News Column

'Gravity,' 'Hustle,' 'Slave' Lead Oscar Nominations

January 16, 2014

Steven Rea, The Philadelphia Inquirer

Sandra Bullcok stars in 'Gravity.'

Two very different American stories -- American Hustle, about con artists, greedy pols and an FBI sting, and 12 Years a Slave, about a free black man abducted and sold into slavery -- were among the big winners as nominees for the 86th Academy Awards were announced this morning in Beverly Hills.

Leading the pack with 10 nominations apiece were David O. Russell's freewheeling take on the polyester-era Abscam scandal, American Hustle, and Alfonso Cuaron's stranded-in-space suspenser, Gravity. 12 Years a Slave, a searing slice of pre-Civil War history, received nine Oscar nods. The three titles are putative frontrunners in a race that produced nine -- out of a possible 10 -- best picture candidates, with a surprising show of love for Spike Jonze's Her (five nominations in all) and a knee-jerk toss of bouquets at Martin Scorsese's epically heartless The Wolf of Wall Street (also with five nominations).

In an especially strong year for the movies, some much-loved, much-praised work was inevitably going to be left standing at the Oscar altar: No Robert Redford for All Is Lost, no Tom Hanks for Captain Phillips (though the captain's Somali pirate nemesis, played with eerie menance by the Minneapolis-based Barkhad Abdi, received a supporting actor salute), no Forest Whitaker or Oprah Winfrey for Lee Daniels' The Butler (a complete shutout!).

Saving Mr. Banks, considered a strong contender in several key categories, including best actress for Emma Thompson, got only a single nomination, for original score, and the Coen Brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis -- the best picture winner from the National Society of Film Critics -- received just two, for cinematography and sound.

Happily, Bruce Dern, the veteran character actor and all-around Hollywood character, did land a best actor spot, for his portrayal of a muddle-headed midwestern senior determined to collect on a $1 million sweepstakes prize in Nebraska. Alexander Payne's funny, sad, black-and-white gem is also in competition for best picture, best supporting actress (June Squib, a comically horrifying harridan) and three other categories.

Philadelphia's Craig Borten received a nomination for original screenplay for Dallas Buyers Club -- a story the screenwriter has been trying to get made for two decades.

"I'm just so blown away," Borten said, reached by email Thursday morning. "It's the perfect culmination of a 20 year journey. I'm humbled and ecstatic!"

Matthew McConaughey, who lost more than 40 pounds to play the film's HIV-inflicted Texas redneck, transforming into an unlikely hero in AIDS treatment and research, was a shoo-in for a best actor slot. McConaughey won the Golden Globe actor prize Sunday for his performance, and his Dallas Buyers Club castmate and fellow Golden Globe winner, Jared Leto, was nominated in the supporting actor category.

The film that Leonardo DiCaprio (a best actor contender again) introduced at the Golden Globes as "Philomania" received four nominations, including one for Judi Dench, who has the title role in Philomena, playing an Irish retiree looking for the son she was long ago forced to give up for adoption.

Dame Judi's competition in the best actress field is crowded with fellow Oscar winners: Cate Blanchett for Blue Jasmine, Sandra Bullock for Gravity and Meryl Streep for August: Osage County (it's La Streep's 18th nomination, and already CNN is warning of "Meryl fatigue"). Only Amy Adams, nominated for her turn as a flimflamming femme fatale in American Hustle, is new to the best actress game. Adams has four supporting actress nominations under her belt, but no wins.

I'm disappointed that Sarah Polley's Stories We Tell, short-listed in the documentary feature category, didn't make the final cut, but anyone who has seen the film can understand why it may have troubled documentary purists. Still, for once, this is an entirely deserving field, covering themes of art, song, genocide, revolution and war. One of the doc nominees, The Act of Killing, does all of that.

So now, six weeks of prognosticating, handicapping, crystal-balling and blah-blah-ing, as we wait for the Big Night: Sunday, March 2, when Ellen DeGeneres hosts the 86th Academy Awards on ABC, and all the world will wonder how Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa got itself an Oscar nomination. For makeup and hairstyling.

It did. Really.


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Original headline: 'Hustle,' 'Gravity,' 'Slave,' lead Oscar nominations

Source: (c)2014 The Philadelphia Inquirer. Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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