Oscars: Unpredictable Season Reflected in Splintered Nominations

Oscar Nominations 2016 Analysis
Courtesy of 20th Century Fox/A24/Open Road/The Weinstein Co.

In a season like this, we expected surprises. Just probably not the ones we got.

Thursday morning’s Oscar nominations announcement was so reflective of a splintered season it was almost beautiful … if it wasn’t so heartbreaking for so many at the same time.

“The Martian,” a film many thought to be a strong contender to win the best picture Oscar, picked up seven nominations. That’s the profile of a thoroughbred. Yet it fell out of key races like best director (Ridley Scott missing after riding the career achievement train all season) and best film editing (until last year, no best picture winner had missed in this category for over 30 years).

“Room,” a film that couldn’t get arrested on the guild circuit, with just a pair of nominations from the Screen Actors Guild, came back strong with a best picture nomination and, in a true surprise, a best director bid.

“Spotlight,” a film that showed real vulnerability in the last several weeks, missing in the contemporary categories of design guilds, falling out of the drama category with the American Cinema Editors, muscled its way back into the race with a pair of acting nominations in the supporting categories (BAFTA nominee Mark Ruffalo and SAG nominee Rachel McAdams). Oh, and it picked up the film editing nomination.

“Carol” — a film that came up short with the producers and directors guilds, yet managed notices from the writers guild, was clearly beloved by actors with SAG nominations and proved to be a hit with the BAFTA contingent — landed a respectable six Oscar nominations. And yet it STILL couldn’t squeeze into best director or turn up on a list of eight best picture nominations.

The season never could figure itself out in the run-up to the nominations, and to be perfectly honest, it seems like it might have a ways to go in getting there still. “The Revenant” led the way with nominations, scooping up a whopping 12 and becoming the 15th film to do so in the process. But with the Golden Globes wind at its back, is it really the frontrunner? Is the Academy really willing to go there two years in a row with Alejandro G. Iñárritu?

“Mad Max: Fury Road” scooped up 10 nominations, including a bid for director George Miller. But is this a film that 6,000 people can get behind, that can survive a preferential ballot geared toward choosing a winner everyone can agree upon?

“The Big Short” and “Spotlight,” with their five and six nominations apiece, could be in a unique position to upset the heavies. They’re likely to perform well with a preferential ballot. One came on strong in the end, one goes back to a Venice Film Festival bow. Six of the last seven best picture winners screened at the Telluride Film Festival, and the only two nominees this year that made the trip to the San Juans are “Room” and “Spotlight.” Food for thought.

As I look over the nominations, I’m pleased by quite a few things. I’m pleased to see director Lenny Abrahamson make the cut for “Room.” It was a unique creative achievement and one that seemed like it might have peaked too early. More importantly, I’m tickled for distributor A24, which was right on the cusp with “A Most Violent Year” last year but finally got into the dance this time around. Not only that, but seven nominations scattered across “Amy,” “Ex Machina” and “Room” deserves a pat on the back.

I’m pleased to see Charlotte Rampling manage a best actress nomination for “45 Years.” It’s the best performance of the year in the category (if you ask me) and she was in danger of missing after that BAFTA exclusion.

I’m over the moon for GKIDS, crashing the animated feature party yet again with a pair of independent releases that spoke to the branch more than commercial fare like “The Good Dinosaur” and “The Peanuts Movie.” Funny that we were all looking to “Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet” rather than “Boy and the World” and “When Marnie Was There,” however.

I’m positively ecstatic that Jóhann Jóhannsson translated his hip BAFTA nod for the “Sicario” score into his second Oscar nomination in a row. It’s one of the best scores of the year, a terrifying, brooding element of the film that heightens every aspect of it.

And I’m relieved the Academy’s cinematographers branch didn’t pull the bone-headed move of passing over “The Hateful Eight” lenser Robert Richardson like the American Society of Cinematographers and BAFTA. The work he and particularly Panavision put into creating and retrofitting Ultra Panavision lenses has established an infrastructure that freakin’ “Star Wars” (specifically “Rogue One”) is utilizing. You have to give it up for that, to say nothing of the merit (the immaculate visual staging of the film is incredible). Film is alive and well in the category with the 70mm represented by Richardson and Ed Lachman’s 16mm lensing of “Carol” in the mix.

