Competition for the 87th Academy Awards will be led by a couple of ingenious cinematic fictions, as nine nominations each go to Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), starring Michael Keaton as a former actor from a superhero franchise trying to make a legitimate Broadway debut, and The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson's fanciful tale of a between-the-wars Mitteleuropa hotel.
Following close behind is The Imitation Game with eight nominations, then six each for American Sniper and Boyhood. Eight pictures in total all will compete for the best picture prize, including American Sniper, Birdman, the overwhelming critical favourite Boyhood, The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Imitation Game, Selma and The Theory of Everything and Whiplash.
The Oscars, which air on Feb. 22 with host Neil Patrick Harris, are one of television's big nights, with an audience that has hit 40 million in recent years, second only to the Super Bowl. The nominations and winners are voted on by about 6,000 members of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, an elite industry club which typically throws out a few surprises, marking its distinction from critics or the ticket-buying public.
This year, several anomalies jump out: First, there's the strange case of the film Selma, a movie about Martin Luther King's historic 1965 march for voters' rights, was orphaned with a best-picture nomination without an acting or directing nod. While the film, produced with Oprah Winfrey and Brad Pitt's company Plan B, is even nominated for best song for Glory, the film earned no credit for its star David Oyelowo, cinematographer Bradford Young or director Ava DuVernay, who many had hoped would be the first African-American woman to be nominated for that Oscar category.
Secondly, there's the exclusion of The Lego Movie for best animated feature. The box-office and critical hit was pegged early as an Oscar favourite and considered a sure thing. Though nominated for best song for Everything Is Awesome (from Calgary indie pop duo Tegan and Sara), the irreverent film, directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, did not meet the Academy's taste.
Third, Foxcatcher director Bennett Miller became the first "lone" director (a director nominated without a film in the running for best picture) since the Academy expanded its nomination list from five up to 10 potential nominees five years ago. Under the Academy rules, 10 per cent of voters must pick a film as their first choice for it to make the cut. Somehow, Foxcatcher earned nominations for actor Steve Carell, supporting actor Mark Ruffalo, director and screenplay (by E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman), but missed a best-picture slot.
Otherwise, reaction on Twitter was all positive for the nomination of French actress Marion Cotillard for best actress, for her role in the Belgian drama Two Days, One Night. While she's an outsider, she's hardly an unknown: In 2007, Cotillard was the upset winner of the best-actress competition, for her portrayal of Édith Piaf in La vie en rose, the first time the prize had gone to a French-language performance. Out of the running was Jennifer Aniston, who had earned some predictions for a nomination for her role as a chronic pain sufferer in the indie drama Cake.
In the male acting category, Bradley Cooper hit the third year in a row with a best-actor nomination, something fans of the raunchy Hangover movies could never have predicted.
This year the Academy honoured the leads in two similar British movies, with Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, the mathematical genius who broke the Enigma Code but was persecuted for his homosexuality, and Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, the physicist seeking the secrets of the universe, while suffering from a debilitating degenerative disease. Acclaimed performances from across the pond that didn't make the cut included Ralph Fiennes' turn as a louche concierge in The Grand Budapest Hotel, Brendan Gleeson as a truculent priest in the Irish drama Calvary, and Timothy Spall's as the famous 19th century landscape painter J. M. W. Turner in the movie Mr. Turner.
Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
The Grand Budapest Hotel
The Imitation Game
The Theory of Everything
Steve Carell, Foxcatcher
Bradley Cooper, American Sniper
Benedict Cumberbatch, The Imitation Game
Michael Keaton, Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Eddie Redmayne, The Theory of Everything
Marion Cotillard, Two Days, One Night
Felicity Jones, The Theory of Everything
Julianne Moore, Still Alice
Rosamund Pike, Gone Girl
Reese Witherspoon, Wild
Best Supporting Actor
Robert Duvall, The Judge
Ethan Hawke, Boyhood
Edward Norton, Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher
J.K. Simmons, Whiplash
Best Supporting Actress
Patricia Arquette, Boyhood
Laura Dern, Wild
Keira Knightley, The Imitation Game
Emma Stone, Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Meryl Streep, Into the Woods
Alejandro González Iñárritu, Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Wes Anderson, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Morten Tyldum, The Imitation Game
Bennett Miller, Foxcatcher
Best Original Screenplay
Richard Linklater, Boyhood
Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo, Birdman (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)
Wes Anderson and Hugo Guinness, The Grand Budapest Hotel
Dan Gilroy, Nightcrawler
E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman, Foxcatcher
Best Animated Feature Film
Big Hero 6
How to Train your Dragon 2
Song of the Sea
The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
Best Foreign Language Film
See the full list here.