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Balloting for 2016 Oscar Nominations Draws to a Close

What happened as voters had ballots in hand Dec. 30 - Jan. 8?

It’s 5:00 p.m. on the West Coast, meaning it’s pencils down for Academy voters. Balloting for the first phase of the 88th annual Oscar season has drawn to a close and now, the hard-working folks of PricewaterhouseCoopers will tally the results, which will be revealed the morning of Jan. 14.

Here’s what happened when Academy members had ballots in hand (though it should be noted paper ballots were mailed out earlier than the official start date, which is when electronic ballots were made available).

– Ballots officially arrived on Dec. 30 as “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” crossed the $600 million domestic box office mark on its way to becoming the all-time champ, which it did on Jan. 6.

– Also on Dec. 30, Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight” transitioned out of its 70mm/roadshow limited engagement phase, adding another 1,858 screens across the country before beefing up with another 500 over the holiday weekend. (Tarantino also had his hands and feet immortalized in cement at the TCL Chinese Theatre on Jan. 5, on the heels of receiving a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at the end of December.)

– On Jan. 1, “Creed” crossed $100 million domestic to start the new year. Two days later on Jan. 3, star Michael B. Jordan was the National Society of Film Critics’ surprise best actor winner. (Sylvester Stallone also graced Variety‘s Jan. 5 cover as part of our Golden Globes preview.)

– Also on Jan. 3, Variety hosted its annual Creative Impact Awards brunch at the Palm Springs International Film Festival in conjunction with its 10 Directors to Watch presentation. An intimate event with a number of Academy members in attendance, it saw “Concussion” star Will Smith and “Anomalisa” writer-director Charlie Kaufman accept awards, while honored directors from the list with films in play this season included Deniz Gamze Erguven (“Mustang”), Ciro Guerra (“Embrace of the Serpent”), Duke Johnson (“Anomalisa”), Peter Landesman (“Concussion”) and László Nemes (“Son of Saul”). Also honored was “Ex Machina” writer-director Alex Garland, who couldn’t attend.

– Speaking of Palm Springs, the festival’s annual awards gala was held the night before on Jan. 2. Honorees included Johnny Depp (“Black Mass”), Cate Blanchett (“Carol”), Bryan Cranston (“Trumbo”), Rooney Mara (“Carol”), Matt Damon (“The Martian”), Alicia Vikander (“The Danish Girl” and “Ex Machina”), Michael Fassbender (“Steve Jobs”), Brie Larson (“Room”), Saoirse Ronan (“Brooklyn”) and countless others, as it seems the festival never runs out of hardware to hand out.

– On Jan. 4, the America Cinema Editors were the first industry group to announce nominees since the early Screen Actors Guild date in December. “Sicario” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” were the surprise inclusions, with “Spotlight” unexpectedly left off the list.

– Throughout the week, the art directors, producers, writers and costume designers guilds, as well as the American Society of Cinematographers, added to the equation. “Sicario” maintained an impressive streak throughout, showing strength where many had counted the September release out, while “Straight Outta Compton” added PGA and WGA nominations to its SAG ensemble berth, emerging as a serious best picture contender. “Ex Machina” also scored a surprise PGA nomination, while “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” — a film most expected to cruise to a nod — was ignored.

– Todd Haynes’ “Carol” managed some notices here and there (from the ASC, WGA and CDG), but remained in an extremely limited 180-screen theatrical holding pattern. That number finally increased to 525 on Jan. 8, with Harvey Weinstein no doubt holding off on going much wider until Oscar nominations (hopefully) pave the way.

– “Mad Max: Fury Road” emerged as the most lauded film throughout the industry groups circuit, netting mentions from six organizations. “Bridge of Spies,” “The Martian,” “The Revenant” and “Sicario” each managed five, while “The Big Short” and “Trumbo” landed four apiece.

– Finally, “Bridge of Spies” and “Carol” led the British Academy of Film and Television Arts’ nominations with nine each, followed closely by “The Revenant” with eight. Surprises of note included “Mad Max: Fury Road” missing out on best film and best director nominations; Alicia Vikander being nominated for both lead (“The Danish Girl”) and supporting actress (“Ex Machina”); and Matt Damon (“The Martian”) and Benicio Del Toro (“Sicario”) finally showing up after being on the bubble for most of the season.

Along the way, studios made their last serious pitches aimed at Academy membership, with soirees held in honor of films like “Beasts of No Nation,” “The Big Short” (with Steve Carell getting a Hollywood Walk of Fame star on Jan. 6), “Brooklyn,” “The Hateful Eight,” “The Hunting Ground,” “Steve Jobs” and “Trumbo,” among others.

How much will all of that figure into things? “Creed” and “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” caught consumer strides at the perfect time. “Ex Machina” and “Sicario” did well enough to perhaps embolden closet fans. It’s quite a gumbo heading into the nominations announcement next week, and no doubt, the postmortem will be an interesting one.

We’re not quite ready for final predictions yet, but for now, this is what we’re thinking around these parts. Further illumination will come from the directors and makeup & hairstylists guild next week, along with the cinema audio and visual effects societies.

Nominations for the 88th annual Academy Awards will be revealed on Thursday, Jan. 14.

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