If you expected the announcement of the Golden Globe nominations on Thursday to bring some clarity to this year's awards race, you would have been disappointed. Or maybe relieved.
Most years, Oscar pundits complain that the race is too predictable, that a short list of front-runners has already coalesced by early December. This year, though, they're complaining that it's not predictable enough. Which is indeed bad news if you're trying to win an Oscar pool, but good news for everyone who's rooting for an exciting, suspenseful competition.
The many year-end groups that have announced their winners and nominees over the past two weeks have spread the wealth so much that it's hard to find any consensus. Some have favored "Spotlight," some "Carol," and some "Mad Max: Fury Road." So our Best Picture front-runners so far include a traditional ensemble drama based on a true story, a period lesbian romance, and the reboot of a 30-years-dormant action franchise.
And just behind those, we have the space epic that the Globe voters think is a comedy ("The Martian"), a couple of brutally violent Westerns from important directors (Quentin Tarantino's "The Hateful Eight" and Iñarritu's "The Revenant"), a drama about a kidnapped woman and her little boy ("Room"), a dramedy biopic about a woman entrepreneur ("Joy") and more.
That's one crazy list.
This isn't the race we thought we were going to see. A few months ago, it looked like we might all be talking about such seemingly "sure bets" as Johnny Depp in "Black Mass" (above), Robert Zemeckis' direction of "The Walk," "Steve Jobs," or Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard's performances in "Macbeth." But then critics actually saw the movies.
The critics groups that have voted so far, including the New York Film Critics Circle, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the Boston Society of Film Critics, and the Washington DC Film Critics Association, don't offer much value when it comes to predicting the eventual Oscar nominees and winners.
They do, however, help define the conversation, determining which performers and films are worthy of consideration. They're the reason that Fassbender still has a shot at a Best Actor prize for "Steve Jobs," or that Kristen Stewart is under consideration for her supporting role in the arcane "Clouds of Sils Maria." They're also why we're talking about such not-yet-widely-seen films as "Spotlight," "Carol," and "Room" in the first place, not to mention still-unreleased films like "Joy" and "The Big Short."
One happy result of the failure to agree on just a handful of worthy candidates is that this year's Best Actress field is richer than usual. The annual complaints about how few good lead roles there are for women should be a little quieter this year, given how many strong performances have a chance of an Oscar nomination. Among the 10 Globe nominees this year (since the Globes pick five for comedy as well as five for drama), at least eight have a solid shot at Academy recognition, with the front-runners being Jennifer Lawrence ("Joy"), Brie Larson ("Room"), Cate Blanchett ("Carol"), Saoirse Ronan ("Brooklyn"), and Lily Tomlin ("Grandma"). Larson and Blanchett (pictured) are all but sure things, but the rest of the nominations are up for grabs.
The Best Actor race is going to be the tight one this year, with top contenders Leonardo DiCaprio ("The Revenant"), Fassbender ("Steve Jobs"), Matt Damon ("The Martian"), Eddie Redmayne ("The Danish Girl"), and Bryan Cranston ("Trumbo"), and not a whole lot of others. (Michael Keaton, like the rest of the ensemble, are being submitted for supporting categories.) Let the guys complain this year about the dearth of meaty roles.
There are still a lot of questions about how we got to this point and where the race could go. Does "Spotlight," with its strong ensemble cast, really have a chance if that ensemble's individual actors keep getting ignored (as they were by Globe voters)? Do big-budget blockbuster spectacles like "Mad Max" and "The Martian" have a real shot against the small-scale independent dramas that awards voters usually favor? Did screener DVDs get sent to voters too late for "The Hateful Eight," "The Revenant," "Joy," and "The Big Short" to have more of an impact?
Still, there's something refreshing about the inability of the professional critics, the pundits who make up the voters for the Golden Globes and the National Board of Review awards, and the industry insiders who pick the Screen Actors Guild award nominees to settle on a consensus. It means there's still a wide-open race in nearly every category -- and nearly three months for us all to argue for our favorites to win big.