Two very different American stories - American Hustle, about con artists, greedy pols, and an FBI sting, and 12 Years a Slave, about a free black man abducted and sold into slavery - were among the big winners as nominees for the 86th Academy Awards were announced Thursday morning in Beverly Hills.
Leading the pack with 10 nominations apiece were David O. Russell's freewheeling take on the polyester-era Abscam scandal, American Hustle, and Alfonso Cuarón's stranded-in-space suspenser, Gravity. Nine nods went to 12 Years, a searing slice of pre-Civil War history. The three titles are putative front-runners among nine - out of a possible 10 - best picture candidates, with a surprising show of love for Spike Jonze's Her (five nominations) and a knee-jerk toss of bouquets at Martin Scorsese's epically heartless The Wolf of Wall Street (also five).
In an especially strong year for movies, some much-loved, much-praised work was inevitably going to be left standing at the Oscar altar. No Robert Redford for All Is Lost, no Tom Hanks for Captain Phillips (though the captain's Somali pirate nemesis, played with eerie menace by Barkhad Abdi, received a supporting actor salute), no Forest Whitaker or Oprah Winfrey for Lee Daniels' The Butler (a complete shutout).
Saving Mr. Banks, which had been considered a strong contender in several key categories, including best actress for Emma Thompson, got only a single nomination, for original score, and the Coen Brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis - which won best picture from the National Society of Film Critics - received just two, for cinematography and sound.
Happily, Bruce Dern, the veteran character actor and all-around Hollywood character, did land a best actor spot, for his portrayal of a muddleheaded Midwestern senior determined to collect on a $1 million sweepstakes prize in Nebraska. Alexander Payne's funny, sad, black-and-white gem is also in competition for best picture, best supporting actress (June Squib, a comically horrifying harridan), and three other categories.
Philadelphia's Craig Borten received a nomination for original screenplay for Dallas Buyers Club - a story the screenwriter had been trying to get made for two decades.
"I'm just so blown away," Borten said when reached by e-mail Thursday morning. "It's the perfect culmination of a 20-year journey. I'm humbled and ecstatic!"
Matthew McConaughey, who lost more than 40 pounds to play the film's HIV-inflicted Texas redneck, transforming into an unlikely hero in AIDS treatment and research, was a shoo-in for a best actor slot. McConaughey won the Golden Globe actor prize Sunday for his performance, and his Dallas Buyers Club castmate and fellow Golden Globe winner, Jared Leto, was nominated in the supporting actor category.
The film that Leonardo DiCaprio (a best actor contender again) introduced at the Golden Globes as "Philomania" received four nominations, including one for Judi Dench for the title role in Philomena, as an Irish retiree looking for the son she was long ago forced to give up for adoption.
Dame Judi's best-actress competition is crowded with fellow Oscar winners: Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine, Sandra Bullock for Gravity, and Meryl Streep for August: Osage County (it's Streep's 18th nomination, and already CNN is warning of "Meryl fatigue"). Only Amy Adams, nominated for her turn as a flimflamming femme fatale in American Hustle, is new to the best actress game. Adams has four supporting actress nominations under her belt, but no wins.
It's a disappointment that Sarah Polley's Stories We Tell, short-listed in the documentary feature category, didn't make the final cut, but anyone who has seen the film can understand why it may have troubled documentary purists. Still, for once, this is an entirely deserving field, covering themes of art, song, genocide, revolution, and war. One of the nominees, The Act of Killing, does all of those.
So now, six weeks of prognosticating, handicapping, crystal-balling and blah-blah-blah-ing, as we wait for the Big Night: March 2, when Ellen DeGeneres hosts the 86th Academy Awards on ABC, and all the world will wonder how Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa got itself an Oscar nomination. For makeup and hairstyling.
It did. Really.
The nominees in major categories for the 86th Annual Academy Awards:
Best Picture: American Hustle; Captain Phillips; Dallas Buyers Club; Gravity; Her; Nebraska; Philomena; 12 Years a Slave; The Wolf of Wall Street.
Actor: Christian Bale, American Hustle; Bruce Dern, Nebraska; Leonardo DiCaprio, The Wolf of Wall Street; Chiwetel Ejiofor, 12 Years a Slave; Matthew McConaughey, Dallas Buyers Club.
Actress: Amy Adams, American Hustle; Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine; Sandra Bullock, Gravity; Judi Dench, Philomena; Meryl Streep, August: Osage County.
Supporting actor: Barkhad Abdi, Captain Phillips; Bradley Cooper, American Hustle; Michael Fassbender, 12 Years a Slave; Jonah Hill, The Wolf of Wall Street; Jared Leto, Dallas Buyers Club.
Supporting actress: Sally Hawkins, Blue Jasmine; Jennifer Lawrence, American Hustle; Lupita Nyong'o, 12 Years a Slave; Julia Roberts, August: Osage County; June Squibb, Nebraska.
Director: David O. Russell, American Hustle; Alfonso Cuarón, Gravity; Alexander Payne, Nebraska; Steve McQueen, 12 Years a Slave; Martin Scorsese, The Wolf of Wall Street.
Foreign language film: The Broken Circle Breakdown, Belgium; The Great Beauty, Italy; The Hunt, Denmark; The Missing Picture, Cambodia; Omar, Palestine.
Adapted screenplay: Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, and Ethan Hawke, Before Midnight; Billy Ray, Captain Phillips; Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, Philomena; John Ridley, 12 Years a Slave; Terence Winter, The Wolf of Wall Street.
Original screenplay: Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell, American Hustle; Woody Allen, Blue Jasmine; Craig Borten and Melisa Wallack, Dallas Buyers Club; Spike Jonze, Her; Bob Nelson, Nebraska.
Animated feature film: The Croods; Despicable Me 2; Ernest & Celestine; Frozen; The Wind Rises.