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American Hustle, Gravity lead Oscar race

Con-artist caper and space drama tied for top spot with 10 nods each

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The Academy Awards appear to be the three-horse race many expected they would be, with Gravity, American Hustle and 12 Years a Slave all receiving a heap of nominations in an Oscar field that blends otherworldly endurance with glamorous escapism.

The nominations for the 86th Academy Awards, announced Thursday morning in Beverly Hills, Calif., were led by the 3D space odyssey Gravity and the con-artist caper American Hustle both with 10 nominations. The harrowing historical epic 12 Years a Slave trailed closely with nine nominations.

All were among the nine films nominated for best picture. The other nominees are Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Her, Nebraska, The Wolf of Wall Street and Philomena.

The most notable omission by the academy was Tom Hanks, whose lead performance in Captain Phillips was widely considered a shoo-in. It was a particularly surprising snub since Hanks is widely beloved by the academy, having been nominated five times previously, winning for Forest Gump and Philadelphia.

Robert Redford, expected by many to be nominated for the shipwreck drama All Is Lost, also missed out on a best actor nod. Redford has never won an acting Oscar.

The best actor nominees are Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave), Bruce Dern (Nebraska), Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street), Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club) and Christian Bale (American Hustle).

The 77-year-old Dern is an Oscar nominee for the second time, 35 years after his nomination for Hal Ashby's Coming Home. Few have taken more pleasure in awards season than Dern, revitalized by a film he's happily viewed, he estimates, "approaching the upper 30s."

"I can't see it enough to realize how lucky we all were with the collaboration that went on on this particular movie," said Dern. "I feel somehow that the industry has suddenly today put their arms around our little movie."

Nebraska earned six nominations, including best director for Alexander Payne and June Squibb for best supporting actress.

Disney's making-of Mary Poppins tale, Saving Mr. Banks, surprisingly failed to land either a best picture nomination or a best actress nod for Emma Thompson.

The best actress nominees are Amy Adams (American Hustle), Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine), Sandra Bullock (Gravity), Judi Dench (Philomena) and Meryl Streep (August: Osage County).

With her nomination, Streep pads her record for most acting nominations. This is her 18th nod, including three wins, the last for 2011's The Iron Lady.

But many enjoyed their first Oscar nomination Thursday, including Ejiofor, McConaughey, Michael Fassbender (12 Years a Slave), McQueen, Barkhad Abdi (a limo driver before being cast in Captain Phillips), Lupita Nyong'o (12 Years) and Jared Leto, who had devoted himself to music before returning to play a transsexual in the Texas HIV drama Dallas Buyers Club.

"Yesterday I was doing jury duty, today I woke up with an Academy Award nomination," said Leto. "Only in America."

Quebec's Jean-Marc Vallee did not receive a nod for directing Dallas Buyers Club but the Canadian contingent behind the drama wasn't shut out entirely: Montreal's Martin Pensa is up for film editing.

"It's unreal, it feels very unreal, but I'm super happy for sure, it's incredible," Pensa said.

Pensa bemoaned the fact Vallee was shut out of the best director category but said the C.R.A.Z.Y. auteur can take pride in the fact that star Matthew McConaughey and co-star Jared Leto scored high-profile acting nods.

"They didn't put him as best director unfortunately but he got best picture and best actors so that's a big win for him," said Pensa, who first collaborated with Vallee on the filmmaker's acclaimed Cafe de Flore.

David O. Russell's Abscam melodrama American Hustle has ridden a wave of enthusiasm for its manic performances, all draped in thick 1970s style. It's a repeat success for director David O. Russell (who received his third directing nomination) just a year after his Silver Linings Playbook was feted, like Hustle, with nominations in all four acting categories. A year after winning, Jennifer Lawrence was again nominated for Hustle, as was Bradley Cooper, both swapping lead nods for supporting nominations.

Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street came into Thursday as one of the biggest question marks of an awards season that has often left many guessing. The nearly three-hour Wall Street extravaganza of money, sex and drugs became a lightning rod of debate, with many questioning whether it glamorized the infamous trader Jordan Belfort.

But The Wolf of Wall Street landed five big nominations, including best director (Scorsese, his eighth for directing), best supporting actor (Jonah Hill) and best adapted screenplay (Terence Winter). DiCaprio said he felt vindicated for what he said is clearly a cautionary tale of greed and hedonism.

"To be recognized like this and to see that there were enough people out there who said, 'Look, we get what this film' -- not what it's trying to say, but what it's trying to reflect. Nobody wants to be misunderstood," said DiCaprio.

Also doing well was Spike Jonze's futuristic romance Her (five nominations, including best original screenplay for Jonze). Jonze actually earned three nominations Thursday, including best song, for co-writing The Moon Song with Karen O. The film also received a nomination for best original score for Canada's Owen Pallett and Arcade Fire member Will Butler.

Though much of awards season had played out between favourites 12 Years a Slave and American Hustle (both best picture winners at the Golden Globes on Sunday), the global box-office hit Gravity emerged Thursday thanks partly to its strength in technical categories. It was nominated for all seven technical awards, including cinematography, production design, editing and visual effects.

Alfonso Cuaron's innovative depiction of being lost in space has been hailed for reinvigorating the spectacle of the big-screen experience. Having taken in more than $670 million worldwide, it's easily the most popular of the best-picture nominees.

Though historically the most-nominated films have taken home best picture, that's not been the case in recent years. In six of the last 10 years, the most-nominated film hasn't triumphed in the end, including last year when Steven Spielberg's Lincoln, with 12 nominations, was beaten by Ben Affleck's Argo.

This year's Oscar telecast on March 2, with Ellen DeGeneres hosting for the second time, has particular pressure on it to live up to the increasingly popular Golden Globes. With hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, ratings for the Globes have increased the last two years and drawn good reviews. The Academy Awards have meanwhile struggled to freshen up its more prestigious brand.

 

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 17, 2014 D3

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