Best bets for the Oscars

The Coens might be singing the blues today while the makers of "American Hustle" and "Gravity" enter the final push to Oscar night with momentum on their sides and a leading 10 nominations each. A single step behind is "12 Years a Slave," hard to watch but difficult to forget, with nine nods.

Filmmaker David O. Russell once again accomplished a rarity: His "American Hustle" earned nominations for picture, directing, writing, and in all four acting categories for Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. Mr. Russell and some of his favorites did the same a year ago with "Silver Linings Playbook." That had not happened since 1981's "Reds."

As in some previous years, the number of best picture nominees ended up at nine out of a possible 10. In addition to the 3-D space odyssey and con-artist comedy, the top contenders are: "Captain Phillips," "Dallas Buyers Club," "Her," "Nebraska," "Philomena," "12 Years a Slave" and "The Wolf of Wall Street."

A closer look at the Oscar nominations

The PG's Sharon Eberson and Barbara Vancheri take a look at the Academy Award nominations and discuss the snubs and surprises. (Video by Melissa Tkach; 1/16/2014)

Ellen DeGeneres will host the 86th Academy Awards March 2, from the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. ABC will televise the event.

Oscar voters, who now number 6,028, can be fickle, usually favoring Hollywood stories and Tom Hanks but this time giving the cold shoulder to "Saving Mr. Banks" and the popular actor who played both Walt Disney and Captain Phillips. The story of how "Mary Poppins" came to the big screen received just a single nod for original score.

The Coen brothers' "Inside Llewyn Davis," meanwhile, received two, for cinematography and sound mixing, since new versions of previously released songs didn't qualify for consideration. In another year with a less robust best actor field, "Llewyn's" Oscar Isaac probably would have made the cut.

And just what does Robert Redford have to do to earn another acting nomination? He was the only actor in the almost wordless "All Is Lost" and did many of his own stunts as a sailor battling for survival after his boat is badly damaged and then destroyed at sea.

At a Sundance Film Festival press conference Thursday morning, Mr. Redford said it would have been wonderful to have been nominated. "I'm not disturbed by it or upset by it," he said, Variety reported.

However, he said the movie being released by Lionsgate "suffered from little to no distribution. I don't know what they were afraid of. They didn't want to spend the money or they were incapable. We had no campaign to cross over into the mainstream."

Cate Blanchett, recently called "one of the two greatest living actors" by her "Monuments Men" director George Clooney, enters the best actress contest as the front-runner for "Blue Jasmine." His other greatest? Meryl Streep, who picked up her 18th nomination for the pill-popping, ailing matriarch in the screen version of the play "August: Osage County."

Rounding out that field are Sandra Bullock as a first-time astronaut stranded in space in "Gravity"; Ms. Adams as a con woman who reinvents herself, down to her English accent, in "American Hustle"; and Judi Dench in "Philomena," about an Irishwoman looking for the son taken from her 50 years earlier.

At 77 years old, Bruce Dern is back in Oscar's embrace, 35 years after his nomination for "Coming Home." He estimates he has seen "Nebraska," in which he plays a gullible retiree who believes he's won a million dollars based on a sweepstakes form letter, 30-plus times.

Best Picture Nominees
"American Hustle"
"Captain Phillips"
"Dallas Buyers Club"
"12 Years a Slave"
"The Wolf of Wall Street"

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

The sentimental vote belongs to him in a field also counting Mr. Bale as a con artist in the thick of Abscam in "American Hustle"; Matthew McConaughey as a Texan with AIDS in "Dallas Buyers Club"; Leonardo DiCaprio as a stockbroker given to Roman emperor-style excess in "The Wolf of Wall Street"; and Chiwetel Ejiofor as a free man drugged, kidnapped and sold into slavery in "12 Years a Slave."

"At no point during filming, in the sweltering heat of New Orleans, did any of us ever foresee the journey this film would take us all on," the London-born Mr. Ejiofor said in a statement released by Fox Searchlight.

"[Director] Steve McQueen created an entire family to tell one man's tale and I am delighted that so many of this family have also been recognized today. I am hugely grateful to the Academy for this great honor, and, of course, to Solomon Northup for sharing his story through his breathtaking book."

The competition for supporting actress pits a Hollywood favorite -- Jennifer Lawrence in "American Hustle" -- against stunning newcomer Lupita Nyong'o from "12 Years a Slave." The Yale film school graduate, born in Mexico and reared in Kenya, emerged from a field of 1,000 actresses (Mr. McQueen likened it to searching for Scarlett O'Hara) to play the role of Patsey.

Also nominated: June Squibb, "Nebraska"; Julia Roberts, "August: Osage County"; and Sally Hawkins, "Blue Jasmine."

