5 Reasons This Year’s Oscar Season Is a Hot Mess

Joy Movie Review
Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Not to be outdone by a presidential election that features Donald Trump as the Republican frontrunner, the 2015 Oscars race has devolved into the season of — to paraphrase Langston Hughes — many dreams deferred.

Who is ahead? Nobody can tell you, because there are no frontrunners.

The SAG nominations are usually greeted with a collective yawn, because most of the nominees have been set in stone for weeks. But on Wednesday morning, the blogosphere let out a shriek at the selections made by the Academy’s largest voting branch, typically the most reliable bellwether for who will be nominated for (and eventually win) Oscars.

Many of the presumed locks — like “The Martian” for best ensemble, Jennifer Lawrence for “Joy,” Michael Keaton for “Spotlight” and Will Smith for “Concussion” — were shut out. Instead, SAG voters embraced under-the-radar performances like Sarah Silverman in “I Smile Back” and Helen Mirren for “Woman in Gold.” And the film that eked out the most nominations wasn’t “Spotlight,” “Brooklyn” or “Carol,” but the pleasantly-reviewed drama “Trumbo,” which scored three nods (including ensemble and Mirren, again, in the best supporting actress race).

There’s so much confusion around this year’s award season that everybody will be looking at tomorrow’s Golden Globes nomination for clarity — but you know you’re in trouble when the Hollywood Foreign Press is the voice of reason. Here’s why 2015 has been nuttier than usual on the awards-season circuit.

1. The Lack of Frontrunners
Usually, by now, popular sentiment starts to coalesce around certain actors — like Charlize Theron in “Monster” or Monique in “Precious.” But this year, the best picture race could splinter in so many different ways: “Spotlight” (which is the only film that continues to gain momentum via the SAG ensemble nomination), “Brooklyn,” “The Martian,” “Carol” and the yet-to-be-released “The Revenant.” This, in turn, has had a ripple effect on the acting categories. Will the lead male statue go to Johnny Depp (“Black Mass”), Leonardo DiCaprio (“The Revenant”) or Michael Fassbender (“Steve Jobs”)? Will best actress be Brie Larson (“Room”), Saoirse Ronan (“Brooklyn”) or a third win for Cate Blanchett (“Carol”)? The only consensus is that Rooney Mara (“Carol”) and Alicia Vikander (“The Danish Girl”) deliver tour-de-force performances, but even that’s generated controversy. Despite ample screen time, both women are being campaigned in the supporting actress race, making some pundits wonder if the Academy will rebel and nominate one (or both) in lead anyway.

2. The Supporting Actors Categories Are Too Packed
There are at least 20 actors in serious contention, including: Keaton and Mark Ruffalo (“Spotlight”), Kate Winslet (“Jobs”), Mark Rylance (“Bridge of Spies”), Jane Fonda (“Youth”), Sylvester Stallone (“Creed”), Tom Hardy (“The Revenant”), Christian Bale (“The Big Short”), Jennifer Jason Leigh (“Hateful Eight”), Kristen Stewart (“The Clouds of Sils Maria”), Jacob Tremblay (“Room”), Idris Elba (“Beasts of No Nation”), Rachel McAdams (“Spotlight”), Michael Shannon (“99 Homes”), Elizabeth Banks and Paul Dano (“Love and Mercy”), Benicio Del Toro (“Sicario”) and newcomer Mya Taylor (“Tangerine”). Half of these names will be snubbed on Oscars morning, but it’s anyone’s guess who will make the cut.

3. The Critics Went Nuts Over — “Mad Max: Fury Road”?

As Oscars voters try to figure out what screeners to watch in the holiday season, they often look at the critics awards for guidance. There were ample underdogs that could have used a boost from the critics’ groups, including “Brooklyn,” “Room” and “The Revenant.” But while the New York Film Circle offered “Carol” their top prize and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association went with “Spotlight,” smaller films were overshadowed by the surprise last-minute surge from “Mad Max: Fury Road,” which took home honors from LAFC, as well as best picture from the Boston Film Critics Online and National Board of Review.

