By Christian Holub
February 26, 2016 at 03:07 PM EST
Kimberley French
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The Academy Awards are just two days away — which means it’s time to buckle down and really get to know this year’s Best Picture contenders. Today’s deep-dive: Alejandro G. Iñárritu‘s unsparing look at an 1820’s fur-trapping expedition gone wrong, and one man’s attempt to survive the wintry wilderness (and win a Best Actor statue).

NameThe Revenant

Tweetable description: Mauled by a bear and left for dead by his comrades, a fur trapper drags himself through miles of wintry desolation in pursuit of vengeance. 

Movie math: (Days of Heaven x Grizzly Man) + (The Passion of the Christ – God) = The Revenant

Release date: Dec. 25, 2015

DVD release date: TBA

Run time: 2 hrs., 36 mins.

Box office: $166.3 million (through Feb. 24)

Budget: $135 million

Metacritic rating / Rotten Tomatoes score: 76 / 83 percent

What Chris Nashawaty said: “It’s an epic adventure writ small. And for some, that may be enough. But I suspect others will leave The Revenant wishing there was a little more narrative meat on the bone. Gorgeously shot by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, Iñárritu’s savage endurance test of a film almost works better as a series of stunning images and surreal sequences than as an emotionally satisfying story.”

Best line: “It turns out God is a squirrel. Yeah, a big meaty one. And I killed and ate that son of a bitch.” — John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy)

Number of Oscar nods: 12, making The Revenant this year’s most-nominated film. Aside from Best Picture, The Revenant also received nods for Best Director (Iñárritu), Best Actor (Leonardo DiCaprio), Best Supporting Actor (Tom Hardy), Cinematography (Emmanuel Lubezki), and a host of others: Costume Design, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, Makeup & Hairstyling, Visual Effects, Film Editing, and Production Design. 

The Revenant‘s Oscar history: Iñárritu and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki both won their categories last year for Birdman, with the director also sharing the prizes for Best Picture and Original Screenplay. Lubezki has actually won the the last two Oscars for Cinematography, claiming the 2014 prize for his work on Gravity. DiCaprio has been nominated for four acting awards, but never won. Stephen Mirrione already has an Oscar for editing Steven Soderbergh’s Traffic. Costume designer Jacqueline West has two previous nominations, including one for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Sound mixer Randy Thom won two Oscars for The Incredibles and The Right Stuff, and his colleague Frank A. Montaño is looking for his first Oscar after eight nominations. Sound editor Lon Bender has been nominated four times, winning for Braveheart

What it’s won thus far: The Revenant has taken home Best Picture awards from BAFTA, the Golden Globes, and the Directors’ Guild. DiCaprio has won pretty much every Best Actor prize this season, including the Screen Actors Guild and Critics’ Choice. Iñárritu had dominated the director’s race, and Lubezki has several awards in his category, including a recent win at BAFTA. In addition, the film’s special effect team won the top prize from the Visual Effects Society.

Why it should win: It’s hard not to appreciate the way Iñárritu cashed in all his Birdman chips for an intense, difficult “art movie” about survival. The Revenant‘s troubled shoot is well-documented at this point; because Iñárritu and Lubezki insisted on using only natural light and shooting mostly long takes, their filming in frigid conditions often stretched their crew to the absolute limits. The result is a beautiful visual fantasia, extreme human suffering juxtaposed against the transcendent beauty of uninhabited nature. The Academy is famous for rewarding artists’ physical dedication to their craft. In that respect, no one pushed themselves farther this year than the makers of The Revenant.

Why it won’t win: For all The Revenant’s glorious visuals, it does little to explain them. There’s not a ton of layers or depth to the story — it’s an old-fashioned revenge story, after all. It’s unclear what, exactly, audience members are supposed to take away from Hugh Glass’ suffering. The Revenant is a far different film from Birdman, whose characters’ struggle to create real cinematic art struck a chord with Academy members fatigued by the ascendancy of superhero blockbusters. (The Revenant notably did not receive a nomination for Adapted Screenplay.) A certain lack of relevance or modern meaning in is probably why the door remains slightly ajar for an upset this late in the game. DiCaprio’s long-awaited coronation seems inevitable, and since his forceful performance is so central to the film, maybe awarding him will be enough for Oscar voters.  

Vegas Odds: 4/9, according to the Paddy Power betting website, making it the clear favorite.  

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