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Oscar front-runners hard to find as nominations loom

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Oscar nominations will be announced Thursday morning

It's a year with virtually no guarantees -- except maybe Leonardo DiCaprio in "The Revenant"

CNN —  

Give Leonardo DiCaprio some credit: He’s worked hard to put himself in the Oscar conversation.

The “Revenant” star famously ate a raw bison liver (which, he said, did NOT taste like chicken), waded through icy water and came down with the flu several times while portraying Hugh Glass, the vengeful 19th-century trapper, in the wilderness epic.

For his efforts (including some acting), he’s considered the front-runner for best actor.

That makes him unusual, because this year’s Oscar races feature very few front-runners at all.

The nominations for the 88th Academy Awards will be announced Thursday morning.

The 2016 Oscars may come under fire for all kinds of reasons. There are rumblings about revisiting the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite based on the presumed category leaders. “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” may now be the highest-grossing movie of all time, but financial success is no guarantee of academy nominations.

And will moviegoers be unhappy if, say, the little-seen “Room” bumps “The Martian” from the best picture list?

There’s a lot up in the air.

Golden Globes 2016: The winners list

The Producers Guild, one key Oscar indicator, included “Straight Outta Compton” and “Ex Machina” among its best film nominees but left off “Room” and “Star Wars.” Director David O. Russell’s “Joy,” starring Oscar sweetheart Jennifer Lawrence, may not make the cut, either – though Lawrence’s new Golden Globe won’t hurt.

And “Mad Max: Fury Road”? In years past, it might have been dismissed as a clever but noisy summer action flick. Instead, the National Board of Review named it the best film of 2015 – and there’s growing talk of Oscar nominations for the film and director George Miller.

When are the awards shows?

What else is possible? Here’s a look at the six major categories:

Best picture

Locks:

“Spotlight,” about the Boston Globe’s investigation of a Catholic priest sex scandal, is such an ensemble piece, its performers have generally been overlooked in the acting races. Still, the film has topped critics’ polls and won a slew of awards, including the American Film Institute’s movie of the year. Joining “Spotlight” will be “Carol,” “The Revenant” and “The Big Short.”

Contenders:

After that, the race gets murky. “Mad Max” has appeared on dozens of top-10 lists, but its gasoline-powered fury is as far from the usual Oscar fare as “The Wild Angels.” “The Danish Girl” is more Oscar’s type – elegant, tastefully performed, about a meaty subject (a man transitioning to female) –