any of these films, and I can't think of any other notable snubs in this category. I am surprised to see Brooklyn have such a strong showing, however, as I had assumed that the film had fallen off of everyone's radar. And I'll note it here: Carol now holds the record for the most nominations (6) for a film without a Best Picture nomination since that category expanded in 2009.


Spotlight; written by Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy

Inside Out; story by Pete Docter and Ronnie Del Carmen, screenplay by Pete Docter, Meg Lefauve, and Josh Cooley

Bridge of Spies; written by Matt Charman and Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

Ex Machina; written by Alex Garland

Straight Outta Compton; story by S. Leigh Savidge, Alan Wenkus, and Andrea Berloff, screenplay by Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff

The fun thing about Original Screenplay is that it often contains films that feel like they were adapted. There are three such cases here: Spotlight, Bridge of Spies, and Straight Outta Compton, all of which are based on real people and real events. The lattermost is perhaps the most surprising nomination of all: I didn't think the Academy would recognize the film despite its critical acclaim and box office success, yet here it is. The good news: Quentin Tarantino doesn't have a chance to win another Oscar for another awful Western.


Inside Out; Pete Docter and Jonas Rivera
Anomalisa; Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson, and Rosa Tran
Boy and the World; Alê Abreu
Shaun the Sheep Movie; Mark Burton and Richard Starzak
When Marnie Was There; Hiromasa Yonebayashi and Yoshiaki Nishimura

The absence of Pixar's other 2015, The Good Dinosaur, is the biggest surprise, though it would not necessarily have been a deserving nominee. You keep being you, animation branch!


The Revenant; Emmanuel Lubezki
Mad Max: Fury Road; John Seale
Sicario; Roger Deakins
Carol; Ed Lachmann
The Hateful Eight; Robert Richardson

Lubezki has a shot at a third consecutive Oscar in this category, but Seale - who came out of retirement to lens Mad Max: Fury Road - or perennial bridesmaid Deakins stop him? What about Richardson's gorgeous 70mm work? Or Lachmann's dreamy graininess? This is actually a really beautiful category, based on what I've seen.


Cinderella; Sandy Powell
Carol; Sandy Powell
The Danish Girl; Paco Delgado
The Revenant; Jaqueline West
Mad Max: Fury Road; Jenny Beavan

This is actually the second time Powell has been nominated against herself. The first was in 1998 for Shakespeare in Love and Velvet Goldmine, and she won for the former.


Amy; Asif Kapadia and James Gay-Rees
The Look of Silence; Joshua Oppenheimer and Signe Byrge Sørensen
Cartel Land; Matthew Heineman and Tom Yellin
What Happened, Miss Simone?; Liz Garbus, Amy Hobby, and Justin Wilkes
Winter on Fire: Ukraine's Fight for Freedom; Evgeny Afineevsky and Den Tolmar

The documentary branch seems to be divided now into two factions: music docs and current events. Amy, which is about Amy Winehouse, has been the most buzzed about, but Cartel Land is becoming increasingly timely with its focus on the United States - Mexico border.


Claude Lanzmann: Specters of the Shoah; Adam Benzine
Last Day of Freedom; Dee Hibbert-Jones and Nomi Talisman
Chau - Beyond the Lines; Courtney Marsh and Jerry Franck
Body Team 12; David Darg and Bryn Mooser
A Girl in the River - The Price of ForgivenessSharmeed Obaid-Chinoy


Mad Max: Fury Road; Margaret Sixel
Star Wars: The Force Awakens; Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey
The Revenant; Stephen Mirrione
The Big Short; Hank Corwin
Spotlight; Tom McArdle

Fun fact: Sixel is director George Miller's wife.


Son of Saul; directed by László Nemes (Hungary)
Mustang; directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven (France)
Theeb; directed by Naji Abu Nowar (Jordan)
Embrace of the Serpent; directed by Ciro Guerra (Colombia)
A War; directed by Tobias Lindholm (Denmark)

Both Jordan and Colombia are receiving their first nominations in this category. France ends a five-year nomination drought - the longest the country has experience since the category was created in 1956. And Denmark continues to be the Academy's favorite this decade with its fourth nomination in six years.


