Lots of surprises in Oscar nominations

“The Revenant” is building on its momentum, leading the way with 12 nominations for the 88th annual Academy Awards.

The epic wilderness survival tale opened Jan. 8, giving “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” a run at the box office and receiving universal acclaim from critics.

When nominations were announced last week, the biggest snubs included the critically acclaimed “Carol” without a Best Picture nod and revered director Ridley Scott, who returned to glory with “The Martian,” excluded in the Best Director category. The popular “The Martian” received 10 nominations.

The biggest surprise was all the love for “The Big Short,” a comedy with tragic elements that explains the financial meltdown of 2008 in lucid details. It earned a Best Picture slot as well as a director nod for Adam McKay, whose previous work included goofy Will Ferrell comedies, along with adapted screenplay, editing and supporting actor (Christian Bale) nominations.

After what seemed like a wide-open race for the film industry’s biggest honors last month, clear favorites are emerging, while early buzzed-about work is falling by the wayside.

Frontrunners for acting honors appear to be Leonardo DiCaprio as adventurer Hugh Glass in “The Revenant,” a previous five-time nominee, and newcomer Brie Larson, who played a young woman held in captivity while raising a son in “Room.” The harrowing drama also earned nods in Best Picture, Director and Adapted Screenplay.

In the supporting acting category, the sentimental shoo-in is Sylvester Stallone, whose work as Rocky Balboa in “Creed” earned him his second acting nomination 40 years apart. In 1977, his “Rocky” won Best Picture but he lost to the late Peter Finch for “Network.”

That could be the moment of the night when statues are handed out Sunday, Feb. 28.

The most up-for-grabs race is in Best Supporting Actress. Two heralded performances that would be leading roles in another year were moved to this category by their studios to increase their chances — Rooney Mara in “Carol” and Alicia Vikander in “The Danish Girl.” Oscar winner Kate Winslet, fresh from her Golden Globe win, for “Jobs” joins first-time nominees Rachel McAdams for “Spotlight” and Jennifer Jason Leigh for “The Hateful Eight.”

Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight,” released in 70 mm Panavision, only merited two other nominations, including score for Ennio Morricone, the 87-year-old legend who came out of retirement to compose the music. Responsible for the iconic scores of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns, he has never won in the competitive categories but received an honorary Oscar in 2007.

He will vie for the honor with another legend, John Williams, who is second only to Walt Disney for most Oscar nominations. He won for the original “Star Wars,” among his five statues for score, and now is recognized for the seventh film, “The Force Awakens.” .

The acting honors don’t show any diversity. Black actors who had received some other nominations this awards season were shut out, including Will Smith for “Concussion” and Idris Elba for “Beasts of No Nation.”

First-time nominees included Tom Hardy, the critically adored British actor, as the villain in “The Revenant,” and Tony winner Mark Rylance for his Russian spy role in “Bridge of Spies.”

The Best Picture honorees number eight, with the possibility of 10 nominees. “Inside Out,” Pixar’s lauded masterpiece, was excluded here, but is the Animated Feature frontrunner and was nominated in Best Original Screenplay.

“Creed,” “Beasts of No Nation” and “Straight Outta Compton” did not make the cut either. The year’s top grosser, “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” missed that list, but is recognized in technical categories.

The contenders for the top prize include the technically brilliant “Mad Max: Fury Road,” with 10 nominations, including 70-year-old director George Miller and his wife Margaret Sixel, who edited his film.