It will be an eight-entry Oscar race for best picture, with some of the most interesting head-to-heads in years. There will be creative mavericks competing against vintage talents, low-budget arthouse entries versus major studio fare, showdowns between daunting drama and in-your-face comedy, and newcomers alongside veteran actors.
This is not the sort of lineup where it's easy to place bets.
Leading the pack with nine nominations Thursday were Wes Anderson's slap-happy melodrama "The Grand Budapest Hotel," the purest comedy competitor since 2012's silent winner "The Artist," and the darkly funny "Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)," which not only has the year's longest title, but an impressive roster of awards.
Partly a scathing satire of the movie industry, "Birdman" cast Michael Keaton as a former movie superhero on a quest for respect on Broadway. Following his Golden Globe win Sunday, the former "Batman" star seems like the leader in an Oscar field that also includes Eddie Redmayne and Benedict Cumberbatch, as brilliant but troubled English scientists in "The Theory of Everything" and "The Imitation Game," respectively; Bradley Cooper for "American Sniper" and Steve Carell for "Foxcatcher."
Texas-based Richard Linklater received his first best-director nod in a quarter-century indie career that ranges from teen comedies like "Dazed and Confused," which launched Ben Affleck, Matthew McConaughey and Parker Posey, to such serious dramas as "Before Sunset" and "Before Midnight" (which earned him Oscar nominations for best screenplay). Many of his films take place in a single day, but his compelling "Boyhood" was in the making for 12 years, following a suburban boy coming of age, with one scene filmed each year from 2002 to 2013.
A work of impressive scope, "Boyhood" received six nominations, including best picture, another screenplay nod for Linklater and best supporting actress for Patricia Arquette, who plays the kid's single mother. Arquette, Linklater and their film all won Golden Globes Sunday.
The biggest surprise in acting nominations was the entry of Oscar winner Marion Cotillard, playing a suddenly unemployed factory worker in the small French drama "Two Days, One Night."
She faces English competitors Felicity Jones, in "The Theory of Everything," and Rosamund Pike, in "Gone Girl." But the real strength of the pack seems to be the often-nominated Julianne Moore, who won a Golden Globe for her performance a college professor facing Alzheimer's in "Still Alice," and Oscar veteran Reese Witherspoon, playing bestselling memoirist Cheryl Strayed in "Wild."
Actor's actor J.K. Simmons, long a popular favorite for his work in the first Spider-Man series and the indie comedy "Juno," moved beyond his career as a character actor in "Whiplash," which also won him a Globe. As an abusive, ruthless jazz instructor of an ambitious drumming student, he creates a mentor more interested in browbeating than bebop. It's a disturbing performance, but never less than gripping.
The movie's first-time director, Damien Chazelle, was nominated for his original screenplay, and the film is a surprise entry in the best picture sweepstakes among its five nods.
Best-picture nods for veteran filmmakers included Clint Eastwood's "American Sniper," whose six nominations include best actor for Bradley Cooper as legendary Navy SEAL rifleman Chris Kyle.
All-white field in the acting categories
The Martin Luther King drama "Selma," initially considered a major competitor, was nominated only for best picture and best song (Common and John Legend's Golden Globe winner "Glory"). David Oyelowo's soul-stirring performance as King was apparently pushed out of contention by Cooper's late entry into the five-man field.
Oyelowo's snub marks only the second time in 17 years in which actors of color were shut out of the Oscar nominations.
Bennett Miller, a best-director nominee for his first two scripted features, "Capote" and "Moneyball," extended his streak to three with the gripping "Foxcatcher," a dramatized true story starring best actor nominee Steve Carell. He is virtually unrecognizable as multimillionaire/murderer John du Pont, with Mark Ruffalo (also a nominee) and Channing Tatum cast as Olympic wrestlers entering one clash that strength alone can't win.
"Interstellar," Christopher Nolan's staggeringly expensive science fiction saga about intergalactic exploration, scored in five technical categories but missed best picture. Visual effects became a strictly fantasy-oriented category as nominations went to "Interstellar," "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes," "Guardians of the Galaxy," "Captain America: Winter Soldier" and "X-Men: Days of Future Past."
Prodigious composer Alexandre Desplat finds himself in the strange position of possibly defeating Alexandre Desplat. He is nominated for both of his original scores, for "The Imitation Game" and "The Grand Budapest Hotel."
The highest moneymaker among the best-picture nominees, "Grand Budapest," earned a measly $59 million domestically. Despite taking in $333 million, "Guardians of the Galaxy," the top-grossing film of 2014, was named only for visual effects and makeup and hairstyling. So much for expanding the best-picture list to include populist films.