‘American Hustle’ and ‘Gravity’ lead Oscar race

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Posted 9:54am on Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014

Two very different types of movies — a 3D thriller about an astronaut adrift in space and a comedic drama based on the Abscam political scandal of the ’70s — are duking it out as the leaders in the race for the film industry’s top honor. Gravity and American Hustle, with 10 nominations each including best picture, dominated Thursday’s announcement of the nominees for the 86th Academy Awards to be held March 2.

Right behind them is the intense, slavery-themed drama 12 Years a Slave with nine nominations, including best picture as well. Slave was honored as best drama at last Sunday’s Golden Globes. Rounding out the field in the best picture category are Captain Phillips, Her, Philomena, The Wolf of Wall Street, Nebraska, and Dallas Buyers Club. The number of nominees for Best Picture can range between five and 10 while the number is restricted to five in other categories.

American Hustle, which won in the comedy/musical category at the Globes, is the one film nominated in all the major categories and, following Silver Linings Playbook and The Fighter, marks the third time David O’Russell has found a film of his in the running.

Directing and acting

Those up for directing mirrored these choices with Alfonso Cuarón ( Gravity), David O’Russell ( American Hustle), Alexander Payne ( Nebraska), Steve McQueen ( 12 Years a Slave), and Martin Scorsese ( The Wolf of Wall Street) the contenders. The same goes for acting with Christian Bale ( American Hustle), Chiwetel Ejiofor ( 12 Years a Slave), Matthew McConaughey ( Dallas Buyers Club), Leonardo DiCaprio ( The Wolf of Wall Street) and Bruce Dern ( Nebraska) competing for best actor and Amy Adams ( American Hustle), Cate Blanchett ( Blue Jasmine), Sandra Bullock ( Gravity), Judi Dench ( Philomena), and Meryl Streep ( August: Osage County) squaring off for best actress.

This is one year in which the supporting actor categories are going to be closely watched as well. Among the guys, total newcomer and former limo driver Barkhad Abdi ( Captain Phillips) is going up against Jared Leto ( Dallas Buyers Club), Michael Fassbender ( 12 Years a Slave), Bradley Cooper ( American Hustle) and the big surprise, Jonah Hill ( The Wolf of Wall Street). For the women, it’s Jennifer Lawrence ( American Hustle), Lupita Nyong’o ( 12 Years a Slave), Julia Roberts ( August: Osage County), June Squibb ( Nebraska) and the surprise in this category, Sally Hawkins ( Blue Jasmine).

Texan Richard Linklater is nominated in the adapted screenplay category for Before Midnight along with Billy Ray ( Captain Phillips), Steven Coogan and Jeff Pope ( Philomena), John Ridley ( 12 Years a Slave), and Terence Winter ( The Wolf of Wall Street). Over on the original screenplay side, we have Woody Allen ( Blue Jasmine), Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell ( American Hustle), Craig Borten and Melisa Wallak ( Dallas Buyers Club), Spike Jonze ( Her) and Bob Nelson ( Nebraska).

Glaring omissions

In a year that has been deemed very competitive, it was expected there would be some significant omissions simply because there were not enough slots to nominate all those who were worthy. But that doesn’t make the sting any less for supporters of such films as the Disney-themed Saving Mr. Banks (whose Emma Thompson was thought to be a shoo-in for a Best Actress nod), Lee Daniel’s The Butler (Oprah Winfrey was pegged for a Supporting Actress nomination when it was released) and Fruitvale Station, the searing portrait of a young man killed by Oakland police. When the film came out, many critics thought star Michael B. Jordan would get some Oscar love.

And not a word was whispered about Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom or the Coen brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis, which earned critical praise for the performances of Idris Elba and Oscar Isaac, respectively.

On the directing side, both Paul Greengrass ( Captain Phillips) and Spike Jonze ( Her) were ignored even though their films — certainly extensions of their particular visions and style — are up for Best Picture. Throw in Tom Hanks (who had two major roles this year in Captain Phillips and Saving Mr. Banks but was not recognized for either), Robert Redford (ignored for his role as the lone actor in All Is Lost), and Her star Joaquin Phoenix and no doubt there’s some major disappointment on the streets of Hollywood today. And those who thought that maybe Her’s unseen Scarlett Johansson, the voice of the computer with whom Phoenix falls in love, might get some attention probably aren’t too happy.

Another surprise is just how well liked The Wolf of Wall Street seems to be by the Academy considering the film, based on the real-life exploits and debauchery of Wall Street whiz kid Jordan Belfort, has been controversial for its three-hour length, profanity, sex and drug use.

For animated feature, Frozen and Despicable Me 2 would seem to be the ones to beat in a field that includes The Croods, The Wind Rises and Ernest & Celestine.

It’s great to see Joshua Oppenheimer’s bizarre but captivating The Act of Killing, in which members of Indonesian torture squads re-enact their crimes in the list of documentary feature nominees along with 20 Feet From Stardom, the look at the world of back-up singers. Also up are The Square, Dirty Wars and Cutie and the Boxer.

In the foreign-language category, it’s probably a contest between Belgium’s The Broken Circle Breakdown and Italy’s The Great Beauty, though Denmark’s gripping The Hunt is certainly deserving as well. The other nominees are Omar (Palestine) and The Missing Picture (Cambodia). Somewhat surprising by its omission is Iranian director Asghar Farhadi’s The Past, which was up for a Golden Globe in this category.

Ellen DeGeneres is hosting the Oscars, which will take place in Los Angeles on March 2.

Cary Darling, cdarling@dfw.com

Twitter: @carydar

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