By Mary Milliken and Nichola Groom
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. Jan 16 Three films -
"American Hustle," "Gravity" and "12 Years a Slave' - cemented
their frontrunner status for the Oscars on Thursday in what is
shaping up to be a highly competitive year for Hollywood's top
Director David O. Russell's 1970s con-men caper "American
Hustle" and Alfonso Cuaron's space thriller "Gravity" each won
10 Academy Award nominations, while Steve McQueen's brutal
depiction of slavery in "12 Years a Slave" secured nine. All
three films garnered nods for best picture and best director.
"This has been an amazing ride, and to receive nine
nominations from the Academy is testament to all of the hard
work," said McQueen, a British filmmaker who unearthed the
real-life American story about a free man sold into slavery.
But in a year hailed as one of high quality for the
Hollywood industry, several other films could challenge the
favorites in the race for the world's top film prizes.
Somali piracy thriller "Captain Phillips," the AIDS activism
tale "Dallas Buyers Club," and heartland comedy "Nebraska,"
which each garnered six nominations.
Martin Scorsese's cautionary tale on financial greed, "The
Wolf of Wall Street," quirky computer-age romance, "Her" and
adoption drama "Philomena" round out the nine nominees for best
Members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
may nominate up to 10 films for best picture, but only chose
nine this year. A notable exclusion was the Coen Brothers'
"Inside Llewyn Davis," which had won some top critics' awards,
and scored only two nods overall.
The race could be complicated by the long lead time to the
Oscars ceremony, to be hosted by comedian Ellen DeGeneres in Los
Angeles on March 2.
TOP ACTORS SNUBBED
The crowded honors race spilled over into the acting
categories, where the Academy snubbed some veteran stars and
instead chose to recognize up and coming talent.
Eight individuals in the acting categories are first-time
nominees, including Chiwetel Ejiofor as the free man sold into
slavery in "12 Years a Slave." He will compete in the best actor
race with Matthew McConaughey, the Golden Globe winner last
Sunday for his role as the unlikely AIDS crusader in "Dallas
Buyers Club," and Leonardo DiCaprio as the swindling,
fast-living stockbroker in "The Wolf of Wall Street."
DiCaprio said he "found the role to be one of the most
challenging and rewarding of my career."
And while the best actor race included veteran Bruce Dern
for his cantankerous old man in "Nebraska" and Christian Bale as
the con-man with bad hair in "American Hustle," it excluded
Robert Redford, who won acclaim for his solo role as a sailor
lost at sea in "All is Lost," and Tom Hanks as the captain under
siege in "Captain Phillips."
Hanks, who has not won an Oscar since his back-to-back wins
in 1994 and 1995, was considered a favorite, mostly because of
his harrowing final scene in the film.
"I'm disappointed by it," said "Captain Phillips" producer
Michael De Luca. "It was a crowded field this year. It's a great
field of movies. I think with Tom, who has been so excellent in
everything for so long, he makes it look easy."
Hanks' Somali nemesis in the film played by newcomer Barkhad
Abdi did win a best supporting actor nod, however.
It was a good year for veteran actresses and Oscar winners.
Meryl Streep extended her lead as the most nominated performer
with an 18th nomination, this year for best actress as the
matriarch in "August: Osage County."
Streep goes up against fellow Oscar winners Sandra Bullock
as the astronaut lost in space in "Gravity," Cate Blanchett as
the riches-to-rags socialite in Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine,"
and Judi Dench as the Irish mother who loses her son in
"Philomena." Amy Adams is nominated for her turn as a con-lady
in "American Hustle."
"This is just the loveliest news," said Dench. "I'm so happy
for everybody involved, and so proud to have been part of the
wonderful experience that Philomena has been."
The list excluded Emma Thompson, praised for her role as the
"Mary Poppins" author in Disney's "Saving Mr. Banks."
RARE FEAT FOR 'AMERICAN HUSTLE'
In the supporting categories, there was a nod for newcomer
Lupita Nyong'o as the slave Patsey and another for her cruel
master, played by Michael Fassbender.
"American Hustle" also earned supporting nominations for
actors from Russell's hit last year "Silver Linings Playbook," -
Jennifer Lawrence, who won the best actress Oscar, and Bradley
Russell's romp through 1970s New York earned nominations for
best picture, directing, writing and all four acting categories,
a rare feat he also scored last year.
At the Golden Globes on Sunday, "12 Years a Slave,"
distributed by Fox Searchlight, a unit of 21st Century Fox
, won best drama while "American Hustle," distributed by
Sony, won best musical or comedy. "Gravity" was
distributed by Warner Bros., a unit of Time Warner Inc.
In the next few weeks, Hollywood will look to see how the
actors, producers, directors and writers guild awards shape up.
Their members also constitute the bulk of the 6,000 Academy
Oscar voters have a longer time this year between
nominations and awards and there is a risk they could get bored
by the frontrunners, change their minds or be distracted by the
Winter Olympics, said awards handicapper Tom O'Neil of
"Right now it's looking like '12 Years a Slave' is ahead
based on the momentum," said O'Neil. "It feels very important.
It has the urgent social message that the Oscar voters like, but
it's a hard movie to take."
"American Hustle," he added, has an A-list cast, a good box
office and lighter fare, while "Gravity" is "a spectacular
Cuaron won best director at the Globes and the techical
advances he used to depict the wonders of space in "Gravity"
yielded nominations for cinematography, visual effects and
sound, among other technical categories.