However, I also shake my head at a few things. “Black Mass” failing to achieve lift-off this season is pretty sad, as it’s a film I think will benefit from hindsight in the near future. At the very least, Johnny Depp’s possessed, committed portrayal should have been a torchbearer for the film in best actor. Alas …

I don’t know how we came to a place where Pixar’s greatest achievement to date, a masterpiece in “Inside Out,” can’t get into an expanded best picture category, but here we are. The likely reason is the fact that, in this Frankensteined system that can yield anywhere from five to 10 nominees, depending, voters are asked to fill in just five films, not 10, as in 2009 and 2010. It’s probably harder to overcome animation bias with those odds. The Academy should really go back to a defined number of 10, but that’s fodder for another column.

I have a serious bone to pick with the writers branch passing over Aaron Sorkin’s brilliant (full-stop) scripting of “Steve Jobs,” one of the year’s best films and a fascinating character-study-as-biopic. I think it’s a shame voters are so often unwilling to recognize a film that flopped at the box office, and there’s no question this film’s crash and burn upon wide release caused many to rethink their position on it. (I’ve had the conversations. They’re infuriating).

I also don’t get how you see a documentary like “Listen to Me Marlon” and take a pass, but we’re in a golden age for the form and something had to fall out, I suppose. I can complain about one or two of the nominees, but I won’t.

Fox must be feeling pretty good, despite the curious “Martian” misses. Twenty nominations shared across Scott’s film, “The Revenant” and “Joy” is nothing to sneeze at, plus four more for Fox Searchlight’s titles (“Brooklyn” and “Youth”). A great showing.

Universal, on the other hand, must be bummed out. Not that anyone is going to be crying for long as they’re still counting 2015 box office receipts over there, but “Straight Outta Compton” falling out of best picture, “Steve Jobs” managing just two nominations, the “Furious 7” song missing the cut — that smarts. (To say nothing of The Weinstein Company, which could have used a best picture nomination to help with current investor woes. This is the first time Harvey Weinstein hasn’t had a top nominee since 2007.)

As for predictions, I ran a respectable 94/121, missing one in most categories, two in a few. I nailed only three categories 5/5: best cinematography, best sound mixing and best live action short, but I’ll take it.

And now, as the industry scratches its collective head and wonders what “The 100-Year-Old-Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared” is, we turn to the Oscars on Feb. 28. We brace ourselves for another #OscarsSoWhite backlash as there are no people of color represented in the 20 acting categories. (Meanwhile, the only female filmmaker nominated is “Mustang” helmer Deniz Gamze Ergüven — though this is all merely symptomatic. It should be noted, however, that four women were nominated in the writing categories.) We also look ahead to guild awards, particularly the PGA, which will help guide the way to the end of the red carpet. And we salute those nominated today for surviving the gauntlet.

Just another 46 days to go and the 88th Oscar season will be fully behind us …

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  1. Danny says:

    So sad about Depp’s snub.

  2. Sal U. Lloyd says:

    @Paul Hanlin Jr boo hoo hoo for J.J. and the Star Wars nerds!!!! MAD MAX FURY ROAD and THE MARTIAN were very good films, not classics, but they are very good movies.

    PS: THE DARK KNIGHT WAS NOT nominated for best Picture in its year! So your statement is wrong.

  3. You know who says:

    Rooney Mara’s screentime in Carole: 71 minutes (a new record for the category). Cate Blanchett’s screentime in Carol: 65 minutes. Someone explain how Mara is in supporting when she has the most screentime of any actor in the film. Shameful. She is taking up the spot of another more deserving actress who is in a true supporting role.

  4. crossie says:

    Also, for the record, I liked Jurassic World better than Star Wars, but I’m not whining about it being snubbed because I’m not stupid.

  5. Not one word, Kristoffer, on the snub of Force Awakens? Not a syllable? $825 million as of today, 93% Rotten Tomatoes rating, and it’s on the outside of the BP race looking in (glares at the most overrated movie of the decade, Mad Max Fury Road). Speaking of “a film that couldn’t get arrested on the guild circuit”, 45 Years, anyone? A movie that made $824,600,000 less than TFA, yet they get Charlotte Rampling in on a career achievement quest.

