With nine best-picture nominees, led by '12 Years a Slave,' 'American Hustle' and 'Gravity,' and exceptionally strong contenders for best actor, the Oscars race may be one for the ages.
That's the main message from the Oscar nominations revealed on Thursday morning, after academy voters agreed on a field of nine best-picture nominees — one away from the maximum number allowed.
American Hustle and Gravity lead the field with 10 nominations each including best picture, and 12 Years a Slave is right on their heels with nine, including best picture. The rest of the picture field includes Captain Phillips (six nominations), Dallas Buyers Club (six), Nebraska (five), The Wolf of Wall Street (five), Her (five) and Philomena (four).
With this large field taken from a banner year in quality Hollywood films, the competition will be spirited going into the March 2 awards program (ABC, 7 p.m. ET/4 PT).
"It's going to be an extremely interesting final leg of this race. There are no slam dunks in any of these categories,'' says Scott Feinberg, lead awards analyst for The Hollywood Reporter. "It's unusual to have a race this wide-open (occur) this late in the season."
This closeness is especially apparent in the crowded best-picture category.
"I can't recall a tighter best-picture race," says Dave Karger, chief correspondent for the film site Fandango.com, noting that Gravity, American Hustle and 12 Years a Slave are leading the pack. "These are three movies within easy striking distance of the win. And each is so strikingly different. I don't know how the academy is going to pick it."
The tightness is also present in the actor race with a field that has awards newcomers Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave), Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club) and 77-year-old Bruce Dern (Nebraska) in the hunt along with Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street) and Christian Bale (American Hustle).
"This is one race where literally any of these actors could go home with the award," says Feinberg.
The quality-stocked field led to inevitable disappointments. Tom Hanks was shut out for nominations despite two contending roles in Captain Phillips and Saving Mr. Banks.
"Tom Hanks is the Ben Affleck snub of this year, in terms of jaw-dropping omission," says Karger, referring to the infamous Affleck directing snub of 2013 for his film Argo.
Robert Redford, 77, did not make the best-actor cut for his critically-acclaimed performance in All is Lost.
Lee Daniels' The Butler, a film that dominated the award discussion when it was released in August, did not see any nominations, even for supporting actress Oprah Winfrey. And the Joel and Ethan Coen film Inside Llewyn Davis, with heralded leading man Oscar Isaac, was kept out of the major categories. The film received two nods, for cinematography and sound mixing.
It was a mixed day for Disney studios, which saw its chief contender, Saving Mr. Banks, kept out of key races despite the touted performances of Hanks (as Walt Disney), and Emma Thompson. The John Lee Hancock-directed film received a nomination for original score. Meanwhile, the Disney box-office hit Frozen soared, nabbing an animated-picture nomination as well as original song for Let It Go.
The studio also received a nomination for the short Get a Horse! Meanwhile, Pixar, a part of Disney, saw a rare shutout when its Monsters University was snubbed.
Among the many positive surprises were support for Martin Scorsese's controversial The Wolf of Wall Street, which has received criticism for its hedonistic depiction of stock market traders. Voters set those concerns aside by giving the film a best-picture nomination, along with nods for director Scorsese, lead actor DiCaprio and supporting actor Jonah Hill.
The underdog drama Philomena also stepped up in a big way with four nominations, including best picture and lead actress Dame Judi Dench, 79.