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Academy Award nominations could see surprises

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By JAKE COYLE, AP Film Writer

NEW YORK (AP) - The "OscarsSoWhite" backlash is one sequel Hollywood doesn't want to see when nominations are announced Thursday morning for the 88th annual Academy Awards.

In the year since an all-white crop of acting nominees brought heaps of criticism on the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs has redoubled efforts to diversify the academy's membership.

What a difference a year makes will be closely watched at 8:30 a.m. EST Thursday when Isaacs announces the nominees from Beverly Hills, California, alongside presenters Ang Lee, Guillermo del Toro and John Krasinski.

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This awards season has been unusually unpredictable, but it seems clear that the Oscars will not offer much improvement in diversity. Barring a major surprise, the best actor, best actress and best supporting actress fields will be all white. Idris Elba ("Beasts of No Nation") and Benicio Del Toro ("Sicario") will hope to crack the best supporting actor category.

The only best-picture contender without a white protagonist is "Straight Outta Compton," which has an outside shot of joining the favorites. Those include the top Golden Globe winners - Ridley Scott's "The Martian" and Alejandro Inarritu's "The Revenant" - along with "Spotlight," ''The Big Short" and "Room." Male filmmakers are again expected to dominate best director.

But there could be a few shocks on Thursday. Earlier awards from critics and guilds have seldom lined up this season, suggesting a wide-open competition. The only films to garner top nominations from each of the key guilds - actor, director and producer - are Tom McCarthy's investigative journalism drama "Spotlight" and Adam McKay's Michael Lewis adaptation "The Big Short."

Though it should win attention in technical categories, Oscar prognosticators do not expect J.J. Abrams' box-office juggernaut "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" to land a best picture nomination. Finding room for such acclaimed blockbusters alongside smaller indies was part of the reason the academy expanded the best-picture field to up to 10 nominees.

But this year's expected nominees already contain box-office hits ("The Martian," the recently released "The Revenant") and a number of major studio releases. All with horses in the race are 20th Century Fox ("The Martian," ''The Revenant"), Walt Disney Co. ("Bridge of Spies"), Paramount Pictures ("The Big Short"), Universal ("Straight Outta Compton") and Warner Bros. ("Mad Max: Fury Road").

The Academy Awards will be broadcast live on ABC on Feb. 28, with Chris Rock hosting for the second time.

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