This year's Oscar race was the most wide-open and unpredictable in years -- until Thursday morning's announcement of the Academy's nominations. Now, most of the top categories have clear favorites.
Of course, the nominations list also tells us a lot more than just who's up for a trophy on Feb. 28. It also reveals much about the decision-making process of the Academy, the conventional wisdom in Hollywood, and even the trends that help determine what you'll be watching at the multiplex over the next year. Let's break down just what the nominations can teach us:
The frontier-survival drama earned an astounding 12 nominations, more than any other film this year. (In fact, it was a surprise that it didn't earn a 13th nod, for Best Adapted Screenplay.) Since the movie with the most nominations often wins Best Picture, "Revenant" is the favorite in the top category. It's also the favorite in many of the other categories it's nominated in, especially Director, Actor, and Cinematography.
2. That Populism Thing Finally Worked
A few years ago, the Academy expanded the Best Picture category beyond five nominees in order to make room for critically-acclaimed blockbusters (read: movies like Christopher Nolan's, ones that will generate a rooting interest that'll make a mass audience want to watch the Oscar telecast).
Since then, the awards have still tended to go to art-house fare, but in the nominations, at least, Academy voters are recognizing that some hit movies can actually be worthy of mention in the same breath as grown-up character dramas. As a result, "Mad Max: Fury Road" earned 10 nominations (second only to "Revenant"), while "The Martian" earned the third most, with seven. Of course, the Academy could have gone truly populist and nominated the year's most beloved movie, "Star Wars: The Force Awakens," for more than just the five citations for its post-production work. Guess the voters were willing to take populism only so far.
3. The Golden Globes Were... Right?
Few experts take the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's annual champagne-fueled bash seriously as an Oscar predictor. After all, they're just 90 journalists from around the world, not the 6,200 Hollywood insiders who make up the Academy. Most of Sunday night's Globe winners and nominees heard their names read again on Thursday morning. They did fail to predict two of the Academy's biggest snubs -- "Martian" director Ridley Scott and "Steve Jobs" screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, both Globe winners, both omitted on Oscar morning -- but then, everybody else thought they'd get nominated, too.
4. Weinsteins Down, A24 Up
It was pretty funny on Sunday night when Globes host Ricky Gervais joked about awards being bought and paid for, and then the camera cut to Harvey Weinstein, the indie mogul and awards-campaigning master who's managed to earn surprising nominations and wins for his films for a quarter-century. Even Weinstein laughed.
But the Weinstein Company co-chair probably wasn't laughing Thursday morning, when he failed to secure widely anticipated Best Picture and Director nominations for "Carol" or Best Picture and Original Screenplay nominations for "The Hateful Eight." Still, he did land nine nominations for those two films, including three acting nods. Meanwhile, upstart indie distributor A24, despite spending very little on "For Your Consideration" ads, earned seven nominations for three films: the Amy Winehouse bio "Amy" (Best Documentary Feature), brainy sci-fi drama "Ex Machina" (Best Original Screenplay and Best Visual Effects), and intense literary adaptation "Room" (Best Picture, Best Director for Lenny Abrahamson, Best Actress for Brie Larson, and Best Adapted Screenplay). Those nominations -- and the likely win for front-runner Larson -- will make A24 a force to be reckoned with, not just at future Oscar ceremonies, but also when it comes to raising money for new films.
5. Best Supporting Actress Is Still Up for Grabs
Jennifer Jason Leigh may get it, not just for her noteworthy role in the "Hateful Eight" ensemble, but for her long career of uncompromising work. Rooney Mara might have a better shot if the Academy had shown more support for "Carol," but at least she's not competing with co-star Cate Blanchett in the lead category. If she were, it could risk costing both stars the prize by splitting the vote.
Rachel McAdams may offer the only chance "Spotlight" has of earning a major prize; same with Globe winner Kate Winslet and "Steve Jobs." Alicia Vikander (above) has the thankless equivalent of last year's Felicity Jones role (as Eddie Redmayne's supportive wife), but this nomination and her striking performance as an android in "Ex Machina" mark her as a star on the rise. So there's a slim chance Oscar could reward her for this role, but right now, this race is still too close to call.
6. #OscarsSoWhite -- Again
The 2014 slate, which saw multiple victories and nominations for "12 Years a Slave" and its cast, is looking more and more like a fluke. Last year's list, despite the presence of "Selma," saw no performers of color nominated. Despite the outcry that caused, neither did this year's list.
The only major nomination for a film concerning people of color was the Original Screenplay nod for the white writers of "Straight Outta Compton," a movie thought to have a modest chance at a Best Picture nomination. And the lack of attention paid to "Creed" director/co-writer Ryan Coogler and actors Michael B. Jordan and Tessa Thompson will forever leave us scratching our heads. You can blame the Academy for its myopia, but the truth is, there were very few movies this year that gave performers (or directors or writers) of color a chance to shine. (Iñárritu is a notable exception behind the camera.) As Viola Davis noted at the Emmys last fall, you can't win for roles that don't exist. Given that it takes about two years for a movie to go from a greenlit idea to a theatrical release, you'd have thought that the landmark Oscars of 2014 would have resulted in a wave of similar movies that would be reaping the benefits now.
But such films are still more the exception than the rule in Hollywood. The industry is only just starting to realize that diversity is good for the box office, so it may be a while before it discovers that it's good for the Oscars as well.