4. The SAG Nominations May Have Killed “The Martian’s” Chances
The SAG race can’t single-handedly cause an entire awards season to spin out of control. But 2015 has been a very strange year. As Awards Daily writer Sasha Stone pointed out on Twitter, no movie from Fox Searchlight, the Weinstein Co. or Focus Features were included in the SAG best ensemble nominees (a list that included “Beasts of No Nation,” “The Big Short,” “Spotlight” and “Straight Outta Compton”), and not including “The Martian” might have killed its chances at best picture, statistically speaking. (The last film that won best picture without a SAG ensemble nomination was 1995’s “Braveheart.”) Now it seems likelier that Netflix may be a formidable Oscars player with “Beasts of No Nation.” Like a presidential campaign that depends on the Iowa and New Hampshire voters, the SAG nominations help an Oscar contender build momentum. Those who have been snubbed, like Smith or Lawrence, will have to now work extra hard to convince voters to see their films.

5. There’s No Telling if Oscar Voters Will Be Naughty or Nice to December Movies
Some Oscars seasons are shaped by early releases — like “Argo,” “The Departed,” “Crash” or “The Hurt Locker.” While in weaker years, last-minute entries such as 2013’s “American Hustle” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” or 2004’s “Million Dollar Baby” were able to sweep in and pick up loads of nominations. With the implosion of “Steve Jobs” at the box office, and mixed reviews for “Black Mass,” this year was considered a weak one, with pundits guessing that “The Revenant,” “Creed,” “Hateful Eight” and “Joy” could all figure in heavily into the Oscars race. However, the critics and SAG have virtually ignored all those films, instead favoring earlier movies. Huh.

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  1. What i don’t realize is in truth how you
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  2. Theresa says:

    The Oscars are all about campaigns and PR teams now… Nobody gives a crap anymore. It’s a JOKE!

  3. OIN says:

    Why does good ol’ fashioned competition translate to “hot mess?” This means that award shows won’t be as boring.

  4. thekeenguy says:

    Here’s a novel way to narrow down the packed Supporting Actor category: Rule out the actors in lead roles, like Michael Keaton and Paul Dano.

  5. jazz says:

    the answer is really so simple…

    regardless of who actually makes the best picture, or gives the best performance, there are always the majority of the industry who have their minds set before movies even come out…tom hanks, ‘bridge of spies’…absolutely…’steve jobs’ movie…sure thing…etc. and so forth…

    well…all the ones they were counting on, those tentpole ‘academy getters’, bombed big time…even johnny depp was assured an oscar nod before ‘black mass’ tanked…now it’s kinda up in the air on that one…

    so this is leaving all those critics and voters confused…their safe little world has been turned upside down by lousy box office, and even lousier movie audiences, who prefer mindless fluff over anything that might actually contain dialogue…

    and now it actually seems that maybe, for the first time in a long time, the academy is having to look at the truly deserving indi films, rather than the obvious hollywood fodder…

  6. RAGHAVENDRA PRASAD says:

    Almost more than 80% of critics think Brie Larson (“Room”) may win Oscars for Best actress category .What if Saoirse Ronan wins bes actress category in Oscars

  7. Karen W. says:

    I hope the Academy does revolt because to put Mara and Viklander in the Supporting category is LUDICROUS. They were both LEAD performances.

    • Jack says:

      Vikander may be supporting to Redmayne’s character. Mara is co-lead with Blanchett, but she will probably get more votes in supporting than in lead. It’s not strictly a matter of whether they are lead or supporting, the level of competition in the categories and whether their costars are contending in the same category is a significant factor. The supporting category is a less competitive than the lead actress category this year.

  8. Jim says:

    Joy was great. It’s different to Russell’s recent movies, and It’s hard to capture the film in a synopsis though David O Russell outdid himself here. Plus, it contains Jennifer Lawrence’s best performance to date (and I’ve seen all her work).

  9. PG says:

    Instead of “mess” and decrying this, how about “competition” and PRAISING that it isn’t all a foregone conclusion months in advance..?

