Oscars 2016: A look at this year's Academy Award nominees

26 Feb 2016 BY Joe Ursell

20 mins
The Revenant
The Revenant

After months of hype and campaigning, the awards season reaches its glitzy climax with the Oscars on February 28 in Los Angeles. This is one of the most open races for years, and everybody is rushing to share their predictions of who's going to win the prized statuettes. One of the reasons why this year is so open is because there are so many first-time nominees, so hopefully we're seeing the emergence of some fantastically exciting new filmmaking talent to go alongside the old guard. 

To celebrate the wealth of talent at this year's Oscars, Film Programmers Kirsten Geekie and Joe Ursell are taking a look back at the earlier work done by some of this year's nominees. Hopefully it will inspire you to delve into their back catalogues and see the filmmaking feats that took them all the way to the Kodak Theatre!

Jump to:

Best Director

Best Actor

Best Actress

Best Supporting Actor

Best Supporting Actress

Best Animated Feature

Best Foreign Language Film

We also asked our expert team of Film Programmers to pick out their own personal favourite Best Picture winners, and explain why they're so important to them. Click here to find out what their favourites are!

Best Director

Irish director Lenny Abrahamson is a first-time nominee, and one of the most exciting new voices working in film today. Nominated for his work on Room, we really recommend his 2012 breakthrough film What Richard Did, which follows a promising young athlete whose life changes when he commits an act that has shattering consequences for all around him.

Alejandro G. Inarritu could become just the third director to win back-to-back Oscars for his work on the visceral The Revenant. He won last year for the equally audacious Birdman, an unconventional backstage drama about a down-on-his-luck movie star attempting to revive his career through the staging of a Raymond Carver play.

Tom McCarthy has been bubbling under the radar for a while so its great to see him get wider recognition for the brilliant Spotlight. His 2003 BAFTA winning debut, The Station Agent, is a poignant, characteristically understated gem about the unlikely friendship between a lonely man born with dwarfism, a talkative hot dog vendor, and a woman dealing with her grief in small-town New Jersey. 

Adam McKay has created a great deal of discussion and controversy for The Big Short, a bold, darkly comic take on events leading up to the 2008 financial crisis. McKay made his name through broader comedies, of which our favourite is definitely Anchorman, a hilariously satirical take on the world of broadcast news, starring Will Ferrell.

Veteran director George Miller has long been admired for his unique approach to physical action, exemplified in last year's Mad Max: Fury Road. But Miller is equally adept at gentler fare, most obviously demonstrated in Babe: Pig in the City, a sequel to the original sheep-pig story, packed with all the visual flare demonstrated in Miller's flashier work. 

Best Actor

All eyes will be on Leonardo DiCaprio, who is expected to finally win his first Best Actor award for his punishing performance in The Revenant. Even in the early years of his career DiCaprio showed an aptitude for tackling challenging roles, such as teenager Arnie in the 1993 drama What's Eating Gilbert Grape. Playing the developmentally disabled younger brother of Johnny Depp, DiCaprio was celebrated for his vivid but sensitive portrayal - it earned him his first Oscar nod at the age of 19.

Setting post-war Hollywood to rights as the blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, Bryan Cranston may be better known to audiences for his TV work in Malcolm in the Middle and Breaking Bad. However, his role as Ben Affleck's burdened CIA boss struggling to do whats right in 2013's Best Picture winner Argo is not to be overlooked.

Having built up a strong relationship with audiences over the years, Ridley Scott's The Martian allowed Matt Damon to go solo on screen, delivering an engaging and funny portrayal of a man stranded in space. Perhaps forever known as the rogue agent Jason Bourne, we've enjoyed seeing Damon play a variety of roles over the years, but we perhaps find his turn in thriller The Talented Mr. Ripley to be the most intriguing.

Into Film ambassador Eddie Redmayne stole the show last year with his win for the role of scientist Dr. Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. Delivering a similarly thought-provoking and physical performance as one of the first people to receive gender reassignment surgery in The Danish Girl, Redmayne has again proven himself one of Britain's leading actors. His talent for sensitive and engaging performances can be traced way back to his breakthrough film, My Week With Marilyn, where he plays a shy graduate on the set of a Marilyn Monroe movie.

In biopic Steve Jobs, one of the most exciting British actors working today - Michael Fassbender - revels in his tightly-wound portrayal of the titular visionary, egoist, and CEO of Apple. Thrilling unpredictability is fundamental to all of Fassbender's performances - perhaps none more so than in his other notable performance of 2015, as the tortured Scottish King in Macbeth, in a gritty, subversive adaptation of the Shakespearian tragedy.

Best Supporting Actress

Jennifer Jason Leigh has long been one of the most underrated actresses working in Hollywood today, and so it's great to see her finally get nominated, here for her role in Tarantino's The Hateful Eight. Leigh's distinctive presence and comic abilities are also brilliantly demonstrated in The Hudsucker Proxy, a brilliantly absurd screwball comedy from the Coen brothers.