Rewarded with supporting actor nominations: front-runner Jared Leto, "Dallas Buyers Club"; Michael Fassbender, "12 Years a Slave"; Barkhad Abdi, "Captain Phillips"; Philadelphia native Bradley Cooper, "American Hustle"; and Jonah Hill, "The Wolf of Wall Street."

"Yesterday I was doing jury duty, today I woke up with an Academy Award nomination," said Mr. Leto, who took a nearly six-year break from acting to perform and tour with his band. "Only in America."

Competing for top director are Mr. Russell for "American Hustle," Alfonso Cuaron for "Gravity," Alexander Payne for "Nebraska," Mr. McQueen for "12 Years a Slave" and Martin Scorsese, "The Wolf of Wall Street." You can assume that one of the pictures matching this list will be crowned best picture.

Mr. Cuaron, a triple nominee for directing, producing and editing, thanked the Academy and Warner Bros. for navigating the four-year journey with him.

"I am particularly moved by Sandy's nomination. She is the heartbeat of our film. She immersed herself in the part. And I thank her for her grace, her trust and her dedication to finding the truth of this character."

Other Oscar snapshots

Dating themselves: All of the best picture contenders arrived in the final three months of 2013. "Gravity" is the oldest, having been released on Oct. 3, while "The Wolf of Wall Street" was an R-rated Christmas Day present.

Other notable absences: Although it was lauded upon release, "Lee Daniels' The Butler" may have come out too early for voters to remember its panoply of performances, including Forest Whitaker in the title role and Oprah Winfrey as his wife. Idris Elba had the misfortune of being better than the overall movie, "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom," and the late James Gandolfini was considered a possible nominee for "Enough Said," but was not.

Pittsburgh accents: Aliquippa native Joe Letteri, a four-time winner who also was honored with a separate Scientific and Technical Award, is part of the visual effects team nominated for "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug."

Carnegie Mellon University graduate John Wells directed Ms. Streep and Ms. Roberts in "August: Osage County."

Choreographer Rob Ashford, a graduate of Point Park University, is one of 13 key members of producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron's production team. He worked on two previous Oscar telecasts.

You never know: "Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa" scored a nomination for its makeup and hairstyling by Stephen Prouty, who transformed Johnny Knoxville into an 86-year-old grandfather. The other nominees in that category are "Dallas Buyers Club" and "The Lone Ranger."

Oscar homework: One of the nominees for best foreign language film -- Italy's "The Great Beauty" -- is playing at the Regent Square Theater and another, "The Broken Circle Breakdown" from Belgium, opens there today. Rounding out the field: "The Hunt" from Denmark, "The Missing Picture" from Cambodia and "Omar" from Palestine.

All about animation: In contention for best animated feature: "The Croods," "Despicable Me 2," "Ernest & Celestine," "The Wind Rises" and "Frozen." The first two are on DVD, the second pair have yet to play Pittsburgh and "Frozen" is still doing bang-up business in theaters and will arrive on DVD March 18.

First-timers: In the acting categories, eight performers are first-time nominees. Seven are previous acting winners.

Red carpet redux: Among this year's acting nominees, Mr. Cooper, Ms. Lawrence and Ms. Adams also were nominated a year ago. Ms. Lawrence is also the youngest three-time acting nominee at 23 years old. Teresa Wright was 24 when she received her third in 1942.

Two for the record books: As noted, Ms. Streep extended her lead as the most nominated performer with 18 while Woody Allen added to his record with his 16th writing nomination for "Blue Jasmine." The filmmaker has 24 total.

Double duty: Actors Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke share the adapted screenplay nomination for "Before Midnight" with director Richard Linklater. Ms. Dench's co-star, Steve Coogan, also is nominated, along with Jeff Pope, for the "Philomena" screenplay.

A womanly win: Thanks to "American Hustle" and "Her," producer Megan Ellison became the first woman and the fourth person to receive two best picture nominations in the same year.

Ahead of the pack: John Williams, who composed "The Book Thief" score, has more nominations than any other living person, extending his lead with 49. The key in that description is "living" since Walt Disney had 59.

By the numbers: The best picture nominees emerged from 289 eligible movies, which was seven more than qualified a year earlier.

Hollywood host: She has a long way to go to match Bob Hope (19 times as host) but Ms. DeGeneres has been there before. She proved herself an amiable host in February 2007 when "The Departed" took the top prize and acting honors went to Forest Whitaker, Helen Mirren, Alan Arkin and Jennifer Hudson.

Hooray for heroes: Expect the Oscar telecast to honor big-screen real-life heroes, superheroes, popular heroes and animated heroes, past and present, as well as the bold filmmakers who bring them to life, the producers announced this week.

Chris Hemsworth, who announced the nominations with Cheryl Boone Isaacs, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Thursday morning in Beverly Hills, fit into that theme. He wields Thor's hammer, quite nicely, on the big screen.


Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: or 412-263-1632. Read her blog:

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