Oscar nominations 2016: JHU film expert discusses the Academy's picks, predicts the winners

Q+A with Linda DeLibero, director of Program in Film and Media Studies

Images from each of eight 2016 Academy Award Best Picture nominees

Image caption: 2016 Academy Award Best Picture nominees (clockwise from top left) 'The Revenant,' 'The Martian,' 'Brooklyn,' 'Spotlight,' 'Bridge of Spies,' 'Mad Max: Fury Road,' 'The Big Short,' and 'Room.'

Earlier this morning, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the nominees for the 88th annual Academy Awards, selections that drew the usual mix of praise and ire.

Linda DeLibero

Image caption: Linda DeLibero

The Hub caught up with Linda DeLibero, director of the Program in Film and Media Studies at Johns Hopkins University, to talk about the Oscars nominations, who she thinks will win on Feb. 28, and who got seriously snubbed.

What are your thoughts on the Oscar nominations?

Not too many surprises in this crop of nominees, except that once again, it is going to be notorious for being an all-white nomination field.

Straight Outta Compton got a nod for Best Original Screenplay, but that's about it.

That's it. No nod for Ryan Coogler, the director of Creed, or Michael B. Jordan or Idris Elba in the acting categories. Some people expected that Straight Outta Compton would get a nomination for Best Picture. They could have expanded that category to two more nominations and they chose not to, so I think people will be talking about that.

Do you think the lack of diversity in the categories will affect viewership of the awards ceremony?

I think there will be protests, but if there are, that will probably up the chances that viewership will be higher. Controversy always breeds attention. If I was in the industry and I were black or Latino, I would probably snub the awards.

I don't understand it. Creed could have been given a nod. It was critically acclaimed and did great at the box office. Ryan Coogler is clearly a force to be reckoned with—he's an indie director who took mainstream material that everybody thought was bound for failure, and it turned out to be a crowd-pleaser that was interesting and well-made. Why not acknowledge that?

I think a lot of people should be angry about this continued trend of all the lip service that Hollywood pays to diversity. It's not happening in the way it should. It kind of goes up and down, "Maybe next year," but who knows. Things may change, but they only seem to change temporarily and then they go back to the default mode.

What else could affect the viewership of the ceremony?

More Star Wars: The Force Awakens nods would have increased the chances of having an audience for the awards, but they clearly didn't seem to care about that. Some people were hoping that Star Wars would get some nominations that weren't limited to technical categories, and that didn't happen. So there were some smaller surprises, but otherwise nothing. I don't think anything was too shocking.

What are your thoughts on the nominations?

This has been a banner year for Hollywood film. At the box office, Star Wars made this an unprecedented year, and beyond that there were other films, like Jurassic World this summer, that did phenomenally well. A lot of the expected blockbusters—not all of them performed well, but it didn't really matter. Last year, the main nominees for Best Picture were Boyhood and Birdman, and people complained about the fact that those films did no box office business, and they were critically acclaimed but audiences did not go out to see them. Here, you have a field of films that are critically acclaimed and are doing pretty well at the box office. The Revenant—which is critically acclaimed and has a really good shot at winning—is doing great at the box office.

This is the thing that always concerns me because these nominees are a bellwether of what might happen with the offbeat, indie films. A lot of studio producers want to make money, but there are a lot of people in the industry who want to make great films, and to make what some people call aspirational films that both perform well and do something more than blow up cars and buildings. This year, it seems to me that movies like Spotlight and The Big Short, and The Revenant in particular, are Hollywood films that are studio-produced and have big stars in them and yet they're really good movies. So that I find heartening.

It's not surprising that some of the films that have been critically hailed this year didn't get any acknowledgment from the Academy. Films like Tangerine and Diary of a Teenage Girl. There have been times when I thought "Ten films nominated? That's ridiculous, there weren't 10 good films out there," but in the last couple of years, that has not actually been the case. There has been a surfeit of films that stand up very well and are the kind of motion pictures that will last over the long term and that drew audiences. So I'm thinking with these other categories—Best Actor and Actress, and Director—those categories need to be made a little bit bigger, too, or more flexible, because there are people I thought deserved a nomination that didn't get in.

But I'm excited that there are films in the category where I wouldn't know which to choose. I've seen all the films nominated for Best Picture, and I would have a hard time making that decision. The Martian was not one of my favorite films. It was popular, and a good film, but not a great film. Director Ridley Scott got snubbed, which I thought was kind of interesting. But boy, what a great category. They're all films I would see more than once.

There is an issue with getting smaller films seen and in front of audiences. There are a lot of problems with distribution. It's the next big puzzle to solve. But the studios are making good films and so far, for this year, those films are being seen and they're making money. Now, they're making modest amounts of money. Spotlight, for example, is not a blockbuster, but I think its numbers are better than, say, Birdman from last year. I don't care about the money, but a lot of people do and those numbers determine what films get made in the future, so it's something you have to pay a lot of attention to.