Nominated for her role as aspiring young photographer Therese in the beautiful Carol, Rooney Mara first established herself in a small but crucial scene at the beginning of Facebook drama The Social Network. Her screen time was minimal, but it was enough to mark her out as a future star, and a go-to actress for many of the world's major filmmakers.

Rachel McAdams is receiving her first nomination, for her role in Spotlight as a dogged but compassionate journalist. She also played a similar role in the 2009 political thriller State of Play, an excellent film about a journalist investigating the death of a politician's mistress. Through McAdams' character, it become one of the first films to deal with the rise of blogging in the media.

Alicia Vikander appeared in an incredible seven films in 2015, but it is for her work in The Danish Girl that she has been deservedly nominated, although it's her performance as Vera Brittain in last year's Testament of Youth that really stands out for us. A hugely moving true account of love, war, education and class, the film is anchored by Vikander's graceful, intelligent performance.

Amazingly, this is Kate Winslet's seventh Oscar nomination, this time for her role as marketing guru and confidante Joanna Hoffman in Steve Jobs. Her first nomination came for Sense and Sensibility in 1995. One of the most enchanting period dramas ever made, the film demonstrates Winslet's charm, subtlety and extraordinary ability to deliver dialogue infused with wit.

Best Actress

Cate Blanchett has the charisma and presence of Hollywood's golden age of movie stars. Possibly looking at her third Oscar win for Carol, Blanchett came to international attention with 1997's Elizabeth, a thrilling biopic of Queen Elizabeth I that erased preconceptions of conventional period dramas and dusty history books, largely thanks to Blanchett's bold, exhilarating performance.

The hot favourite to win Best Actress this year, however, is Brie Larson, for her performance in the harrowing, but beautiful Room. Her performance as a young woman working at a residential treatment facility for at-risk teenagers in Short Term 12 is equally strong, and the film itself is one of the most compelling, underrated independent films of recent years.

Arguably the biggest star in film today, Jennifer Lawrence is receiving her fourth nomination at the age of just 25, this time for her role in David O. Russell drama Joy. Her breakout performance came in American-indie Winter's Bone, where she played a poverty stricken teenager struggling to raise her siblings. It remains one of her most exciting roles, demonstrating her rare ability to tap into the complexities of adolescence.

After more than 100 films, Charlotte Rampling has finally received her first Oscar nomination for British drama 45 Years. Particularly known for her work in European cinema, her elegant, mysterious screen presence was previously demonstrated in her small role in Never Let Me Go, a fascinating adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro's dystopian novel of the same name.

With Brooklyn, Saoirse Ronan has proven to be one of the finest actresses working today. Adept at period dramas, young adult adaptations, and whimsical comedy, her huge versatility was ably demonstrated in Joe Wright's Hanna, a stunning, surreal, and fast-paced coming-of-age action thriller in which Ronan starred as a teenage hit-girl.

Best Supporting Actor

Always a committed actor, Christian Bale's transformative screen presence ranges from period drama love interest in Little Women, a prisoner-of-war in Rescue Dawn, caped crusader Batman in Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight series, and now an awkward but ruthless banker in The Big Short. However, Bale's screen debut came at the age of just 13, as a young boy surviving an internment camp in Spielberg's World War II drama Empire of the Sun, and is equally remarkable.

Tom Hardy could end up with a double hit at this year's awards if Mad Max: Fury Road is as well received as it was at the BAFTAs, having been nominated for Best Picture and several behind the scenes awards. Hardy, though, is nominated for his disturbingly threatening turn as Leonardo DiCaprio's nemesis in The Revenant, a very different performance to the one he gave in Locke, an intriguing film set solely in a car. With just Hardy and a mobile phone to focus on, the film lives or dies by his performance.

Relied on for solid, engaging performances, Spotlight sees Mark Ruffalo turn it up a notch as an impassioned, single-minded journalist. As well known for his environmental activism as much for his acting, Ruffalo is probably best known these days as Bruce Banner/the Hulk in Marvel's Avengers series. One of his most fascinating roles, however, was his turn as Leonardo DiCaprio's police partner Chuck in the Martin Scorsese thriller Shutter Island.

A well-known and revered performer on stage and television, Mark Rylance has thus far only held smaller roles on film, mainly in period dramas such as The Other Boleyn Girl and Anonymous. However, he is soon to be a household name, not only due to his understated and measured performance in Bridge of Spies as a captured Soviet agent, but also for the much-anticipated Spielberg adaptation of The BFG, in which Rylance plays the big friendly giant himself.

Better known for his dynamic action roles than gripping drama, Sylvester Stallone is nominated here for what is deemed his best role yet, as a gruffly-caring mentor in boxing film Creed. A continuation of the Rocky series of which Stallone was the star, its hard not to hark back to the emotionally and physically powerful performance he turned out in Rocky and Rocky II.

