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

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.

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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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