Speaking of distribution—Netflix did something surprising (to me at least) when they released Beasts of No Nation simultaneously in theaters and on Netflix. Do you think that decision to distribute in an unconventional way affected their Oscar nods?

Yeah, I do. It's a peculiar vision, and it certainly didn't pay off in terms of theatrical release. It did nothing in theaters. It's making all of its money through streaming. I just don't think that's going to be a viable way to pursue these kinds of nominations. I think they're probably going back and saying "If we want to make prestige material, there's nothing that says we have to make it a motion picture." Television content is just as noteworthy and critically acclaimed as theatrical releases. They did that so that they could be considered for the Oscar, but I don't know if you'll see that strategy again. It didn't work at the box office and it didn't help to net them any awards.

What do you think of the nominees in the Best Actor in a Lead Role category?

I think Leonardo DiCaprio deserves to win this year. Some people think Michael Fassbender is a top contender, but I did not care for him as Steve Jobs. I thought he was miscast. He was brilliant in the role, but in a lot of ways it hijacked the film. It was distracting. With Eddie Redmayne, you know, men who play women usually have a very good chance at winning, but I didn't think The Danish Girl was that great of a movie. Matt Damon in The Martian was likable but it was a low-key performance. Bryan Cranston in Trumbo is maybe the biggest competition for DiCaprio, but I'm looking at that field thinking there's no way he's going to lose. They'll give it to him just for the hell he went through for the role.

What about Best Actress in a Leading Role? We've got Jennifer Lawrence nominated for her work in Joy, and that's the only nomination that the film garnered.

Yeah, the movie got bad reviews and didn't do well at the box office. Her performance was the only thing noteworthy in it. I think she's been frequenting these awards so often that I don't think she has a chance. And I think it's the same with Cate Blanchett in Carol. I haven't seen 45 Years yet because it hasn't been released here, but Charlotte Rampling has had a long and distinguished career, and I wouldn't be sad if she won. But I think the race is going to be between Brie Larson from Room and Saoirse Ronan from Brooklyn. I'm really hoping that Brie Larson wins. She was spectacular: it's a great performance in a really affecting role. The roles in both Brooklyn and in Room are emotionally wrenching, but I think Brie Larson's role is just a little bit more so, and she might have the edge.

What about Best Actor in a Supporting Role?

It's just ridiculous! Though I think Sylvester Stallone may have the advantage.

What makes you say that?

It's a comeback of sorts. This would be the first time that an actor would win for a reprise of a previous Oscar-winning role, so there's definitely sentiment there. Possibly the strongest contender would be Mark Rylance from Bridge of Spies because he just surprised so many people and came out of nowhere with a remarkable performance that lifted the film into another category. But that's not to take anything away from Christian Bale, who was amazing. Tom Hardy, Mark Ruffalo—and you could probably think of several other performances over the course of the year that could have easily been in there and been contenders. That's going to be an interesting category to watch. It's a really tough category.

And Best Actress in a Supporting Role?

I don't think Rachel McAdams should be in there. Alicia Vikander did not have a supporting role. Rooney Mara's is not a supporting role. I have a soft spot for Jennifer Jason Leigh. I'm not a big fan of Kate Winslet's performance in Steve Jobs, but she won the Golden Globe so that may have some influence. That category also seems to me to be a little bit up for grabs. I honestly can't predict that one.

What about the Best Director category?

I have to say of all the films this year, the most surprising and thrilling one for me was Mad Max: Fury Road. I just thought it was an absolutely brilliant film in all ways. And the fact that George Miller came back after all these years and revived the franchise in a way that was so smart and different and thrilling ... I would give it to him.

But look at Adam McKay, who directed The Big Short. The guy who directed Anchorman comes out with this inventive, imaginative take on 2008. He took Michael Lewis' material and turned it into spectacular filmmaking. That's quite a coup. And I don't think he cares whether he wins or not because his career has just shot off in a completely different and wonderful direction.

Alejandro Iñárritu might have had the inside track, but he's already been a winner. Lenny Abramson was kind of a surprise, but I thought Room was a magnificent adaptation. I thought the movie was better than the book. And Spotlight … they're all really great feats of direction. Really strong category.

Other thoughts?

Tarantino got shafted for original screenplay. That was a movie that disappointed a lot of people and tanked at the box office. A lot of people are sort of fed up with him and he's mired in controversy. But both the Adapted and Original Screenplay categories are really strong. I think the adaptations of Room and The Big Short really demonstrate great skill at adapting written, un-cinematic material which earns a nod for both of them.

Carol was a movie that was kind of dissed. I think it reflects the idea "We're tired of your arty films." But I think that movie is a very stylish film, a very beautiful film, and skillful, but it wasn't one of my favorites. A little bit overly stylish.

The other thing that I was really upset about is that The Revenant wasn't nominated for its musical score, which I thought was absolutely spectacular, but obviously too different. I was kind of looking out for that.

I have to say: Film is not dead. Movies are not dead. They're alive, and they could be better, but I always think everybody cares desperately about this stuff and most people don't. At least not to the extent that I do.