    ABC execs must be being coaxed off ledges right now. Any way they can farm out the Oscar telecast to Freeform (formerly ABC Family), since it’s going to be to the Academy organization, ratings-wise what the 2008 great recession was to America.

    What a dung heap of a nominations list this is. Cure for insomnia Bridge of Spies? Anomalisa instead of this year’s Lego Movie snub, Minions? If you’re going to give a nod to old guard acting (Stallone), the least they could’ve done was do the same to Harrison Ford. The Academy hates JJ Abrams’ living guts. A mere rookie in their eyes, how dare he direct the most popular movie of all time? Enough with the Carol whiners. And did I mention 45 Years made a whopping, overwhelming….. $341,720 in its domestic run?

    Five nominations for The Force Awakens is 10 too few, and 10 for Fury Road is 11 too many.

    • Bliz82 says:

      Grow up paul. The 7th star wars film was derivative and generic….popularity and ticket sales isnt criteria to win awards…celine dion has sold millions of albums: she still is considered generally lame by most people into music

    • crossie says:

      As a guy who actually really liked The Force Awakens and think JJ is a fun director, maybe you’ll listen to me.

      SHUT UP

    • No, not a syllable, Pawwl, because it’s not a great film and so I’m shockingly OK with it not being a best picture nominee.

      • Wow…you are in a decidedly micro-minority. And it’s just ‘Paul’. Just as long as it’s on the record the Oscars hate TFA and JJ Abrams’ living guts. It was shortsighted and mean-spirited to relegate them to the usual suspects ghetto of VFX, sound and editing. They’ll pay for it when the ratings come in on February 29. And you had no problem, I suppose with the calisthenics the Academy went through to squeeze Rampling in the best actress field. Screwing over Vikander AND Winslet, sending them to supporting?

        Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror (the Saturns), cleanup on aisle 88; the Oscars aisle. It’s up to them to clean up AMPAS’ poop-fest of a class of 2015 list.

      • Cool. And it’s just “Kristopher.”

    • Chris L. says:

      The People’s Choice Awards are there and ready to meet your needs. This is the Oscars.

      • Joe says:

        When you blow up the Death Star for the 3rd time in 7 movies you deserve every artistic snub you receive. And I’m a huge Star Wars fan….

      • Would be nice if the Oscars did their gods damn job, yes. They failed miserably. Did you know every movie that achieved the #1 domestic boxoffice all-time ranking over the past 33 years (Godfather, Jaws, SW: New Hope, ET, Titanic and Avatar) was rewarded with a BP nomination. Until yesterday. It exposes the Academy for the utter frauds and spiteful bassturds they are when it comes to sci-fi. Oh yeah, except if it’s a movie directed by George effing Miller and Ridley effing Scott, that is.

        And the PCA’s didn’t nominate TFA; they came out of the November 2014-October 2015 eligibility period. A sorry display of jealousy by a two-bit organization that needs to shed half its old fogie membership yesterday…

      • Do you think we’ll ever consider The Force Awakens in the same breath as those canonical classics? I imagine most would have their doubts.

        Also, how is the Academy spiteful and anti-sci-fi when they apparently nominated Star Wars, E.T. and Avatar, per your data? As well as Mad Max and The Martian, which you mention even though they don’t suit your undercooked thesis. Can’t have it both ways, Paul. You don’t really have a point, is the problem. Just consumerist trolling. It’s impressive!

        Again, I submit the new film simply wasn’t worthy enough. It happens. If that’s hard to stomach, then I apologize.

  6. Lulu says:

    How did Roony Mara get a Best Supporting Actress nom when she’s a lead actress?! Riddle me that!

  7. someperson says:

    I filled out my predictions on Gold Derby, ended up with 88/121. Not bad, seeing as how I’m not actually good at this.

    Best Categories: Cinematography, Sound Editing, Visual Effects. All 5/5
    Worst Categories: Best Original Song, Best Live-Action Short. 2/5 for both

    Much better than last year, where I had no category perfect (except BP but I had Nightcrawler as the 9th) and one category (Documentary feature) where I only made one correct prediction.

