The Academy Award nominations for 2016 were announced earlier today and my campaign to see all eight nominees at the cinema before the ceremony is off to a flying start. Here’s an alphabetical list of the films in the running.

The Big Short. Out here next week, and one of those films I would have gone to see anyway. On a good day, might combine breezy character work from funny actors with a clear insight into the systemic problems which contributed to the credit crunch. On a bad day, of course, it could just be a lot of mugging and shouting. Very unlikely to walk off with the top prize.

Bridge of Spies. Pure Hollywood craft and hugely entertaining. Full review here. No nod for Spielberg as best director, but Mark Rylance is nominated for best supporting actor and might have a chance, as does the screenplay. Top three, for sure, but probably won’t win the big prize.

Brooklyn. Sweet, affecting, laugh-out-loud funny, but rather unambitious both structurally and in its presentation. Doesn’t stand a chance of winning, and Saoirse Ronan and Nick Hornby are both going to face heavy competition too for Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay. Full review here.

Mad Max: Fury Road. I saw this at the IMAX but I don’t think I ever reviewed it. The best of the Mad Max films (and how extraordinary that a fourth chapter should ever get even a nomination) it’s probably the most purely entertaining film on the list, and in fact I think the race is between this and The Revenant – it’s that good.

The Martian. This was the one that fell through the cracks, but it’s still showing on a handful of tiny screens, so I will try and catch it in the next few days. I loved the book, and the film seems like a suitable faithful but not slavish version, so I imagine it will be pretty good, but it’s far too boys-own to win, nor does Matt Damon have a chance against DiCaprio. Might win some technical awards if Mad Max doesn’t snaffle them all.

The Revenant. This is it – the one to beat. Leading the way with 12 nominations, and an early favourite not just for Best Picture but Best Director and Best Actor too. My full review is here.

Room. Out here next week, so check back for my full review then.

Spotlight. Out here at the end of the month, so check back here for my full review then.

Not nominated were Joy and The Danish Girl, both of which I am very happy to catch-up with on iTunes, and also Creed which I had no interest in at all.

Also not nominated for Best Picture, but still picking up three other nominations is The Hateful Eight, the self-styled Eighth Film By Quentin Tarantino. I’ve moaned before about how QT’s career since the elegant and thoughtful Jackie Brown has been characterised by a flight from maturity towards gleeful juvenilia. One of the (several) reasons I disliked Django Unchained was that it seemed to have been made by a writer/director who has lost his balls and so couldn’t bear to see his hero parted from his.

Make no mistake, The Hateful Eight is yet more pulpy melodrama, but it manages to find a way to exploit all of Tarantino’s habits, tics and vices and turn them into strengths – most of the time at least. Just as Django was a Western, set in the American south, this is a Western, set in the snowy wastes of Wyoming. A stagecoach brings together bounty hunters John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) and Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L Jackson) as well as nervy good-old-boy sheriff-in-waiting Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins in a star-making turn) and Ruth’s captive Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh, gleefully chewing up the scenery). They are in turn deposited at Minnie’s Haberdashery where more distinguished character actors familiar from previous Tarantino movies are already in residence (Tim Roth, Bruce Dern, Michael Madsen et al), there to wait out the storm, shoot the shit, and blow each others’ brains out.

The three-hour plus film (I saw the “Roadshow” version in 70mm with overture and interval at the Odeon Leicester Square) is split up into six chapters with cute names, as in Pulp Fiction, Inglourious Basterds (and for that matter Billy Wilder’s The Fortune Cookie) and not all of these chapters are presented in chronological order. It also takes a tremendous amount of time for the expected physical violence to erupt, but to criticise the film for being baggy I think is probably unfair.

Django certainly has far more going on than the film’s structure can handle, and Basterds sprawls all over the place (which is partly why the script has to adjust the end of the Second World War, in order to somehow gather up the various narrative threads it has strewn over the preceding two hours). And while Eight doesn’t have anything like Reservoir Dogs lean, propulsive energy, the fact that the characters spend an awfully long time just exchanging back-stories doesn’t stop the whole of the film from being thoroughly enjoyable and engrossing. In fact, as is often the case with Tarantino, the long conversations are largely the point, especially since they do contribute to the melodrama (unlike those in Deathproof for example).

The whole film looks absolutely stunning as well. I admire the perversity of returning to Super Panavision 70 and shooting with lenses made in the 1960s to create some of the widest and most detailed images cinema is capable of and then telling a story set almost entirely in one room. But the old fashioned feel of the celluloid images (created with no digital intermediate) is part of the texture of the story. If I have a concern, it’s a vague wonder about whether this, fairly simple, story really deserves to have all of this care and attention lavished on it. Does shooting in this way inflate the film to epic proportions, which the actual narrative can’t quite live up to?

Well, it’s a close run thing, but I think ultimately the operatic nature of the final reel harmonises the form and the content. This is not a film which is going to tell you very much about the human condition or the nature of America or anything else (despite what the auteur behind the camera might want to believe) but as an pressure-cooker tale of trial-by-wits, in its dementedly stylised way, with its almost Agatha Christie mystery plot (for once, telling the story out of sequence seems to serve a purpose) and with such ripe and juicy performances as these, it really does work.

For such an indulgent director, this is a very controlled piece of filmmaking – still not as grown-up as Jackie Brown, but worlds away from the cartoon nonsense of Kill Bill or the tedious Death Proof.

Oscars 2016: Brooklyn and Bridge of Spies
Oscars 2016: Spotlight and The Martian