  10. Steph says:

    I’ve seen Joy and it’s awful. I believe the only reason it’s being considered is because for some reason people think Jennifer Lawerence has to be nominated or the world will stop spinning.

    • Steven says:

      Jennifer Lawrence is more than amazing in Joy. She is magical and makes that movie a million times better. The movie deserves attention mainly because of her.

  11. How is there no mention at all of Star Wars? It’s slated to be the biggest film of the year, whether or not it’s oscar bait.

  12. 85wzen says:

    What mess? They have chosen films that are way dull or beneath contempt… Birdman?! I saw it not realizing it won anything, but then learned it was the Academy’s best Picture! Wow! It was rather slow and dull and sure didn’t even deserve a nomination, much less the Award! Put Crash in there as well, these are films that have been less then stellar in the SCRIPT area, all I remember is about 30 years ago Spielberg said he hated to READ! No wonder!

  13. Cwenn says:

    Comments are edited… so the pc police won’t allow criticism.

    But here it is anyway…. LISTEN UP

    Hollywood and TV continue to lose money…. but when America says they don’t want to sit through gay sex, transgender tribulations and stereotypes that tell White America we are EVIL…. they nod to each other – saying there is much work to be done if we are to ever walk upright and put those opposable digits to any use…. titter titter…

    • Riley says:

      I agree Cwenn, I’m not interested to sit through the ‘sale’ of these opinions any longer. I get it, let’s move on. I want a mindful, well acted and written script without the main purpose being a political statement.

    • Patrick says:

      You are confusing yourself and America. It is not the same. Most people are in fact more inclusive than you. I have not seen any movie ever that says white America is evil.

  14. Jack says:

    “the selections made by the Academy’s largest voting branch, typically the most reliable bellwether for who will be nominated for (and eventually win) Oscars.”

    Less than 1% of SAG’s membership are academy voters you dimwit.

    • BlueFox94 says:

      He was probably referring to how Actors comprise the largest Academy branch, but he did word it weirdly to make it seem like all of SAG were Academy members

      • Jack says:

        He worded it to fit his argument. Dimwit wasn’t the right word. Ramin Setoodeh is the jester of misleading notions (though he has a some tough competition in Kris Tapley of Variety, and Scott Feinberg of The Hollywood Reporter)

  15. Jay says:

    Why the frustration? True all the recent indies flopped but this Academy Awards season is finally the time to: recognize minorities and women. Mainstream films should be recognized as well.

  16. Scott Overcash says:

    Maybe mediocre box office of the more acclaimed movies and performances is creating confusion. A lower Oscar audience due to lack of interest in the movies that the industry says are the good ones indicate a disconnect between what the producers see as “good” movies and the movies the public think are worth paying for, as well as going and seeing.

    • Steven says:

      But the public could decide to pay for the bad, shallow crowd pleasing movie and not for the best movie…so I don’t know if box office is a good indicator of quality.

  17. Marie says:

    Kristen Stewart (“The Clouds of Sils Maria”)?
    I’m sorry, but I have seriously heard NOTHING about this film. I thought it was released two years ago, but it was actually released in April. Sure Kristen won a French award for it but seriously, I highly doubt critics cared and the film was seen as “out of sight out of mind”.

    • Jessica says:

      Actually, Kristen Stewart has been leading the wins for critic awards in her category. However, she’s getting no Oscar buzz because A) Lack of campaign and B) a highly competitive year

  18. Ben A. says:

    If there’s anything I have to say about the upcoming Oscars, it looks a lot more promising and diverse than last year’s. More and more types of movies have a chance to take home the top prize–and even popcorn fare is gaining recognition in voters’ circles, like Straight Outta Compton, The Martian, Inside Out, and Fury Road, with The Hateful Eight and The Revenant likely joining the pack. Best of all, there’s no clear front-runner or pool of films that are guaranteed to win Best Picture. AND there’s the possibility of the new Star Wars becoming this year’s Avatar!