Best Animated Feature

A tough award for the Into Film Programming team to call, what with animation being such a popular genre amongst our young members. A relatively new award, the first Best Animated Feature Oscar was given to Shrek in 2001. This year has seen many animated hits, both at home - with the Bristol based Aardman Animations delightfully mischievous Shaun the Sheep Movie - and worldwide, with the haunting Japanese anime, When Marnie Was There. There was also the charming and vibrant Brazilian film, The Boy and the World. 

Nominated twice, including for The Good Dinosaur, Pixar are favourites to win for their recent triumph Inside Out. But who knows - perhaps this could be another winning year for Aardman? After all, they previously won the Oscar selectors over in 2005 with a win for Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.

Best Foreign Language Film

A War is a riveting film from Denmark about a former army officer facing the devastating consequences of a decision made during the height of battle in Afghanistan. We would also recommend A Royal Affair, which tells the true and scandalous story of a 15 year-old queen in 18th century Denmark, and stars a young Alicia Vikander.

Embrace of the Serpent is the first time Colombia has ever had a film nominated for the Oscars. However, the country does have a rich cinematic history, exemplified by Maria Full of Grace, a powerful story about a 17 year-old girl agreeing to act as a mule for a gang of drug traffickers, featuring an astonishing, Oscar-nominated central performance by Catalina Sandino Moreno.

France have produced many of the world's most important and influential filmmakers, and not surprisingly, French films have featured at the Oscars many times. This year's French entry is Mustang, the powerful story of a group of sisters' coming-of-age in rural Turkey, and a film which Into Film have exciting plans for this year. A previous French nominee is the adorable The Chorus, a gentle, charming film about an eccentric teacher attempting to instil his love of music into some of his reluctant pupils.

One of the favourites for this year's award is Holocaust drama Son of Saul, from Hungary. Also hailing from Hungary is last year's visceral White God, a unique, thrilling film about an abandoned dog who joins forces with other canines to stage a revolt against their human abusers. A startlingly original, allegorical tale, starring hundreds of canine performers, we strongly recommend seeking it out.

Another country receiving their first Oscar nomination is Jordan, for Theeb, a coming-of-age tale about a boy embarking on a perilous desert journey during World War One. Sadly, films from Jordan rarely receive distribution in the UK, but the country did play an important role in Into Film favourite Wadjda, about a 10 year-old Saudi girl refusing to conform to the expectations imposed on her by her male peers and family members. 

The Best of the Best

Our Film Programming team pick their favourite ever Best Picture winners 

Moira - Amadeus (1984)

One of my first cinematic experiences, I was utterly transfixed by the enormity of the production, the beauty, and all encompassing nature of the music, and by the awe-inspiring, if badly behaved, portrayal of Mozart himself. Mozart will forever be one of my creative heroes, as will Director Milos Forman, whose other oscar winner - One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest - I discovered much later in life!

Kirsten - The Hurt Locker (2008)

The 2008 winner, Iraq War drama The Hurt Locker, feels a significant one to highlight in a year when the Oscars are being brought into question for their lack of diversity. The first - and so far only - female directed film to win Best Picture, Kathryn Bigelow was also the first woman to win the Best Director award. A tense, perceptive and inevitably explosive portrayal of a US bomb disposal squad, the low-budget film won six awards overall that year and still holds up as an intelligent, cinematically impressive, action thriller that sensitively challenges discussions around the futility of war and the soldiers involved.

Joe - All About Eve (1950)

At its best, last year's Best Picture winner Birdman reminded me of this classic backstage drama from 1950. A pitch-black satire of an ambitious young actress hoisting herself up the celebrity ladder at all costs, it remains topical to contemporary audiences, for its brutal insights into the pursuit of fame. For me, its sharp, witty script, full of pithy put-downs, has never been bettered, and the performances (including a young Marilyn Monroe) are as delightful as it gets.

Elinor - 12 Years A Slave (2014)

Steve McQueen does not shy away from tackling difficult and often distressing issues, and this adaptation of the true story of Soloman Northrup, a free Black man who was kidnapped into slavery, is true to form. A beautiful score, epic cinematography and committed performances make this often disturbing and well-constructed film deeply moving, while it resists sentimentality, and maintains a dignified portrayal of its subject.

Michael - The Artist (2011)

The Artist surprised cinemagoers in 2011 by becoming the first silent film since Wings, back in 1927, at the inaugural Academy Awards,  to win Best Picture. Influenced by the films of Billy Wilder, it was a treat for audiences of all ages. I was utterly transfixed by its timeless charm, dazzling choreography and the fabulous chemistry between its two leads, Berenice Bejo and Jean Dujardin.

Portrait picture of Joe Ursell

Joe Ursell, Curation Manager

Joe has a BA in Film & American Studies from the University of East Anglia and an MA in Contemporary Cinema Cultures from King's College London. He has been with Into Film (and beforehand FILMCLUB) since 2012. 

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