  8. Geri313 says:

    Did you see “Steve Jobs”? If so, what exactly in the film gave you ANY clue as to why he’s so revered? I know the iSheep love Apple, but the rest of the world scratches its head and asks why? (Many of us prefer to have the option of doing things different ways, not Apple’s one and only way.) I had been hoping to learn what was so great about Jobs, but the movie didn’t give us ANY answers. He was painted as an obstructionist and someone who abused the people who did the actual work. Not him? Well you sure wouldn’t know it from Sorkin’s script. Well written, yes, but totally overlooked a huge portion of what should have been in the plot. We kept seeing people going crazy for new products, but had no idea why. I’ve talked to several people who were also disappointed in the film for the same reason.

    • I don’t really care about Apple. Not concerned with how much he’s revered. I just thought it was a brilliant character study.

      But obviously one of us has an axe to grind, and one of us doesn’t.

  9. cadavra says:

    Sad that TRUMBO couldn’t manage more than one nom, but at least Cranston made the cut. Too bad he’s going to lose to Leo grunting for two hours. Also bummed that CRIMSON PEAK didn’t eke out a Production Design nod, but that one we pretty much saw coming.

  10. Chris L. says:

    There were really only two nominations I was truly invested in seeing happen – Carol for BP and Rampling. (Would have enjoyed a wider reach in supporting actor such as Shannon, Dano, Elba or Del Toro, but knew that was way too much to ask.) So the Carol thing is *vexing*. Given the divide between cinephiles and voters here (also glimpsed 2 years ago with Llewyn Davis, which Kris lamented so eloquently back then), I wonder if the adulation worked somehow against the film. Certainly some uber-admirers like Ehrlich made the whole thing into a meme, which could get annoying I suppose. Just grasping here. Desperately.

    Only solution that comes to mind, and probably not workable, is for some type of committee made of scholars, historians, maybe (gasp!) a critic or two, that would designate ONE protected film as the foreign language group does. Because people who care about film are going to look back on this and roll their eyes in bewilderment. It would be doing the Academy a favor in the long run to go back to ten slots and designate one for a delicate, non-crowd pleaser of real distinction.

    Despairing rant finished. Great interviews and insight as always, sir! (And don’t feel too bad about switching Carol into last-minute predix. Everybody else did too. Only the voters were blind.)

  11. Walter Sleeth says:

    So happy for the 12 nominations for The Revenant. Leo’s going to take home that Oscar this year!

  12. The Playwright says:

    I feel sorry for Mr. Tapley. He obviously doesn’t like his job that he wants the Oscar season to be behind him. Isn’t this his job? Shouldn’t he have some enthusiasm for his chosen profession instead of being so upset that his favorites didn’t get nominated? Disappointments are expected, but this article feels like these nominations were direct attack to Mr. Tapley’s sensibilities. So sad.

    • Wow, you apparently read the piece in the exact wrong tone (and I’m sure you’re pretty marginalized in doing so). Nothing to say about the notes about who and what I was over the moon for? Hung up on the handful of things I said I wish had gone another way? Weird.

      Feel sorry for yourself instead. You appear to read gloom in all corners. I’m perfectly happy. :)

  13. crossie says:

    Just went over my final predictions and … 95/121! Beat you, Kris!

    Aced Best Actress and Sound Editing, worst category was Best Song with 2/5 (and should’ve been 3/5 but a last minute change out of the crappy Bond song).

  14. EJ says:

    Sorry, have to remind you one final time how silly you look for your refusal to list The Big Short as even a contender when awards season was really taking shape. You let your disinterest/dislike in the film seriously affect your perception as to what was happening before your eyes-and ours.

    • No one looks silly for failing to recognize a shitty film will be nominated. It’s the worst Best Picture slate in at least a decade.

    • By the way, The Big Short was listed as “a contender” all season on the best picture chart. Maybe not predicted, but it was there from the beginning. In fact, few even had it on their radars prior to the AFI premiere announcement. Perhaps you’re thinking of another pundit but you weren’t paying attention if you think I didn’t have it on the list.

    • No I just waited for some confirmation outside my own skull, and once I saw it (SAG ensemble nod), I went there. If that counts as “silly” to you you really have your priorities out of order. Cheers.

