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The 17 Biggest Surprises Of This Year's Oscar Nominations


1. A second straight year of blindingly white Oscar nominees

Universal Pictures

Straight Outta Compton

Warner Bros. Pictures


Last year, when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominated its first all-white set of acting nominees, there was a major backlash that embarrassed the Academy, and likely helped lead to the most diverse new class of members possibly ever. In November, Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs even spent her speech at the annual Governors Awards challenging the industry to diversify its hiring practices, a sentiment echoed that year by honoree Spike Lee.

And now, we are right back where we started. All 20 acting nominees are, once again, white. And, unlike last year, all eight Best Picture nominees feature predominantly white casts. Straight Outta Compton — which enjoyed a surge of industry support with a Best Ensemble nomination from SAG-AFTRA and a Best Picture nomination from the Producers Guild — earned just a single Oscar nomination, for Best Original Screenplay — which some have pointed out went to its white screenwriters. Creed, a widely acclaimed film with a black director and black star, earned a single nomination for the only major white actor in the film, Sylvester Stallone, in the Best Supporting Actor category. Will Smith did not earn a nomination for his strong work in Concussion, nor did Idris Elba for his searing performance in Beasts of No Nation.

It is yet another humiliating reminder of how little the film industry even bothers making Oscarworthy movies about non-white people, let alone considering non-white actors and professionals when deciding what constitutes the best movies of the year. Creed's Michael B. Jordan was never considered as anything more than a long shot for Best Actor, while the conversation about the contenders for Best Actress remained starkly white from the very start. We could see this outcome coming, for weeks, if not months. It is, in a way, depressingly unsurprising, and it is something the movie business will need to keep confronting well after this year's winners have taken their Oscar statues home.

2. No Best Original Song nomination for Furious 7's "See You Again"

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This is just dumb. Furious 7's ode to the late Paul Walker, performed and co-written by Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth, was a strong, memorable song, a massive hit, and evoked well-earned tears. And yet, we will not be crying those tears during this year's Oscar telecast, because it is not nominated! Which, again, is just dumb.

3. No Best Director nomination for The Martian's Ridley Scott

20th Century Fox

The Martian, one of the most well-reviewed and successful movies of the year, earned an impressive seven nominations, including for Best Picture, Best Actor for Matt Damon, and Best Adapted Screenplay for Drew Goddard. But Scott, the venerable and venerated filmmaker who orchestrated all the film's nominated elements so incredibly well, did not impress the directors branch of the Academy enough to earn a nomination. When I attended the Golden Globes on Sunday, I heard from multiple people pulling for Scott to win this year. Instead, he'll have to be content attending the Oscars as a nominated producer.

4. No Best Picture or Best Director nominations for Carol

The Weinstein Company

Carol is an exquisitely crafted masterwork and, according to Metacritic, the most acclaimed movie of the year. A lot of the Academy membership agreed, giving it six nominations, including nods for its stars Cate Blanchett (for Best Actress) and Rooney Mara (for Best Supporting Actress). But I've heard that some Academy members thought the movie was boring, and never finished watching their screeners of it. Which is perhaps why director Todd Haynes and the movie itself did not rate nominations. It is a massive, massive shame!

5. A Best Picture and Best Director nomination for Room, but no nod for Jacob Tremblay


Despite the understandable dread over Room — about a kidnapped woman (Brie Larson) and her young son (Jacob Tremblay) — the film manages to be deeply moving and not at all exploitative. The fact that enough Academy members did watch it, and felt it was great enough not just to nominate for Best Picture, but also to nominate the understated direction from Lenny Abrahamson, is a genuine relief. If only there had been enough support to nominate Tremblay for his own subtle, incredible performance!

6. A Best Supporting Actor nomination for The Revenant's Tom Hardy

20th Century Fox

Instead of nominating Tremblay — or Love & Mercy's Paul Dano, Beast of No Nation's Idris Elba, or 99 Homes' Michael Shannon, or Spotlight's Michael Keaton, or The Big Short's Steve Carell — the Academy's overall massive support for The Revenant helped nominate Tom Hardy, who plays the villain who leaves Leonardo DiCaprio's character for dead. It is also Hardy's very first Oscar nomination, and it is kind of hilarious that it is for this eccentric, garrulous, semicoherent performance.

7. Category fraud worked for The Danish Girl's Alicia Vikander and Carol's Rooney Mara

Focus Features

Alicia Vikander in The Danish Girl

The Weinstein Company

Rooney Mara in Carol

Confusion over whether Dano, Keaton, or Carell gave lead or supporting performances for their respective films may have contributed to their lack of nominations. There is no confusion, however, that The Danish Girl's Alicia Vikander and Carol's Rooney Mara gave lead performances, even after their respective distributors campaigned for them for Best Supporting Actress in an attempt to secure them nominations. The Hollywood Foreign Press even rejected this fiction for the Golden Globes, and nominated both Vikander and Mara in the Best Actress category. The Academy, however, allows its membership to vote actors in either category of their choosing, and that membership apparently had no problem nominating Vikander and Mara as supporting performances. The Academy does not, however, allow an actor to be nominated twice in the same category, so Vikander's outstanding (and genuine) supporting performance in Ex Machina went without a nomination.

8. No Best Adapted Screenplay nomination for Steve Jobs' Aaron Sorkin

Universal Pictures

Steve Jobs

Kevin Winter / Getty Images

Aaron Sorkin

There was a moment when Steve Jobs was considered a major awards season contender, in part because it was seen as a kind of spiritual sequel to The Social Network, for which Sorkin won an Oscar for his screenplay. Then nobody went to see it. And now Sorkin isn't nominated for his very Sorkin-y script. At least he can console himself that his script helped earn Michael Fassbender and Kate Winslet nods for Best Actor and Best Supporting Actress, right?