  19. Alex B says:

    The Martian did not get any SAG noms because actors are able to difference between deep and shalllow performances. Anyone could play any role in The Martian

  20. Clay Bryce says:

    You know, for once in many, many years, there is some genuine suspense in the OScar race over who will be nominated and who might not be. Usually, before Christmas, 90% of February’s future Oscar winners has already been sealed. But this year, there are no front-runners in almost all Oscar categories. (Only Inside Out in Animated Feature & Son of Saul for Forieen Film are definite locks to win) And still people are complaning. I don’t get it. Enjoy this time while it lasts. For once there are only five or 6 guys vying for the BEst Actor category while there are easily 12 women fighting for Best Actress, but of course, no website, no industry journal, no Oscar prognosticator is mention that. MAybe, is the suspense continues, then just maybe, the Oscars will get a ratings boost since the general public knows who’s going to win weeks ahead of time. Quit bitching.

  21. James says:

    There are no frontrunners because everyone’s doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing making the same kind of Oscar Bait movies and playing it safe. A movie like Gravity stood out because of its execution and its fearless real time approach. A movie like 12 years a Slave stood out because Steve McQeen was uncompromising and brutal in telling a unique story about slavery that was hard to deny (not to mention the movie was made outside of the studio system) Movies like Spotlight or the Big Short(for instance) traffic in A-list casts, production value and respected directors but there’s nothing really unexpected about those movies given the subject matter and the nature of the people involved in making them.

  22. Jimmy says:

    “mixed reviews for “Black Mass””

    Didn’t know that a 75% RT score based on 231 (as of now) translates into mixed reviews…

  23. Jeff Kantor says:

    The lack of a frontrunner for Best Picture could open the door for “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

    • Steven says:

      Force Awakens is a good time, a crowd pleaser. Best Picture nominee? No way. Mad Max is a superior movie and that is probably not getting in…

  24. theschu says:

    “Some Oscars seasons are shaped by early releases — like “Argo,” “The Departed,” “Crash” or “The Hurt Locker.” While in weaker years, last-minute entries such as 2013’s “American Hustle” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” or 2004’s “Million Dollar Baby” were able to sweep in and pick up loads of nominations.”

    This makes no sense. How exactly was 2013 a weak year? Gravity, 12 Years A Slave, Her, Captain Phillips and Nebraska were among the Best Picture nominees. Are you implying that American Hustle and Wolf of Wall Street, which out of 15 combined nominations won zero, somehow made it a better year?

  25. LAguy says:

    Why are these comments always so mean-spirited? Either you find the Oscar race entertaining or not. For those of us who find it interesting, it’s fun to read these types of articles. If you’re not interested, don’t read them. And for what it’s worth, I didn’t think Matt Damon’s performance in The Martian was Oscar worthy. Charming and likable, yes, but not much depth of emotion. He’s given better and more dramatic performances in other movies.

  26. CB says:

    The fact that SAG didn’t nominate Damon means that actors are, in fact, certifiably insane. Call the paddy wagon.

  27. theschu says:

    This article feels like an Oscars article for the sake of an Oscars article. Every year at this time you guys say what a wild and crazy year it is because there’s no frontrunner. There hasn’t been a frontrunner for years. Anyone who follows the Oscars knows this and I would assume that anyone who writes about the Oscars knows this too. Usually it comes down to two or three movies, but that’s after the Golden Globes and all the critics awards and all the campaigning and everything.

    Seriously, why does this kind of article need to be written?

    And if you think the Oscar season of 2005 was shaped by Crash you really should stop writing about Oscar season.

    And Million Dollar Baby came at the end of 2004, not 2005.

  28. DougW says:

    SAG gave us a pretty crazy list. I expect the Oscar nominations to look a lot different.

  29. S says:

    What a waste of an article. I for one enjoy this Oscar season. First time in many years because of the fact that I don’t know which film will win. And aside for Leo, the other winners are all over the place, which is good. I want to feel surprised.

  30. Geo says:

    this is the most butthurt post about award season I’ve read so far this year

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