The most frustrating thing about Oscar snubs and surprises is that there's often no explanation for them.
The annual nominations announcement is a bit of a blur. Names and categories are called out in rapid succession. Most of those actors, actresses, directors, and movies seem to "belong"; it isn't until after the announcement is over that you begin to figure out who got left behind.
When the dust settled after the 2016 Oscar nominations were announced, there were a few surprises, just like there are every year. One of the most beautiful movies of the year was excluded from the Best Picture and Director races. A director who's been on something of a personal redemption arc didn't make the cut. Two iconic screenwriters were left out in the cold. And there were actors who didn't snag a nomination despite turning in some of the most powerful performances of the year.
Here are seven of the biggest surprises from the 2016 Oscar nominations:
Carol is nominated in all the major categories except Director and Best Picture
Carol looked like a lock for a Best Picture nomination this year. Directed by the talented Todd Haynes, it's a woozy, aching gay love story featuring the impossibly great Cate Blanchett and beautiful chameleon Rooney Mara. My colleague Todd VanDerWerff named it the best, most beautiful film of 2015.
And as the nomination announcement began, the film had everything going in its favor. Its two main actresses earned nods, as did its screenplay, cinematography, and costumes. But then, toward the end of the announcement, Haynes's name didn't appear among the best directors of the year. Minutes later, it was déjà vu in the Best Picture category.
The snub was in. The choice to ignore Carol in these two categories was made, but there isn't a real explanation why. The most obvious possibility is that the older white men who comprise much of the Academy just don't care about stories they don't see themselves in. We saw this happen last year with Selma, Gone Girl, and Wild.
"Is it possible that gay stuff is just a bridge too far?" Vanity Fair's Richard Lawson wrote. "This is the Academy that gave best picture to Crash instead of Brokeback Mountain, after all, and Brokeback at least had the decency to be a tragic gay love story."
Ridley Scott wasn't nominated for Best Director
It's difficult to make a wonky, nerdy movie that galvanizes science and math into something likable and understandable. That's what director Scott did in The Martian, a comeback movie of sorts for him (prior to The Martian, he had most recently directed the not-good Exodus: Gods and Kings).
On January 10, The Martian won the Golden Globe for Best Comedy or Musical, and Scott gave a touching speech that honored his late brother. Four days later, he (and we) found out he won't be winning an Oscar even though some critics predicted he would get a nomination.
Aaron Sorkin didn't land a screenplay nomination
Aaron Sorkin just won a Golden Globe for his Steve Jobs screenplay. There was a feeling that the momentum of his win might carry over to the Oscars. This win was on top of Sorkin's nomination at the Writers Guild Awards, and the combination of win and recognition along with Sorkin's past acclaimed work made it seem like he was a lock for at least a nomination. That nomination never came.
Idris Elba wasn't nominated for his performance in Beasts of No Nation
If there was any actor with a shot to break the Oscars' recent streak of all-white acting nominees, it was Elba, who starred in the powerful, critically acclaimed Beasts of No Nation. Critics hailed Elba's performance as warlord as "titanic," "a powerhouse," and "intense," but the Academy apparently felt otherwise.
There's also the possibility that Netflix's quarrel with movie theaters may have affected his chances. Major chains refused to book the film because Netflix wanted the film to be released in theaters and on video on demand on the same day. And there could be some feeling that Netflix is disruptive to the movie industry as a whole. There's also the simpler answer: that the Academy of older voters just don't understand Netflix, or think of it as a studio.
Mad Max: Fury Road was a hit, but Charlize Theron wasn't
The biggest surprise of the nominations was that Mad Max: Fury Road garnered 10 nods, putting it in second place behind The Revenant, which earned 12. A little more surprising is that Theron's performance in the role of Imperator Furiosa never quite gained traction with voters. From the minute she appeared onscreen in Fury Road and rubbed that grease on her forehead, she was an integral, brutal force within the movie; indeed, Furiosa was possibly the best film character of 2015.
But Theron's performance hasn't really been recognized on the awards circuit, and the Oscars won't be the ones to change that. Of course, Fury Road's lead actor, Tom Hardy, hasn't been recognized either. But I'd argue there's more to the film than just the stunning world building and breathtaking visual effects and action sequences. Theron and Hardy more than held their own, and of the two, Theron especially deserves to be recognized for that.
The best part of Creed was the old white dude or nah?
Watching Sylvester Stallone win a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor was magical. The Rocky theme song was playing, and everyone in the ballroom rose for a standing ovation. It was an opportunity to pay respect to a man who's been a fixture in the movie-making industry for decades.
But it's sort of strange to see him get so much attention when no one else involved with the movie is earning any official praise. Stallone was crucial and good in Creed, but Michael B. Jordan and director Ryan Coogler were just as crucial to its success, just as special. It's a star-making performance for Jordan, and Coogler's visual style in Creed — an homage to the original Rocky movies — elevated what is ultimately formulaic to something greater.
Perhaps there's something taboo about rewarding Creed, which ended up being much better than expected? But if that's the case, why reward Stallone?
It seems there's always at least one Oscar nominee that seems to come entirely out of nowhere. This year, that nominee is The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, a movie based on a book that you might not have heard of. It's nominated in the Makeup and Hairstyling category.