Oscars: Pros and Cons of the Most-Nominated Movies

7:00 AM 1/22/2016

by Gregg Kilday

At the Golden Globes, Netflix walked in with the most noms (9) — only to leave embarrassingly empty-handed. Now, THR takes a look at how Oscar's most-lauded pictures, from the tiny 'Room' to the massive 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens,' can sweep or be shut out.


The common wisdom this awards season is that the contest has been wide open. But that's another way of saying nobody can agree on anything. Certainly not the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. When its nominations for the 88th Oscars were unveiled Jan. 14, the nominees ranged from Room, the very definition of a little chamber drama, to the galaxy-hopping, freely ranging fantasy of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

The Academy may have narrowed the field, but it appears no closer to consensus, for it still has to collectively decide on the best of a very diverse lot. (Final voting opens Feb. 12 and closes Feb. 23.) Here are the movies that scored three nominations or more. Let the debates begin.

  1. 1

    The Revenant

    12 Nominations

    'The Revenant,' Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

    Distributor: Fox

    Released: Dec. 25

    Budget $135M | Box Office: $155.8M

    Nominations: Picture; lead actor, Leonardo DiCaprio; supporting actor, Tom Hardy; director, Alejandro G. Inarritu; cinematography; costume design; film editing; makeup and hairstyling; production design; sound editing; sound mixing; visual effects

    The Pitch: Everything you see onscreen is real — well, except for that angry mama bear. Inarritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, having established their bravura bona fides with last year's Oscar winner Birdman, brought it to the next level, toughing it out through an arduous shoot, which took them from Canada to Argentina. DiCaprio manned up by wading into frozen water and eating raw bison liver — and with four previous acting noms and no wins, he's due.

    The Knock: Hey, didn't these guys just win? Many felt the movie was punishing. And as for DiCaprio, he didn't have all that much dialogue to master, and the best actor award has to be for more than enduring a Survivor-level challenge.

  2. 2

    Mad Max: Fury Road

    10 Nominations

    'Mad Max: Fury Road,' Courtesy of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

    Distributor: Warner Bros.

    Released: May 15

    Budget: $150M | Box Office: $375.8M

    Nominations: Picture; director, George Miller; cinematography; costume design; film editing; makeup and hairstyling; production design; sound editing; sound mixing; visual effects

    The Pitch: You have got to give Miller credit. At 70, he's not slowing down, supercharging a franchise 30 years after its previous installment, 1985's Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome — and he gave it a feminist twist by putting Charlize Theron behind the wheel, winning applause from all those snobs at Cannes, where the movie made its debut.

    The Knock: Yeah, but at the end of the day, it's still a chase picture and yet another movie where a growly Tom Hardy hides his face behind some sort of mask.

  3. 3

    The Martian

    7 Nominations

    Aidan Monaghan/Twentieth Century Fox

    Distributor: Fox

    Released: Oct. 2

    Budget: $108M | Box Office: $597.8M

    Nominations: Picture; lead actor, Matt Damon; adapted screenplay, Drew Goddard; production design; sound editing; sound mixing; visual effects

    The Pitch: Sure, everyone knows director Ridley Scott's a master of sci-fi fantasies like Alien and Blade Runner, but this time out, he took a risk by dialing down the fantasy elements in favor of, as Damon's stranded astronaut puts it, "sciencing the shit out of it," without losing any tension or suspense.

    The Knock: Submitting the movie as a comedy at the Golden Globes was an overly calculated move on the part of Fox. And for all its science, it's still sci-fi, and a sci-fi flick has never claimed the best picture prize.

  4. 4

    Bridge of Spies

    6 Nominations

    Courtesy of DreamWorks and Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

    Distributor: Disney

    Released: Oct. 16

    Budget: $40M | Box Office: $157.5M

    Nominations: Picture; supporting actor, Mark Rylance; original screenplay, Matt Charman, Ethan Coen, Joel Coen; original score; production design; sound mixing

    The Pitch: It's not just a classically filmed drama about Cold War espionage; Steven Spielberg's latest thriller speaks to rising East-West tensions and argues for the importance of diplomacy. John Kerry would approve.

    The Knock: It's something of a musty history lesson. And while some applaud Rylance for underplaying his taciturn spy, others found his repeated refrain, "Would it help?" just a little precious.


  5. 5


    6 Nominations

    'Carol,' Wilson Webb

    Distributor: The Weinstein Co.

    Released: Nov. 20

    Budget: $11.8M | Box Office: $17.9M

    Nominations: Lead actress, Cate Blanchett; supporting actress, Rooney Mara; adapted screenplay, Phyllis Nagy; cinematography; costume design; original score

    The Pitch: Blanchett and Mara deliver old-school movie star glamour while wearing gorgeous Sandy Powell knockout designs in a gay love story that, for once, doesn't have a tragic ending.

    The Knock: That love scene could have been a lot hotter, but then director Todd Haynes always maintains his control.

  6. 6


    6 Nominations

    'Spotlight,' Courtesy of Kerry Hayes/Open Road Films

    Distributor: Open Road

    Released: Nov. 6

    Budget: $20M | Box Office: $31.4M

    Nominations: Picture; supporting actor, Mark Ruffalo; supporting actress, Rachel McAdams; director, Tom McCarthy; original screenplay, Josh Singer, McCarthy; film editing

    The Pitch: McCarthy’s methodically paced procedural about the Boston Globe reporters who took on the Catholic Church and uncovered the sexual-abuse scandal is certainly on the side of the angels — and just about everyone agrees it’s the best movie about the press since All the President’s Men.

