Oscars: Extreme Action Titles Lead Nominations Field

'Revenant,' Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox
'The Revenant'

The Academy settled on eight best picture nominees, which also included smaller pics like 'Brooklyn' and 'Room.'

Tales of survival under extreme circumstances dominated the nominations for the 88th annual Academy Awards, announced on Thursday morning. The Revenant, in which Leonardo DiCaprio battles some brutal elements (as well as that bear), led the pack with 12 nominations — followed by Mad Max: Fury Road, in which Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron confront a bone-dry apocalyptic future, with 10, and The Martian, in which Matt Damon is stranded on the red planet, with seven.

All three films were nominated for best picture, along with The Big Short, Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, Room and Spotlight.

While Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the biggest hit of the year by far, picked up only five nominations — all in the crafts categories — the Academy’s best picture choices did tilt in favor of studio-produced crowd-pleasers, although smaller, more intimate indie movies like Brooklyn, about a young woman making her way to America, and Room, about a mother ferociously protecting her son under the direst of circumstances, did secure a foothold.

The nominations, while sure to be applauded by many, are just as likely to trigger outrage on the part of others. One of the biggest surprises was the Academy’s failure to include The Martian’s Ridley Scott among its list of directing nominees, which instead included Revenant’s Alejandro G. Inarritu (last year’s winner in the category for Birdman), Big Short’s Adam McKay, Fury Road’s George Miller, Room’s Lenny Abrahamson and Spotlight’s Tom McCarthy.

But the biggest controversy the Academy can expect to face this year is another round of criticism over the fact that all 20 of the nominees in the four acting categories are white. While the Academy under president Cheryl Boone Isaacs has been making a concerted effort to diversify its membership, those efforts weren’t reflected in the new crop of acting nominees, which didn’t include any performers of color. Actors including Idris Elba, from Beasts of No Nation, and Benicio Del Toro, from Sicario, who have been nominated by other organizations, were not recognized by the Academy.

The acting nominations did include a handful of veterans like Charlotte Rampling, 69, who received a best actress nomination, the first Oscar nom of her career, for playing a woman whose longtime marriage hits a crossroads in 45 Years, and Sylvester Stallone, also 69, who received a best supporting actor nom for reprising his signature character of Rocky Balboa in Creed, 39 years after he was nominated as best actor for playing the same character in 1976's Rocky.

But the noms also welcomed relative newcomers like best actress nominees Brie Larson for Room and Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn as well as Alicia Vikander, nominated as best supporting actress in The Danish Girl. And the Academy's members also rewarded established performers like Bryan Cranston, a best actor nominee for Trumbo, and Mark Rylance, a supporting actor nominee for Bridge of Spies, both actors' first Oscar noms.

In addition to Cranston, the best actor nominees included Eddie Redmayne (last year’s winner in the category for The Theory of Everything) for his performance as transgender pioneer Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl; DiCaprio, earning his fifth acting nomination for The Revenant; Damon, picking up his third acting nom for The Martian (he does have a screenwriting Oscar for Good Will Hunting); and Michael Fassbender, collecting his second nom for channeling the Apple guru in Steve Jobs.

In the best actress category, Rampling, Larson and Ronan are joined by Cate Blanchett, already a two-time Oscar winner, for playing the glamorous older woman drawn into a lesbian romance in Carol, and Jennifer Lawrence, a past winner for Silver Linings Playbook, nominated for Joy, her latest collaboration with director David O. Russell.

The supporting actress lineup includes Vikander, Jennifer Jason Leigh for The Hateful Eight, Rooney Mara for Carol, Rachel McAdams for Spotlight and Kate Winslet for Steve Jobs. In the supporting actor category, Stallone and Rylance are competing against Christian Bale for The Big Short, Tom Hardy for The Revenant and Mark Ruffalo for Spotlight.

Meanwhile, across categories, The Revenant and Mad Max: Fury Road were running neck and neck. While The Revenant took the lead because of its two acting noms, the movies both got best picture and directing noms. Neither got screenwriting, song or score nominations — the Academy’s music branch disqualified The Revenant’s score by Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto. But both movies then also collected nominations in the eight other craft categories.

In the feature documentary category, two portraits of trouble singers, Asif Kapadia’s Amy, about Amy Winehouse, and Liz Garbus’ What Happened, Miss Simone?, about Nina Simone, made the cut. They will face off against Matthew Heineman’s Cartel Land, which looks at efforts to battle the drug cartels on the Mexican border; Evgeny Afineevsky’s Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom, which plunges viewers into the revolt that led to the overthrow of President Viktor Yanukovych; and Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence, which returns to the subject of genocide in Indonesia, which the director also explored in his previous film, The Act of Killing, which was nominated in 2014.

The Hungarian submission Son of Saul, the Auschwitz-set drama directed by Laszlo Nemes, which has been winning prizes ever since it first premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May, was nominated for best foreign-language film along with France’s Mustang (although that film, about four sisters, is actually set in a Turkish village), Columbia’s Embrace the Serpent, Jordan’s Theeb and Denmark’s A War (which is partially set in Afghanistan).

Perennial Oscar player Pixar secured a spot in both the feature and short animation categories. Its Inside Out, which takes place inside the mind of an 11-year-old girl, was nominated in the feature animation group, where it is going up against two very different stop-motion-animated movies: Charlie Kaufman’s adult-oriented Anomalisa and Aardman Animations’ comic Shaun the Sheep Movie. The category also includes two releases from GKIDS Films — Ale Abreu’s Boy and the World and Hiromasa Yonebayashi's When Marnie Was There.

In the animated short film contest, Pixar’s Sanjay’s Super Team was nominated along with Bear Story, Prologue, We Can’t Live Without Cosmos and World of Tomorrow.