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'The Revenant,' 'Mad Max' lead Oscar nominations

Leonardo DiCaprio, left, and Tom Hardy both scored acting nominations for their work in "The Revenant." (REUTERS)

LOS ANGELES "The Revenant," a gritty tale of frontier vengeance, led the Oscar nominations on Thursday, picking up a leading 12 nods for Best Picture, Best Director, and for the performances of stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy.

It was followed closely behind by another survivalist tale, the action adventure "Mad Max: Fury Road," which earned ten Academy Awards nominations, including for Best Picture and Best Director for George Miller, the 70-year old Australian filmmaker who revived the post-apocalyptic franchise after a three decade break between installments.

Eight films were nominated for Best Picture. "Spotlight," "The Martian," "Bridge of Spies," "The Big Short," "Room," and "Brooklyn" rounded out the list.

As always, there were snubs and surprises when the fruits of Oscar voters deliberations were unveiled. The biggest shock was the exclusion of "The Martian" director Ridley Scott. The legendary filmmaker behind "Alien" and "Blade Runner" was considered to not only be a lock to get nominated, he was seen as a leading candidate to walk away with the prize.

Once again, Academy voters failed to select a diverse group of honorees, something that is bound to raise objections. None of the top acting or directing categories feature people of color despite strong work by the likes of Idris Elba in "Beasts of No Nation" and the "Creed" team of Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan. Last year, the Oscars were slammed for their lack of diversity when "Selma" director Ava DuVernay and star David Oyelowo failed to score nominations.

And commercial success didn't translate into Oscars love. Despite becoming the highest-grossing domestic film in history, "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" was shut out from the Best Picture race. It received five nominations in technical categories such as sound, editing, and visual effects.

Also left out of the Best Picture race were "Carol," a critically adored lesbian romance, and "Straight Outta Compton," the hit story of the formation of rap group N.W.A. Steven Spielberg ("Bridge of Spies"), Quentin Tarantino ("The Hateful Eight"), and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin ("Steve Jobs") hopefully didn't set their alarms. They were among the Oscar contenders given the cold shoulder as nominations were listed off in the early morning hours.

After scoring an Oscar last year for "Theory of Everything," Eddie Redmayne was once again nominated for his performance as a transgender artist in "The Danish Girl." He will head off against Matt Damon's stranded astronaut in "The Martian," Bryan Cranston's blacklisted screenwriter in "Trumbo," Michael Fassbender's egomaniacal Apple founder in "Steve Jobs," and DiCaprio's work as a mountain man in "The Revenant."

Leading actress nominations include Cate Blanchett's housewife struggling against Eisenhower era conformity in "Carol," Brie Larson as a kidnapped mother in "Room," Jennifer Lawrence as the creator of the Miracle Mop in "Joy," Saoirse Ronan as an Irish immigrant in "Brooklyn," and Charlottle Rampling as one half of a married couple in crisis in "45 Years."

With Scott left out of the directing race, the nominees included "Spotlight's" Tom McCarthy, "Room's" Lenny Abrahamson, and "The Big Short's" Adam McKay.

Alejandro Inarritu, who won Best Director last year for "Birdman," was nominated for his work overseeing "The Revenant." The film's strong showing is poetic justice for the Mexican filmmaker. For months, the media feasted on reports of production problems on the film as the budget escalated from $90 million to $135 million and Inarritu drove cast and crew to the breaking point by filming in remote locations while shooting with only natural light.

In the supporting categories, Sylvester Stallone will return to the Oscar race for the first time since "Rocky" made him a star in 1976. He is recognized for reprising his Rocky Balboa role in "Creed." In addition to Stallone and Hardy's work in "The Revenant," the supporting actor category is rounded out by Christian Bale's off-beat investor in "The Big Short," Mark Ruffalo's crusading reporter in "Spotlight," and Mark Rylance's Russian spy in "Bridge of Spies."

After much debate about whether or not Alicia Vikander's work as Redmayne's sympathetic wife in "The Danish Girl" would be singled out in the lead category or the supporting one, Oscar voters opted for the latter. Vikander's competition will come from Jennifer Jason Leigh's criminal mastermind in "The Hateful Eight," Kate Winslet's performance as an Apple executive in "Steve Jobs," Rooney Mara's work as the object of Blanchett's affections in "Carol," and Rachel McAdams' turn as a journalist in "Spotlight."

The Oscars will air live Feb. 28 on ABC. Chris Rock will return to host the program. He previously served as emcee for the 2005 show and the show's producers are hoping he injects an edgier, irreverent energy to a program that has struggled in recent years to attract younger audiences. Last year's broadcast, which was hosted by a tighty whities clad Neil Patrick Harris, saw its ratings plunge from 43 million viewers to 36.6 million.

This awards season has been unpredictable. A clear Best Picture front-runner has yet to emerge going into Thursday's Oscar nominations. "Spotlight" secured many of the top critics prizes, but "The Revenant" and "The Martian" were the big winners at last weekend's Golden Globes broadcast, bagging the best picture drama and best picture comedy statues.

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