    The Knock: No wonder the press loves it so — it flatters them. But it’s still no All the President’s Men, and even that movie didn’t win the big prize back in the day.

  7. 7

    The Big Short

    5 Nominations

    'The Big Short,' Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

    Distributor: Paramount

    Released: Dec. 11

    Budget: $28M | Box Office: $70.3M

    Nominations: Picture; supporting actor, Christian Bale; director, Adam McKay; adapted screenplay, Charles Randolph, McKay; film editing

    The Pitch: Who would have thought that a movie about the 2008 fiscal crisis, based on Michael Lewis’ book, could be so smart and fun?

    The Knock: Short sales? Derivatives? Default credit swaps? What the hell were they all talking about? Director McKay may just have to wait for memories of Step Brothers and The Other Guys to further fade before he’s welcomed into the ranks of top auteurs.

  8. 8

    Star Wars: The Force Awakens

    5 Nominations

    Courtesy of Lucasfilms 2015/Walt Disney Studios

    Distributor: Disney

    Released: Dec. 18

    Budget: $200M | Box Office: $1.9B

    Nominations: Film editing; original score; sound editing; sound mixing; visual effects

    The Pitch: It’s the biggest movie of 2015 by far. It would be a nice bookend for John Williams, who won his second Oscar for the original Star Wars, if he won for this, his 50th nomination. And since George Lucas’ first three Star Wars movies all won visual effects awards, a VFX win also would make up for the best picture snub.

    The Knock: J.J. Abrams’ movie is as much a slavish copy as it is a freshly reimagined reboot. And with nearly $2 billion in worldwide grosses so far, how much more validation does it need?

  9. 9

    The Danish Girl

    4 Nominations

    Courtesy of Venice Film Festival

    Distributor: Focus Features

    Released: Nov. 27

    Budget: $15M | Box Office: $21.7M

    Nominations: Lead actor, Eddie Redmayne; supporting actress, Alicia Vikander; costume design; production design

    The Pitch: With awareness of transgender issues moving to the fore in 2015, director Tom Hooper’s decorous look at transgender pioneer Lili Elbe is very much of the moment.

    The Knock: Redmayne just won last year for The Theory of Everything, and, anyway, if you want a really authentic look at transgender street life, then check out the Spirit Awards-nominated Tangerine.

  10. 10


    4 Nominations


    Distributor: A24

    Released: Oct. 16

    Budget: $12M | Box Office: $6.2M

    Nominations: Picture; lead actress, Brie Larson; director, Lenny Abrahamson; adapted screenplay, Emma Donoghue

    The Pitch: Abrahamson gets extra points for the degree of difficulty involved in filming an intimate drama, half of which takes place in a 10-by-10 room, with just two performers, relative newcomer Larson and kid actor Jacob Tremblay.

    The Knock: Half the movie is just two actors in a room! Sounds horribly claustrophobic.


  11. 11


    3 Nominations

    Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

    Distributor: Fox Searchlight

    Released: Nov. 4

    Budget: $10M | Box Office: $25.1M

    Nominations: Picture; lead actress, Saoirse Ronan; adapted screenplay, Nick Hornby

    The Pitch: The understated drama, embraced  by critics when it bowed at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, marks 21-year-old Ronan’s onscreen coming-of-age, and its story of a young Irish girl seeking a new home in New York is an antidote to today’s nasty and contentious immigration debate.

    The Knock: They say they don’t make movies like this anymore. Well, there’s a reason they don’t make movies like this anymore. (Hint: It’s just a little too polite and dull.)

  12. 12

    The Hateful Eight

    3 Nominations

    Courtesy of The Weinstein Company

    Distributor: The Weinstein Co.

    Released: Dec. 25

    Budget: $44M | Box Office: $70M

    Nominations: Supporting actress, Jennifer Jason Leigh; cinematography; original score

    The Pitch: Nobody does it quite like director Quentin Tarantino: Facing down a call from police organizations for a boycott (which failed to materialize), dealing with a few faulty projectors during exclusive 70mm screenings and fending off a predictable controversy over the movie’s over-the-top violence and treatment of women, he delivered another of his signature talk-and-shoot fests to the delight of his fans.

    The Knock: Kudos to Leigh for surviving all the abuse heaped on her character to score the one acting nom among the company, but it’s time for someone to rein in Tarantino before he does it all over again.

  13. 13


    3 Nominations

    Distributor: Lionsgate

    Released: Sept. 18

    Budget: $30M | Box Office: $80.6M

    Nominations: Cinematography; original score; sound editing

    The Pitch: In the wake of the headlines about the dramatic arrest of Mexican drug lord El Chapo, director Denis Villeneuve’s tense drama — which was unveiled at Cannes — about the battle to combat the drug trade along the Mexican border feels freshly torn from the headlines.

    The Knock: Roger Deakins’ sun-drenched cinematography notwithstanding, it’s a by-now-familiar story, paling in comparison to the stranger-than-fiction saga of Sean Penn’s own top-secret encounter with El Chapo.