"Lincoln" learned the identities of its team of rivals this morning when nominations for the 85th Academy Awards were revealed and nine movies emerged as best picture contenders.
In addition to Steven Spielberg's historical biopic, a front-runner with a dozen nods, the other top Oscar nominees are: "Argo," "Les Miserables," "Life of Pi," "Silver Linings Playbook," "Zero Dark Thirty," "Beasts of the Southern Wild," "Django Unchained," and "Amour."
"The Dark Knight Rises," once floated as a possible best picture contender before its debut was marred by a savage attack inside a Colorado theater, was skunked. Upper St. Clair native Stephen Chbosky was a favorite of many critics for adapting his novel, "Perks of Being a Wallflower," but he was squeezed out of the writing nominations.
Some audience favorites, such as "Skyfall," turned up in categories such as cinematography and a nomination for the visual effects of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" means Aliquippa native and four-time winner Joe Letteri adds another nomination notch to his belt.
Daniel Day-Lewis, already a best actor winner for "My Left Foot" and "There Will Be Blood," was a shoo-in as a nominee for his uncanny portrayal of President Lincoln in his final months.
The only thing standing between him and a third Oscar are: Another two-time winner (leading and supporting categories), Denzel Washington, as the alcoholic, heroic pilot in "Flight"; Bradley Cooper as a cuckolded teacher back home with his parents in Philadelphia; Joaquin Phoenix as a lost soul and World War II veteran in "The Master"; and onetime Oscar host and stage sensation Hugh Jackman as prisoner Jean Valjean in "Les Miserables."
Most Oscar observers thought John Hawkes would be a natural for his physically challenging performance as a man with polio who longs to lose his virginity in "The Sessions." It appears that Mr. Phoenix, who has disparaged Oscar campaigning, will have to suffer through another awards season.
At a time when the richest parts for women seem to reside on television, Oscar had no trouble rounding up five best actress nominees, reaching for performers at each end of the bell curve of ages and experience.
Nominees are: Jessica Chastain as a CIA operative hunting for Osama bin Laden in "Zero Dark Thirty," Naomi Watts as a mother nearly swept away forever by the 2004 tsunami in "The Impossible"; Jennifer Lawrence as a young widow in "Silver Linings Playbook"; Emmanuelle Riva, who will mark her 86th birthday on Oscar night, as a retired music teacher gravely ill in "Amour"; and Quvenzhane Wallis, 9 years old, "Beasts of the Southern Wild."
Marion Cotillard, a previous winner as Edith Piaf for "La Vie en Rose," was considered a heavy favorite for "Rust and Bone" but was left off the list.
Supporting actress nominees: Anne Hathaway, "Les Miserables"; Sally Field, "Lincoln"; Helen Hunt, "The Sessions"; Amy Adams, "The Master"; and Jacki Weaver, "Silver Linings Playbook."
Many experts thought Maggie Smith would nab the fifth spot for "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" but the quietly competent turn by Ms. Weaver as a Philadelphia mom and wife probably was rewarded instead.
Supporting actor nominees: Tommy Lee Jones, "Lincoln"; Robert De Niro, "Silver Linings Playbook"; Philip Seymour Hoffman, "The Master"; Christoph Waltz, "Django Unchained"; and Alan Arkin, "Argo."
The nomination of Mr. Waltz meant no love for Leonardo DiCaprio, who often (and inexplicably) is snubbed by Academy voters.
"Zero Dark Thirty" filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow, a previous winner for "The Hurt Locker," is not back as a directing nominee but David O. Russell was nominated for "Silver Linings Playbook," Ang Lee for "Life of Pi," Steve Spielberg for "Lincoln," Michael Haneke for "Amour," and Benh Zeitlin for "Beasts of the Southern Wild."
"Argo" director Ben Affleck's heart probably leapt when the name "Ben" was spoken but the last name was Zeitlin. And Tom Hooper will be at the party for "Les Miz" but not as a directing nominee.
In contention for best animated feature during a particularly rich year: "Frankenweenie," "The Pirates! Band of Misfits," "ParaNorman," "Wreck-It Ralph" and "Brave."
Adapted screenplay nominations went to "Beasts of the Southern Wild," "Argo," "Lincoln," "Silver Linings Playbook" and "Life of Pi."
Original screenplay contenders: "Flight," "Zero Dark Thirty," "Django Unchained," "Amour" and "Moonrise Kingdom."
Best documentary: "5 Broken Cameras," "The Gatekeepers," "How to Survive a Plague," "The Invisible War" and "Searching for Sugar Man."
Oscar rules were changed for the 2009 release year to allow 10 nominees, and a later tweak permitted anywhere from five to 10 nominees to emerge. A year ago, nine movies including Mr. Spielberg's "War Horse" (ultimately 0 for 6) were nominated for Hollywood's most coveted prize.
For the first time since the inaugural banquet May 16, 1929 at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel -- three months after the results were printed -- Academy members could use a traditional mail-in ballot or vote online.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences extended voting for Oscar nominations by a day to counter problems with the new electronic voting system. If it seems as if nominees are being announced while you're still vacuuming Christmas tree needles, that's because they are.
In recent years, as the ceremony was moved into late February, nominees were revealed either in late January or early February. Today's reveal put the nominations before the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's Golden Globes gala on Sunday.
In another change, Oscar host Seth MacFarlane joined actress Emma Stone in making the announcements. That was the first time since 1972 that a show host participated in that event; Charlton Heston was the only other host to participate in the nominations announcement.
ABC will televise the Academy Awards being presented Feb. 24 at the Dolby Theatre (formerly the Kodak) at Hollywood & Highland Center. The Oscar presentation also will be televised live in more than 225 countries worldwide.
Already announced are plans to salute the James Bond movie franchise, celebrating its 50th anniversary.
"We are very happy to include a special sequence on our show saluting the Bond films on their 50th birthday," producers Craig Zadan and Neil Meron said in a recent Academy press release.
"Starting with 'Dr. No' back in 1962, the 007 movies have become the longest-running motion picture franchise in history and a beloved global phenomenon."
Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: www.post-gazette.com madaboutmovies. First Published January 10, 2013 2:00 PM