'Gravity,' 'American Hustle' And '12 Years A Slave' Lead The Oscar Nominations

Jan 16, 2014
Originally published on January 16, 2014 2:32 pm

Ever since the Oscars expanded the Best Picture field to include up to 10 nominees, they've been taking advantage of that extra space, and this year was no exception. While the original chatter was about the possibility of including more crowd-pleasers (there was much discussion of whether the expanded field would have helped The Dark Knight), what's consistently happened is that the "extra" nominations have gone to films that might have been too small to be nominated, not too "pop" to be nominated. But it gives you a big field to mess around with, figuring out where it does and doesn't intersect with the other awards.

This year's nine Best Picture nominees: American Hustle, 12 Years A Slave, Gravity, Captain Phillips, Wolf Of Wall Street, Nebraska, Dallas Buyers Club, Her, and Philomena. The usual calculus for figuring out which five would have been nominated in the old-school five-film group has been to look at nominated directors. That means the nominees would have been American Hustle, Gravity, Nebraska, 12 Years A Slave, and Wolf Of Wall Street. That makes the "extras" Her, Philomena, Dallas Buyers Club, and Captain Phillips. Not exactly your popcorn blockbusters.

As for what might actually win, Hustle's multiple acting nominations for Amy Adams, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Christian Bale — they hit the same grand slam in the acting categories that director David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook did last year — make it seem like a frontrunner, but 12 Years A Slave has three acting nominations also, for lead Chiwetel Ejiofor (who will battle Matthew McConaughey from Dallas Buyers Club and DiCaprio for Wolf Of Wall Street, among others) and supporting cast members Michael Fassbender and Lupita Nyong'o. And Hustle, like Gravity, has a total of 10 nominations, though more of Gravity's are technical.

While the Academy has certainly shown some willingness to reward very difficult films to watch — The Hurt Locker, for instance — it's veered toward somewhat more upbeat films in the last couple of years, when Argo and The Artist beat out some movies that were widely considered to be more accomplished. That might suggest a tough road for 12 Years A Slave, which has been praised precisely for its unsparing, often devastating emotion.

In addition to being much easier to watch than some of the others, Gravity is easily the top earner of the nine Best Picture contenders. But hang on — it's also the only one to have its screenplay not nominated. (There are ten screenplay nominations total, between adapted and original — the two screenplays that were nominated for pictures that weren't: Before Midnight and Blue Jasmine. It's worth noting that both came out earlier in the year than any of the ultimate Best Picture nominees did.)

But ultimately, the nominees come down, as they always do, to a few neat stories about what got in and what didn't. No Robert Redford! Practically no Inside Llewyn Davis! Nothing for August: Osage County except the acting nominations it was sort of demanding throughout! A nifty and welcome supporting nomination for Barkhad Abdi, who provided the critical counterpoint to Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips!

And, of course, it continues to be the Age Of Matthew McConaughey. All right, all right, all right.

There weren't a lot of surprise nominations this year, and a lot of the surprising non-nominations were in less publicized categories (for me, the omission of Sarah Polley's documentary Stories We Tell is a heartbreaker). These fields are strong, and folks knew they would be.

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Oscar nominations are in. They were announced this morning in Beverly Hills. And "American Hustle" and "Gravity" are the early front-runners. Each of them got 10 Academy Award nominations, including best picture. "12 Years a Slave" was close behind with nine nominations. For more, we're joined now by Linda Holmes, who writes and edits NPR's entertainment and pop culture blog Monkey See. Good morning.

LINDA HOLMES, BYLINE: Good morning to you.

MONTAGNE: All right. So as I said, "American Hustle," "Gravity" and "12 Years a Slave" big box office hits as well as critically acclaimed, all of them. Any sense on which might come out ahead?

HOLMES: Well, you know, "Gravity" is the biggest earner by far, but at the same time it's the only best picture nominee out of these nine that didn't have its screenplay nominated. So it may have a few things for it to overcome. "American Hustle" pulled off a fairly rare feat, which is it hit all four of the acting categories, lead and supporting actor and actress, which interestingly enough, the director, David O. Russell, his film last year, "Silver Linings Playbook," did the same thing. So that might, you know, push in favor of "American Hustle" a little bit. It's hard to say at this point. I think there are several good contenders. "12 Years a Slave" is my favorite of the ones that I have seen, but...

MONTAGNE: Also an American history film, the sort that does win Oscars in many years.

HOLMES: Sometimes, yes. And then in the last couple of years, they've been tilting a little bit toward more crowd-pleasing, "Argo" and things like that, thing that are a little easier on people. It sort of depends on the year.

MONTAGNE: All right. Well, let's take a look at best actor and actress.

HOLMES: Yeah. You know, the best actor's nominees are some of your big awards - the actresses, Streep and Judi Dench, things like that. On the actor side, they are a little well-established as awards winners, even if they are big stars. People like Leonardo DiCaprio and Matthew McConaughey and especially Chiwetel Ejiofor, who conveyed this big splash in "12 Years a Slave"; none of those guys are as accustomed to walking up and winning tons of awards as some of the women on the acting side.

MONTAGNE: Although one of the big front-runners in these awards is Cate Blanchett. She's is up for best actress.

HOLMES: Absolutely. It wouldn't be a big shock to anyone.

MONTAGNE: Best director, best screenplay, what are we seeing there?

HOLMES: Well, you know, best director - the best director nominees are drawn from among the best picture nominees. I think a lot of people think that Martin Scorsese is always a decent pick for best director, but you could get Steve McQueen for "12 Years a Slave." But it can be a tough race to call. I think in the screenplay category, "12 Years a Slave" is a very good possibility in adapted screenplay. I think that in original screenplay, I actually think "Her" by Spike Jonze would be my pick of the ones I've seen for original screenplay. Decent possibility that will happen.

MONTAGNE: Well, again, there's lots of movies out there. Are there any of the what you might call sleeper movies that might surprise us on Oscar night?

HOLMES: Well, the little ones in the nominees are "Philomena" and "Nebraska." And then my favorite nomination is Barkhad Abdi from "Captain Phillips," played a Somali pirate.

MONTAGNE: As a sleeper possible supporting actor.

HOLMES: Supporting actor, wonderful performance.

MONTAGNE: Linda, thanks.

HOLMES: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Linda Holmes writes and edits NPR's entertainment and pop culture blog, Monkey See. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.