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It's anybody's Oscars, with American Hustle, Gravity, 12 Years A Slave nominated

Sandra Bullock in a scene from "Gravity."

AP

As the nominations for the 86th Academy Awards were announced, it became clear that this year's flood of strong movies will make it a race too close to call.

Leading the pack of nine best picture nominees, with 10 nominations each, were Gravity, the outer-space special effects thriller, and the comic ensemble crime story, American Hustle. The historical drama 12 Years a Slave, followed close behind with nine nominations. Other movies nominated for best film were Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Her, Nebraska, Philomena and The Wolf of Wall Street.

There were some surprises, both major and minor. For the second year in a row, writer-director David O. Russell released a movie (American Hustle) with nominations in all four acting categories, including Christian Bale for best actor, Amy Adams for best actress, Bradley Cooper for best supporting actor and Jennifer Lawrence for best supporting actress. (Last year's nominations were for Silver Linings Playbook.) Adams, Cooper and Lawrence were also all nominated for Academy Awards last year as well.

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Best actor nominations went to Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club) Christian Bale (American Hustle), Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street), Bruce Dern (Nebraska) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years A Slave). In the best actress category, the contenders are Adams (American Hustle), Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine), Sandra Bullock (Gravity), Judi Dench (Philomena) and Meryl Streep (August: Osage County).

Streep, with her 18th nod, extended her record nomination streak, as did Woody Allen, with his 16th nomination in the best original screenplay category for Blue Jasmine.

Dallas Buyers Club, a drama set in the midst of the eighties' AIDS crisis, directed by Canada's Jean-Marc Vallée, is this year's Cinderella story. Passed over repeatedly by Hollywood studios, the film received a strong critical reaction when released in October. As well as a best picture nomination and an acting nomination for McConaughey, the film received nominations for best supporting actor for Jared Leto and a best original screenplay nomination.

On the snubs side, two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks didn't make the cut for best actor for Captain Phillips, nor was its director, Paul Greengrass, though the film earned a best picture nomination. Robert Redford, the sole actor in the sea wreck drama, All is Lost, was also left out.

The big exclusion was any kind of major nod to Inside Llewyn Davis. The drama about a self-destructive folksinger (Oscar Isaac) in Greenwich Village of the early sixties, by Joel and Ethan Coen, won several critics polls and the Grand Prize at Cannes, but earned only two technical nominations. Canada's best Oscar hope, Sarah Polley's Stories We Tell, was widely considered an Oscar front-runner for best documentary, but did not make the cut.

Another Canadian, William Butler, of the Montreal band Arcade Fire, is nominated for best score, along with indie musician Owen Pallett (formerly Final Fantasy) for their work on Her. They'll be competing against five-time Oscar winner, John Williams (The Book Thief), as well as newcomer Steven Price (Gravity), and two composers with numerous previous nominations, Alexandre Desplat (Philomena) and Thomas Newman (Saving Mr. Banks).

With $670-million in worldwide box office, Gravity, directed by Alfonso Cuaron, was overwhelmingly the most commercially successful of the nominated films, and the only one in the 2013's top 10 in box office. As well as acting, directing and best picture, Gravity earned nominations in all seven technical Oscar categories, including best cinematography, film editing, best original score, best sound editing, best sound mixing and best visual effects.

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The Academy Awards will be handed out on March 2.

Here are the top nominees for this year's Oscars.

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About the Author
Film critic

Liam Lacey is a film critic for The Globe and Mail. More

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