Mad Max: Fury Road; Lesley Vanderwalt, Elka Wardega, and Damian Martin
The Revenant; Siân Grigg, Duncan Jarman, and Robert Pandini
The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared; Love Larson and Eva von Bahr


The Hateful Eight; Ennio Morricone
Star Wars: The Force Awakens; John Williams
Carol; Carter Burwell
Bridge of Spies; Thomas Newman
Sicario; Jóhann Jóhannsson

This is a fairly spectacular category, isn't it? Burwell's long-awaited first nomination, Williams' 50th nod, and the incredible scores from Morricone and Jóhannsson.


"Earned It," music and lyric by Abel Tesfaye, Ahmad Balshe, Jason Deheala Quenneville, and Stephan Maccio (Fifty Shades of Grey)
"'Til It Happens to You," music and lyric by Diane Warren and Lady Gaga (The Hunting Ground)
"Writing's On the Wall," music and lyric by Jimmy Napes and Sam Smith (Spectre)
"Simple Song #3," music and lyric by David Lang (Youth)
"Manta Ray," music by J. Ralph, lyric by Antony Hegarty (Racing Extinction)

This category can always be counted on for some off-the-wall nomination, and it's "Manta Ray," a song from an environmental documentary that was on absolutely no one's radar. J. Ralph seems to be making a habit of this, as he was nominated in this category for Chasing Ice - another environment documentary no one was paying attention to - in 2012. 

"See You Again" from Furious 7 is also a notable snub, but face it, the Academy is never going to recognize that franchise no matter how good or popular it becomes.


Mad Max: Fury Road; production design by Colin Gibson, set decoration by Lisa Thompson
The Danish Girl; production design by Eve Stewart, set decoration by Michael Standish
Bridge of Spies; production design by Adam Stockhausen, set decoration by Rena DeAngelo and Bernhard Henrich
The Revenant; production design by Jack Fisk, set decoration by Hamish Purdy
The Martian; production design by Arthur Max, set decoration by Celia Bobak


World of Tomorrow; Don Hertzfeldt
Sanjay's Super Team; Sanjay Patel and Nicole Grindle
Prologue; Richard Williams and Imogen Sutton
Bear Story; Gabriel Osorio and Pato Escala
We Can't Live Without Cosmos; Konstantin Bronzit


Ave Maria; Basil Khalil and Eric Dupont
Shok; Jamie Donoughue
Day One; Henry Hughes
Everything Will Be Okay (Alles Wird Gut); Patrick Vollrath
Stutterer; Benjamin Cleary and Serena Armitage


The Martian; Oliver Tarney
Star Wars: The Force Awakens; Matthew Wood and David Acord
The Revenant; Martin Hernandez and Lon Bender
Mad Max: Fury Road; Mark Mangini and David White
Sicario; Alan Robert Murray


The Martian; Paul Massey, Mark Taylor, and Mac Ruth
Star Wars: The Force Awakens; Andy Nelson, Christopher Scarabosio, and Stuart Wilson
The Revenant; Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño, Randy Thom, and Chris Duesterdiek
Mad Max: Fury Road; Chris Jenkins, Gregg Rudloff, and Ben Osmo
Bridge of Spies; Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom, and Drew Kunin


Mad Max: Fury Road; Andrew Jackson, Tom Wood, Dan Oliver, and Andy Williams
Star Wars: The Force Awakens; Roger Guyette, Patrick Tubach, Neal Scanlan, and Chris Corbould
The Martian; Richard Stammers, Anders Langlands, Chris Lawrence, and Steven Warner
Ex Machina; Andrew Whitehurst, Paul Norris, Mark Ardington, and Sara Bennett
The Revenant; Rich McBride, Matthew Shumway, Jason Smith, and Cameron Waldbauer

No Marvel films or Jurassic World, the previous biggest film of 2015. I haven't seen The Revenant yet, but I imagine this nomination is mostly for the bear.

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