Imagine this: "Academy Award nominated-'Fifty Shades of Grey.' "
It's true. But, thankfully, only for best original song. That's one of a few curiosities concerning the nominees for the 2016 Academy Awards, announced Thursday morning. The biggest question was how, for the second year in a row, did deserving movies with mostly black directors and protagonists get left out?
The other is why did the Academy shower its richest rewards on films so dark that some fans stay away out of fear they can't bring themselves to watch?
Exhibit A: "The Revenant" -- a violent, grueling slog through the wilderness in winter -- which led the pack with 12 nominations, including best picture, best actor (Leonardo DiCaprio) best director (Alejandro G. Inarritu) and best supporting actor (Tom Hardy). Exhibit B: "Room" -- about a boy and his mother living as hostages of an abuser -- with nominations for best actress (Brie Larson), best director (Lenny Abrahamson) and best picture.
Then there's "Mad Max: Fury Road" with nine nominations, including best picture and best director (George Miller), which was 2015's best thrill ride, even if it was the reboot of an '80s franchise. Rounding out the category: "Bridge of Spies," "Brooklyn," "The Martian," "The Big Short" and "Spotlight," which got six nominations in all, including supporting actress (Rachel McAdams) and supporting actor (Mark Ruffalo).
On the diversity question, one has to wonder if the Academy forgot all the fuss made last year when "Selma" was all but shut out. This year, the Academy overlooked two crowd-pleasers in the best picture category, where there was room for up to 10 nominees: N.W.A. biopic "Straight Outta Compton," which did get a best screenplay nod, and "Creed," which got a nomination for Sylvester Stallone in the supporting actor category but was bypassed for director (Oakland's Ryan Coogler) and lead actor (Michael B. Jordan).
It will always be argued there are more worthy films and performances than there are slots. Michael Keaton didn't receive a best actor nod, even though he commanded the screen in "Spotlight." Ridley Scott and Steven Spielberg weren't nominated for best director, even though both "The Martian" and Bridge of Spies" were nominated for best picture. This year's best director list includes Miller ("Mad Max: Fury Road"), Inarritu ("The Revenant"), Lenny Abrahamson ("Room"), Tom McCarthy ("Spotlight') and Adam McKay, for "The Big Short."
Keaton can take solace knowing competition for best actor was stiff: Golden Globe winner DiCaprio (considered the front-runner), Matt Damon ("The Martian"), Bryan Cranston ("Trumbo"), Michael Fassbender ("Steve Jobs") and Eddie Redmayne ("The Danish Girl").
Jennifer Lawrence's nomination for best actress might be a stretch, as she was the protagonist in a film that received only a 60 percent favorable rating on the critics' aggregator, website Rotten Tomatoes. Perhaps being a three-time nominee (she won in 2013 for "Silver Linings Playbook") makes the 25-year-old a safe choice. A more adventurous and deserving candidate might have been Julianne Moore for "Freeheld," another movie to which critics gave a collective "meh," but not because of her powerful performance. Other best actress nominees include, in addition to Larson, likely favorite Cate Blanchett for "Carol" (another movie that could have easily been added to the best picture category), Saorsie Ronan for "Brooklyn" and Charlotte Rampling for "45 Years."
Stallone bookended his time playing Rocky Balboa by being nominated for best supporting actor nearly four decades and seven Balboa films after getting a best actor nomination in 1977 for the original "Rocky." He'll go against relatively surprising Mark Rylance ("Bridge of Spies"), the deserving Mark Ruffalo ("Spotlight"), and standbys Hardy ("The Revenant") and Christian Bale ("The Big Short").
Just as she was shut out at the Golden Globes, Charlize Theron was left out in the desert when it came to both female acting categories, which is a mild surprise. Golden Globe nominee Jane Fonda ("Youth") was also left behind in a best supporting actress field that includes Jennifer Jason Leigh ("The Hateful Eight"), Rooney Mara ("Carol"), McAdams ("Spotlight"), Alicia Vikander ("The Danish Girl") and Kate Winslet ("Steve Jobs").
Perhaps the least surprising nomination was in the animated feature film category, where Pixar's "Inside Out" is the favorite. Its main competition will likely come from "Anomalisa," Charlie Kaufman's stylish, critical darling about a man struggling to connect with the rest of the human race. Other nominees include "Boy and the World," "Shaun the Sheep Movie" and "When Mama was There."
Between now and Feb. 28, when the winners are announced, it will be interesting to hear public reaction to "The Revenant," which critics adored, even if the box office seemed disappointing, given the cast and the hype. An artistic masterpiece by most accounts, it's also a dark and violent film set in the 1800s and features a mostly male cast that doesn't talk much. After two and a half weeks, it's made just over $41 million -- a number possibly inflated by the publicity from November's semi-controversy over whether or not DiCaprio's character was raped by a bear.
Oscar voters, of course, have never equated popularity with quality (Paramount's "Daddy's Home" has made about $116 million already), but it was still a bit surprising to see so much Academy love for a film whose dark subject matter may be a hard sell.
On the flip side, a film that critics liked and that has proved to be the most popular film on the planet -- "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" (currently at $812 million at the box office) -- garnered four nominations, mostly in minor, technical categories.
It should be fun to hear how all this filters through the mind of Chris Rock when he hosts the show.
What: The 88th Academy Awards
When: Televised live on Sunday, Feb. 28; the program starts at 5 p.m. preceded by red carpet coverage