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    Ty Burr

    ‘Spotlight,’ ‘The Revenant’ among top Oscar contenders

    Oscar likes epics this year, but it also likes films of quiet power. When nominations for the 88th annual Academy Awards were announced Thursday morning, “Spotlight,” the acclaimed drama about The Boston Globe’s reporting of the Catholic Church clergy abuse scandal, was nominated for best picture, director (Tom McCarthy), original screenplay, editing, and supporting performances by Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams.

    But it was “The Revenant,” director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s grueling and expansive historical epic, that garnered the most nominations. Its 12 nods include best picture, director, actor (Leonardo DiCaprio), and a supporting actor nomination for Tom Hardy.

    Also near the front of the nominations pack — to the surprise of some — was the pedal-to-the-metal action film “Mad Max: Fury Road,” whose 10 nods include best picture and director, for 70-year-old series creator George Miller. “Room,” a small-scale drama of captivity and mother love, also received unexpected affection from Academy members, being nominated for best picture, director (Lenny Abrahamson), actress (Brie Larson), and adapted screenplay.


    The best actress category is the most fearsome this year, with Larson, who many feel is the front-runner, going head to head with Saoirse Ronan in “Brooklyn,” Cate Blanchett in “Carol,” Charlotte Rampling in “45 Years,” and 2013’s best actress winner Jennifer Lawrence in “Joy.”

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    The full list of best picture nominees consists of “The Big Short,” “Bridge of Spies,” “Brooklyn,” “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “The Martian,” “The Revenant,” “Room,” and “Spotlight.” The ceremonies will be broadcast on Feb. 28.

    Best actor nominations went to DiCaprio, Matt Damon for “The Martian,” Bryan Cranston for “Trumbo, “ Michael Fassbender for “Steve Jobs,” and Eddie Redmayne for “The Danish Girl.” The general consensus is that nothing short of a raging grizzly bear will keep DiCaprio from collecting a trophy. Maybe not even that.

    Some nominations came as a pleasant surprise: McAdams’s supporting performance in “Spotlight,” Hardy’s in “The Revenant,” the strong showing for “Room.” The latter has officially become this year’s Little Movie That Could. Now will you go see it?

    As for snubs, there were more than a few. No best actor nomination for Johnny Depp in “Black Mass,” for those keeping score in Boston. Why did the achingly poignant lesbian love story “Carol” rack up six nods -- including Blanchett for best actress and Rooney Mara for supporting actress — but get inexplicably shut out of the best picture and director categories? Is it Hollywood homophobia that kept Academy voters from recognizing the movie’s craft, or is it the New Math of the best picture nominating procedures? What does director Todd Haynes have to do to get arrested in this town, anyway?


    He wasn’t the only overlooked filmmaker. Many expected a nomination for Ridley Scott to match the seven that his movie, the much-loved “The Martian,” had elsewhere. Does the film industry take him for granted? Or were voters more intent on welcoming a newcomer like Lenny Abrahamson of “Room” into the tent?

    It’s hard to see the omission of Aaron Sorkin’s script for “Steve Jobs” in the adapted screenplay category as anything other than a dis, a possible spanking for an admired talent who some feel may have gotten too big for his britches. Similarly, Quentin Tarantino — never one of sobersided Hollywood’s favorite sons — saw “The Hateful Eight” roundly ignored in almost all the major categories. Jennifer Jason Leigh picked up a (deserved) supporting actress nomination, and Ennio Morricone’s score and Robert Richardson’s cinematography were honored, but not being nominated for best picture, director, or original screenplay? That’s personal.

    Also, this just in: The Oscars still like white people. A lot. Twenty acting nominees and not a person of color among them, despite notable performances by Michael B. Jordan of “Creed” (supporting actor Sylvester Stallone scored a nod), Idris Elba of “Beasts of No Nation,” and Will Smith, who delivered some of the finest acting of his career in “Concussion,” a movie that was completely ignored by the Academy. At least the glorious mess that is the original screenplay category saw fit to include “Straight Outta Compton.”

    And, yes, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” the year’s biggest movie — and now all-time domestic box office champ — scored a measly five nominations, four in technical categories and one for John Williams’s indestructible score. Just remember: The Oscars are never about which movies make you feel good. They’re about which movies make Hollywood look good.