'American Hustle,' 'Gravity' and '12 Years a Slave' lead the pack for best picture

  • Article by: COLIN COVERT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 16, 2014 - 5:53 PM

Three movies — “12 Years a Slave,” “American Hustle” and “Gravity” — led the pack of Oscar nominees at Thursday’s announcement ceremony.

The trio entered the competition with the largest tally of nominations, 10 each for “Hustle” and “Gravity,” and nine for “Slave.” Each also scored in the key best director and acting categories.

The American Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences chose nine films for the best picture category. Also in contention for the top prize are “Captain Phillips,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Her,” “Nebraska,” “Philomena,” and “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

In a real-life Cinderella story, first-time actor Barkhad Abdi of Minneapolis was nominated for best supporting actor. He frighteningly and movingly played a Somali pirate leader in “Captain Phillips.” Costar Tom Hanks, a two-time Oscar winner who did his best work in a decade in the movie’s title role, did not receive a nomination.

Meryl Streep, the actress with the most Oscar nods in the event’s history, received her 18th for her turn as Violet, a bullying Oklahoma matriarch in “August: Osage County.” She will face Amy Adams, whose turn as a glamorous bunko artist in the period caper comedy “American Hustle” surpassed Streep at the Golden Globes on Sunday.

But the strongest contender may be Cate Blanchett, the brittle backbone of “Blue Jasmine.” Woody Allen’s actresses attract awards like electromagnets; Blanchett, who was named the Globes’ best dramatic actress as a down-on-her-luck socialite, walks the tightrope between dry comedy and deep desperation. Rounding out the contenders are Oscar-winners Sandra Bullock as an astronaut adrift in “Gravity,” and Judi Dench, whose character in “Philomena” searches for a son she has not seen in 50 years.

Best-actor nominees Leonardo DiCaprio (as a gleefully corrupt stockbroker in “The Wolf of Wall Street”) and Matthew McConaughey (who dieted to skin and bones for his role as an AIDS treatment pioneer in “Dallas Buyers Club”) each won Golden Globes Sunday, DiCaprio for comedy and McConaughey for drama. Now they’ll compete one-on-one.

The competition is stiff in this category, which also includes veteran Bruce Dern — movingly empathetic as a delusional retiree in “Nebraska” — England’s rising star Chiwetel Ejiofor, as a kidnapped, brutalized freeman in “12 Years a Slave,” and Christian Bale, as a 1970s con man turned FBI snitch in “American Hustle.”

Jennifer Lawrence, 2013’s best actress winner for “Silver Linings Playbook,” continued her streak with director David O. Russell. This year she was nominated as supporting actress, as a nutty, manipulative housewife in “American Hustle.” The new film also brought Russell his second best director and best screenplay nominations in a row. And for the second time, a film by him scored nods in all four acting categories.

Competing with Lawrence are Sally Hawkins (“Blue Jasmine”), Lupita Nyong’o (“12 Years a Slave”), Julia Roberts (“August: Osage County”) and June Squibb (“Nebraska”).

The supporting-actor contenders run the gamut from a first-time performer (Abdi) to established stars. Abdi’s rivals are Bradley Cooper as a hot dog FBI agent in “American Hustle,” Michael Fassbender as a cruel plantation owner in “12 Years a Slave,” Jonah Hill as a mostly despicable yuppie stock trader in “The Wolf of Wall Street” and Jared Leto as a feisty cross-dressing AIDS patient in “Dallas Buyers Club.”

The five best-director nominees represent a diverse range of style and vision. Russell’s rambunctious “Hustle,” though it was structurally held together with duct tape, brimmed with energetic work from a cast clearly having the time of their lives. Steve McQueen brought a visual artist’s eye and a serious dramatist’s austerity to “Slave,” with results as viscerally jolting as they are unforgettable. Mexico’s Alfonso Cuarón gave his outer-space survival drama “Gravity” a hyper-realistic look, special effects that significantly advance the state of the art, and resonant themes of courage, perseverance and acceptance. Alexander Payne’s wonderful comedy “Nebraska” may have been filmed in black-and-white, but it was told in shades of gray. Martin Scorsese, at 71 the oldest of the nominees, tackled the turbocharged, R-rated debauchery of “The Wolf of Wall Street” with the brio of a filmmaker decades younger.

Surprisingly absent from all but minor categories was “Inside Llewyn Davis,” by directors Joel and Ethan Coen, a better picture than their 2009 movie “A Serious Man,” which won a best picture nomination.

 

Colin Covert • 612-673-7186

  • Oscars broadcast

    When: 7:30 p.m. March 2.

    Host: Ellen DeGeneres.

    Where: KSTP, Ch. 5 (ABC) from the Dolby Theater in Hollywood.

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