The nominations for the 86th annual Academy Awards were announced Jan. 16, and three films, representing three radically different visions of what Hollywood does well, took most of the attention. “Gravity,” a suspenseful showcase of cinematic technology, and “American Hustle,” a loosy-goosey acting showcase that feels like a throwback to 1970s New Hollywood, were nominated for 10 Oscars each. Close behind, with nine nods, was “12 Years a Slave,” Steve McQueen’s scalding period drama and a history lesson in the long-established Academy style.
“Gravity” was nominated for best picture, director (Alfonso Cuaron), best actress (Sandra Bullock), and a raft of technical and crafts awards. By contrast, “American Hustle,” which was shot in the Boston and Worcester areas, saw nominations in all four acting categories, with Christian Bale and Amy Adams nominated for their lead performances, and Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence in supporting roles. The film and director David O. Russell were nominated, as was the original screenplay written by Russell and Eric Singer.
The nominations for “12 Years a Slave” included best picture, best director (Steve McQueen), best actor (Chiwetel Ejiofor), best supporting actor (Michael Fassbender) and actress (Lupita Nyong’o), and the screenplay adapted by John Ridley from Solomon Northup’s memoirs.
There were snubs. Robert Redford was considered to have a shot at best actor for “All is Lost,” but Academy voters decided to put their aging-Hollywood-lion votes in Bruce Dern’s basket. The Coen brothers didn’t come up empty-handed with “Inside Llewyn Davis,” but the film’s two nominations, for cinematography and sound-mixing, seemed an afterthought for a film much-praised if not easy to love. Even “The Lone Ranger,” one of the year’s most vilified films, received two nominations , for visual effects and make-up. (Apropos of nothing, if you’re not going to nominate “American Hustle” for make-up and hairstyling, why even bother?)
But there were few surprises overall, and certainly not in any major categories. The best actress line-up includes Adams, Cate Blanchett for “Blue Jasmine,” Bullock, Judi Dench for “Philomena,” and—in her 18th nomination and fourth potential win—Meryl Streep for “August: Osage County.” Those hoping to see Emma Thompson (“Saving Mr. Banks”), Julie Delpy (“Before Midnight”), or Adele Exarchopoulos (“Blue is the Warmest Color”) receive recognition were disappointed.
Similarly, the slate of nine best picture nominees—under rules established several years ago, up to 10 films can be nominated in the category if they’re on enough ballots—reads like a run-down of the year-end awards race, with earlier films that were smaller but highly praised not making the cut. 2013 was a good year for cinema, big and little, and this year’s Oscar nominations reflected that largesse and tried to spread the bounty.
So the real-life high seas drama “Captain Phillips” saw six nominations, including best picture and best supporting actor (Barkhad Abdi), but none for Tom Hanks’s lead performance or Paul Greengrass’s direction. “Nebraska,” a bleakly moving tale of fathers and sons, was nominated for best picture, director (Alexander Payne), actor (Dern), and supporting actress (the unstoppable June Squibb), and two others. “Dallas Buyers Club,” about AIDS patient and activist Ron Woodruff, also got six nominations, including for Jared Leto’s supporting role and Matthew McConaughey’s lead performance; the attention caps a remarkable career resurgence—dubbed “the McConnaissance”—for a once-mocked star.
Martin Scorsese’s “The Wolf of Wall Street” has been the subject of considerable debate over its portrait of 1990s excess, but the Oscars still love Marty and gave the film five nominations, for best picture, director, screenplay, lead actor (Leonardo DiCaprio), and—in one of the few relative surprises—Jonah Hill’s supporting performance.
One of the year’s most thematically resonant films, “Her,” about a man who falls in love with his computer’s operating system, saw five nominations, including best picture, original screenplay, and production design, but not for director Spike Jonze or lead actor Joaquin Phoenix. And “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” one of the more praised movies of the early awards season, has ceased to exist as far as Oscar is concerned: The film received no nominations at all.
Another unusual wrinkle: In a year without a Pixar release, the animation slate was more varied than usual, with a French film, “Ernest and Celestine,” and “The Wind Rises” from Japan joining Hollywood productions “Frozen,” “Despicable Me 2,” and “The Croods.”
For a change, though, the documentary and foreign language categories lacked for controversy and just spotlighted some very good films. Two films made by graduates of Harvard’s film programs made it into the documentary feature race, Joshua Oppenheimer’s “The Act of Killing” and Jehane Noujaim’s “The Square” (opening in the Boston area on Friday). The foreign-language category already had its scandal when films like “Blue is the Warmest Color,” “Wadjda,” “Gloria,” and “The Past” didn’t make the penultimate cut, but the final five hold water, even if it’s surprising that Wong Kar-wei’s “The Grandmaster” was nominated for cinematography and costume design but not here.
The Academy Awards will be held Sunday, March 2, in Los Angeles.