9. No Best Original Screenplay nomination for The Hateful Eight's Quentin Tarantino

The Weinstein Company

The Hateful Eight

Brendon Thorne / Getty Images

Quentin Tarantino

There was also a moment when The Hateful Eight was considered a major awards season contender, in part because it was seen as a kind of spiritual sequel to Django Unchained, for which Tarantino won an Oscar for his screenplay. Then the Academy members sat through its interminable three hours. Had this category been for Biggest Original Screenplay, Tarantino would have been a lock to win. Instead, he'll have to be content that Jennifer Jason Leigh earned her first Oscar nomination ever for the film, and legendary film composer Ennio Morricone earned his sixth nod for Best Original Score.

10. No Best Picture nomination for Inside Out, and no Best Animated Feature nomination for The Good Dinosaur


Inside Out


The Good Dinosaur

Inside Out was one of the best movies of the year, and one of the best animated movies ever. This is not even in dispute! And yet Pixar, which did earn Best Picture nominations for Toy Story 3 and Up, did not win enough broad Academy support for a Best Picture nomination for Inside Out. But at least it is still the front-runner for Best Animated Feature; the studio's The Good Dinosaur didn't even rate a nomination in that category either.

11. No Best Actor nomination for Black Mass's Johnny Depp

Warner Bros. Pictures

This is maybe more of a relief, but with a SAG Award nomination for Best Actor and his continuing popularity within the industry, Depp's showy performance as Boston gangster James "Whitey" Bulger had been on many Oscar prognosticator's lists for a nomination. Instead, The Martian's Matt Damon earned his second Best Actor nomination ever (his first was for 1998's Good Will Hunting).

12. Only one nomination each for Trumbo and Joy

Bleecker Street


20th Century Fox


Trumbo appeared to be rather ascendant of late, perhaps due to its portrait of the Hollywood blacklist of the 1950s. The film earned a SAG Award nomination for Best Ensemble, and Helen Mirren nabbed a Best Supporting Actress nomination for her performance as notorious columnist Hedda Hopper. It was weird for most people who had seen the movie, since it is a perfectly workmanlike film that feels like it would belong as a second-tier project on HBO. It appears the Academy agreed: Only Bryan Cranston's considerable charm and talent in the title role — and goodwill in the industry — carried him to a Best Actor nomination, his first.

Joy, meanwhile, was deemed — sight unseen — to be an Oscar front-runner for months, thanks largely to the track record of its director, David O. Russell, whose last three films (The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, and American Hustle) were all major nominees. But after people actually saw Joy, and understood it was a veritable mess from start to finish, the wind all but vanished from its sails. Only Jennifer Lawrence's considerable charm and talent in the title role — and goodwill in the industry — carried her to a Best Actress nomination, her third (and fourth overall).

13. No nominations at all for Beasts of No Nation


The Television Academy has had no problem nominating TV series from Netflix in all of its major categories at the Emmy Awards (see House of Cards, Orange Is the New Black, Bloodline, etc.). But when it came time to consider the upstart streaming service's first serious feature film contender, Beasts of No Nation — about child soldiers in sub-Saharan Africa, and the charismatic warlord who leads them — the Motion Picture Academy chose to ignore it outright. That could be as much due the film's difficult subject matter as any snobbery about the medium with which it was delivered to audiences. (The film's theatrical run — which made it eligible to be nominated for the Oscars — grossed a minuscule $91,000.) But there is no mistaking Beasts of No Nation's superlative artistry and seriousness of purpose.

14. No nomination for Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief


Let the conspiracy theories commence over whether the Church of Scientology's unrelenting campaign against Alex Gibney's sober and sobering examination of its practices prevented this film from earning a nomination for Best Documentary Feature.

15. Composer Carter Burwell finally got an Oscar nomination

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For film geeks who love movie scores, the fact that Carter Burwell — who's composed the indelible music for Fargo, Gods and Monsters, The Big Lebowski, Being John Malkovich, and No Country For Old Men, among many, many others — had never once earned an Oscar nomination was one of the great oversights of the Academy Awards. So thank goodness Burwell finally earned one for his equally indelible score for Carol!

16. No Best Picture nomination for Star Wars: The Force Awakens


Star Wars: The Force Awakens did earn five nominations — for its editing, score, visual effects, and sound — but, since at least the 1970s, every film that has earned the title The Highest Grossing Film in the United States of All Time (2009's Avatar, 1997's Titanic, 1982's E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, 1977's Star Wars: A New Hope, 1975's Jaws, 1973's The Exorcist, and 1972's The Godfather) has gone on to a nomination for Best Picture. None of those films, however, were a sequel, let alone the seventh movie in an almost 40-year-old franchise. Still, it is a measure of how little commercial success factors into the Academy Awards anymore that The Force Awakens didn't earn enough support for Best Picture — and likely didn't even come close.

17. 10 nominations for Mad Max: Fury Road, including Best Picture

Warner Bros. Pictures

The Revenant's 12 nominations — including for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor — jibes completely with the Academy's sensibility over the last 15 years, which has leaned heavily towards sober, artistically ambitious features released in the second half of the year. But the fact that director George Miller's deliriously gonzo summer action spectacular earned a whopping 10 nominations — including for Best Picture and Best Director — is something of a miracle, and a cause to hope that the Academy will continue to look beyond the standard set of "awards season" movies to honor well into the future.

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