Matt Robinson reviews the Oscar nominations announcements.

Written by Matt Robinson
Crisp, dry and bittersweet. Interested in film, music and the arts.
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On a Thursday afternoon the brightest and best of the film world huddled around the internet to hear the unlikely trio of Ang Lee, Guillermo del Toro, and John Krasinkski announce this year’s Oscar nominations. Here, then, are Redbrick critic Matt Robinson’s views on the big 6 categories.

Best Supporting Actor 

There was nothing truly surprising to be found here: Christian Bale (The Big Short), Tom Hardy (The Revenant), Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight), Mark Rylance (Bridge of Spies), and Sylvester Stallone (Creed) each got a nod.  Before the Golden Globes, and the standing ovation he received, I would have questioned Stallone’s nomination as he is hardly in the same league as the other nominees, but Americans appear to be complete saps for his Rocky character (he has received two acting nominations for the role already! Two.).

The momentum The Revenant has built up with its numerous awards nominations and wins might push Tom Hardy to the win, but it would be nice to see Mark Rylance awarded for his subtle portray of Russian spy Rudolf Abel.  If Stallone wins… well, let’s not think about it.

Best Supporting Actress

We see producers at play in this category, with Rooney Mara nominated for her performance in Carol and Alicia Vikander nominated for The Danish Girl; both parts that are only supporting roles if you are the films’ producers, squinting really hard and hoping the Academy won’t notice.  Rachel McAdams (Spotlight) and Kate Winslet (Steve Jobs) were predictable nominations, but the Academy offers a little surprise with Jennifer Jason Leigh being nominated for The Hateful Eight, a film that has been sadly overlooked this awards season.

Will Winslet gain a second Oscar?  This is her seventh nomination which is a feat in itself.  Vikander’s performance was the only good thing about The Danish Girl, and deserves an Oscar for her performance in Ex Machina (though, for that, she is not nominated).  She certainly seems to be the darling of Hollywood at the moment.  It would be nice to see Rooney Mara accepting the award, as her performance in Carol was breathtaking and subtle.

Best Director

Many had thought Ridley Scott would make it fourth time lucky and walk away with the golden statuette in February, but now we find that he has not been nominated for directing The Martian.  This is quite right; The Martian was fun and light-hearted, but hardly his best effort.  The question now on everyone’s lips is will Alejandro González Iñárritu make it two in a row?  He would only be the third person in the history of the award if he does, but for the brutal and visionary The Revenant he may well deserve it.  Other runners and riders include Tom McCarthy (Spotlight), Lenny Abrahamson (Room), Adam McKay (The Big Short), and George Miller (Mad Max: Fury Road).  It must be said, I never expected the director of Anchorman to one day get an Oscar nomination, but here we are… isn’t 2016 lovely?

Best Actor

Bryan Cranston (Trumbo), Matt Damon (The Martian), Leonardo DiCaprio (The Revenant), Michael Fassbender (Steve Jobs), and Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl) are this years nominees.  There is little chance of Redmayne securing a second win, nor can one imagine Damon or Cranston snatching the Oscar.  This is DiCaprio’s fourth Best Actor nomination and with tales of him sleeping in animal carcasses and eating raw liver to make The Revenant, we must hope he wins, or god knows what he will do next.  But could Fassbender sneak past the favourite for a surprise win?  Steve Jobs saw him giving a complex, theatrical and powerful performance as the tech genius that might convince the voters.

Best Actress

There seems little doubt who will win Best Actress.  Brie Larson has won the Best Actress Golden Globe already, and has BAFTA nominations for Best Actress and the Rising Star Award.  It is a film that could cynically be described as perfect Oscar bait for the star, and nearly everyone is predicting her win. Jennifer Lawrence (Joy), Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn), Cate Blanchett (Carol), and Charlotte Rampling (45 Years) are surely hoping that everyone is wrong – though it must be said that Blanchett already has two of the things, and Lawrence one. Surely there isn’t much one can do with the things apart from using them as particularly impractical paper weights.  It is nice to see Rampling nominated; 45 Years was a relatively small film, and it is good to see that the Oscars aren’t only the playground of the big hitters.

Best Picture

With the Academy having ignored Carol for Best Picture, there are no real stand outs.  The Martian, Bridge of Spies, Brooklyn, Room, Spotlight, and The Big Short are all dependable, well-made films but don’t offer any of the sparks of genius that we have seen from past winners.  On the night, it will probably be between Mad Max: Fury Road and The Revenant, depending on how set in their ways the Academy voters are.  Mad Max: Fury Road was a brave, crazy, ambitious film, but the Oscar has rarely graced the hands of an action movie.  The Revenant is bold and visually stunning, and in the end will probably walk away with the prize.

The Revenant is on for being the dominant film at the 88th annual Academy Awards with a total of 12 nominations.  Mad Max: Fury Road has 10, The Martian has 7, and Spotlight, Bridge of Spies, and Carol each have six, yet these totals mislead somewhat.  Both Carol and Creed topped many a critic’s best films of the year lists and, as the rules state that the Best Picture category can have up to ten nominations, surely there was room for both to feature? Instead we see neither.  Carol’s director, Todd Haynes, was overlooked which is appalling.  Did Tom Hanks’ performance in Bridge of Spies not deserve a nod, and what about Spielberg’s direction?  Thinking of last year’s hashtag, #OscarsSoWhite, it seems extraordinary that the Academy would overlook Idris Elba’s splendid performance in Beasts of No Nation, and Michael B. Jordan’s performance in Creed.  But there we are; all we can do now is wait and see.

Before I ring off there is just one last thing to say; the announcement was tinged with sadness as, moments before, news broke of Alan Rickman’s death.  Rickman was one of the most recognisable faces of the silver screen, perhaps best known for his villainous roles in Die Hard and the Harry Potter series.  He was not just a Hollywood villain though.  To look at Rickman’s filmography is to spy an actor of great versatility and fun, with films ranging from the serious (Sense and Sensibility) to the silly (Galaxy Quest), not to mention his eminence on both Broadway and West End stages, his TV performances and his time spent behind the camera .  All this and more set him apart as one of the best and most respected actors of his generation.  With all this talk of the Oscars, it is easy to think that rewards are everything, but Alan Rickman, who won many awards in his time but never an Oscar, once said in an interview on American television: ‘Parts win prizes, not actors.’  This is something, perhaps, for every nominee announced to think about.