      • EJ says:

        Touchy, touchy, Mr. Tapley! You made a distinct decision to keep The Big Short out of The Contender group for what seemed like weeks. I remember this very well. Shame you don’t. Must we go to the videotape? Check it, becaause I’m right on this. you, Anne Thompson and that bozo Eric from IndieWire dismissed The Big Short. And now all three of you look…silly.

      • Sure, let’s go to the tape. Here it is on Dec. 7, clearly on our contenders chart at #11:

        https://web.archive.org/web/20151207225917/http://variety.com/2015/film/in-contention/oscars-predictions-best-picture-1201601053/

        That’s as far back as the Web Archive will take me on that page, alas, but the film climbed to that position in the weeks prior from further down the chart, and within two days, it was predicted for best picture.

        I feel silly having to defend something as foolish as this because it’s not like I’m denying I held off predicting it longer than others. But what I didn’t do, as you suggest, is keep it off the chart entirely. So you’re either confused or conflating.

        Come what may, how fortunate we are to live lives where we can be distracted by such meaningless information.

  15. crossie says:

    Yeah, in the ‘Mad Max’ crowd (did note that the audience at the nomination announcements seemed to be ‘Mad Max’ fans too), and I’ve got a bone to pick with YOU, Kris, about that. You and Greg Ellwood getting all nervous there in the last home stretch, and I don’t even know why, with DGA and PGA (mediocre, BAFTAs, mediocre!), so of course you make me all nervous. And then it’s all for nothing; it was completely safe all along. (Though now I’m a bit nervous it shares every single nomination with ‘The Revenant’. If that becomes the “one,” it could be another ‘American Hustle’ or ‘True Grit’).

    Condolences on ‘Inside Out,’ though you’ve probably had time to make your peace (or close to peace with that).

    • Bill B. says:

      It was strange about how Mad Max got those in attendance this morning the most excited. I wonder why. I loved it, so that’s not a complaint. Won’t win picture, but I sure wouldn’t mind if Miller won director and he just might. While the love for the pretty awesome Room was a bit of a surprise, absolutely nothing came close in the surprise department than the absence of Ridley Scott. It was the only true shocker of the nominations. I wholeheartedly agree with Tapley about the need to make the best picture a definitive 10. Much like last year, it makes a pretty sad statement to say that only 8 films were good enough to be considered. That is simply not true nor was it last year. Regarding the racial issue, unlike last year, I don’t think anyone of color was necessarily better than those who were nominated, so I have no problem with it this time around, though Chris Rock is going to have a field day with the topic.

  16. This year I’m really happy with it all, beginning with my country receiving its first nomination ever in the foreign language film category. So excited for that !

    Biggest misses? Carol in best picture AND in production design. Also the Big Short in Best Picture. Now I do believe Spotlight and The Revenant are tied in the first spot to win. Why? Two words: film editing. That nod that many had predicted not to happen finally did for Spotlight and that for me puts the movie on a good place, even if The Revenant has many more nominations. It even got a Visual effects nod over Jurassic World for that bear !

    Tom Hardy’s nomination though fills me with joy. I didn’t see it coming but loved it because he’s really a fantastic actor. So glad too for Rampling and a bit annoyed to see Lawrence even if I had predicted her. Category fraud worked for Mara and Vikander, and we all love that at the end of the day.

    What else… Star Wars got 5 nods and I think the only one it may have missed was in production design. Some fans must be pissed that it didn’t make the Best Picture list but I am a fan and knew it wasn’t happening.
    The other group that must be pissed are the ones rooting for Straight Outta Compton. I actually knew they were not going to be named when the film wasn’t nominated for best sound mixing. They got a screenplay nod and that’s great.

    Awesome to see Brooklyn for best movie even if it missed costume design and I don’t know if being pissed for Ridley Scott being excluded from the best director list or happy that Lenny Abrahamson got in… Weird but awesome !

    And we now have Oscar nominee Lady Gaga and Sam Smith. Crazy, huh? Wanna hear something crazier? I think Gaga has a shot and Warren may finally be getting the award.

  17. Jake says:

    Mad max all the way! So happy for Charlotte Rampling!

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