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Oscar's choices include a few nice surprises

Still, the best picture favorites are as expected — "Gravity," "12 Years a Slave," "American Hustle" and "Wolf of Wall Street"

By Mick LaSalle

San Francisco Chronicle

LAST UPDATED: 2:51 a.m. HST, Jan 17, 2014

The Academy Awards nominations were announced Thursday morning, and usually there's something mind-boggling and horrible to talk about, but not this time. Instead, the dawn greeted us with a fairly plausible list — a reasonable response to a good year in movies — and an improvement over most of the critics' lists that have been coming out.

There were small surprises, not all good. Tom Hanks ("Captain Phillips") was excluded from best actor, and he shouldn't have been, but that was a crowded category and someone was going to get squeezed out. (Less of a surprise: Robert Redford for "All is Lost" wasn't nominated, either.) In the best actress category, Meryl Streep was nominated for one of her worst performances, in "August: Osage County," but after so much great work you can forgive the academy a little Streep derangement syndrome.

From here, the field looks much the way it did after the Golden Globes. Three films are in contention for best picture: "American Hustle" and "Gravity," which both received 10 nominations, and "12 Years a Slave," which received nine. If there's a fourth to be included among the favorites, it's Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street," a pleasant surprise in that so much of the publicity since its release has been unfairly negative — and the academy has never been noted for its courage.


The Academy Awards show airs March 2 on ABC, from the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, Calif. This year’s host is Ellen DeGeneres.

But "The Wolf of Wall Street" landed five big nominations, including best director (Scorsese, his eighth), supporting actor (Jonah Hill) and adapted screenplay (Terence Winter). Leonardo DiCaprio, nominated for best actor, said he felt vindicated for what he said is clearly a cautionary tale of greed and hedonism.

"To be recognized like this and to see that there were enough people out there who said, ‘Look, we get what this film' — not what it's trying to say, but what it's trying to reflect," DiCaprio said. "Nobody wants to be misunderstood."

At this point, it's beginning to look like "Gravity" may have the edge. It constitutes what is really the first artistic use of 3-D, so it will have a special appeal to voters in the technical divisions, and it's not merely a technical achievement (unlike, say, "Avatar"). I'd rather see the more daring "Wolf of Wall Street" or "American Hustle" get the highest honor, but "Gravity" would be a respectable winner.

Best actor will be interesting, but this is probably a race among DiCaprio, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Matthew McConaughey, with McConaughey having the advantage.

Historically, the academy has usually given its best actress award to a woman age 35 or under being nominated for the first time. But this year, the youngest nominee is 39 (Amy Adams) and all have been nominated before. This is the only category about which there's almost no suspense. The award is going to Cate Blanchett for "Blue Jasmine," as well it should.

In the strong supporting actor category, the big surprise — a happy one — is the inclusion of Jonah Hill for "The Wolf of Wall Street." I'd like to see Michael Fassbender take it, though Jared Leto probably will win.

A notable omission in the supporting actor category is the late James Gandolfini in "Enough Said," but then, the Academy has been eschewing sentimental nominations and choices in recent years.

Supporting actress will have some robust competition, with Sally Hawkins ("Blue Jasmine"), Jennifer Lawrence ("American Hustle"), Lupita Nyong'o ("12 Years a Slave") and June Squibb ("Nebraska") going head to head. I'd give it to Squibb, but Lawrence was pretty remarkable, too, and I expect that she'll win it.


Join the Hollywood hoopla over the 86th Academy Awards by guessing the winners in top categories. You won't go home with a golden statuette, but you could win $200 cash from the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

Entries must be postmarked by Feb. 21. (See complete rules on the entry ballot.) The Academy Awards are March 2. The winner will be announced in the Star-Advertiser's Today section on March 3.

Foreign film used to be the hardest to predict, because only people who saw all five films at academy screenings could vote. Not anymore. Now everyone is on the honor system and can vote the way they like. This makes it most likely that the most well-known of the five, Italy's "The Great Beauty," will win against "The Broken Circle Breakdown" (Belgium), "The Hunt" (Denmark), "The Missing Picture" (Cambodia) and "Omar" (Palestine).

"Blue is the Warmest Color" wasn't nominated because it wasn't eligible. It was released in its home country, France, on Oct. 9, and the academy's cutoff in this category is Sept. 30. Oddly, it was eligible for best picture and for the acting categories — Adele Exarchopoulos should have had the slot that went to Streep — but it can't be nominated for best foreign film until 2015.

But the academy has no good excuse for not nominating "The Past," by Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi, one of the best films released last year. It wasn't even on the short list.


The Associated Press contributed to this report.

A complete list of 86th Annual Academy Award nominations announced Thursday:

» Best Picture: "American Hustle," "Captain Phillips," "Dallas Buyers Club," "Gravity," "Her," "Nebraska," "Philomena," "12 Years a Slave," "The Wolf of Wall Street"

» Actor: Christian Bale, "American Hustle"; Bruce Dern, "Nebraska"; Leonardo DiCaprio, "The Wolf of Wall Street"; Chiwetel Ejiofor, "12 Years a Slave"; Matthew McConaughey, "Dallas Buyers Club"

» Actress: Amy Adams, "American Hustle"; Cate Blanchett, "Blue Jasmine"; Sandra Bullock, "Gravity"; Judi Dench, "Philomena"; Meryl Streep, "August: Osage County"

» Supporting actor: Barkhad Abdi, "Captain Phillips"; Bradley Cooper, "American Hustle"; Michael Fassbender, "12 Years a Slave"; Jonah Hill, "The Wolf of Wall Street"; Jared Leto, "Dallas Buyers Club"

» Supporting actress: Sally Hawkins, "Blue Jasmine"; Jennifer Lawrence, "American Hustle"; Lupita Nyong'o, "12 Years a Slave"; Julia Roberts, "August: Osage County"; June Squibb, "Nebraska"

» Directing: David O. Russell, "American Hustle"; Alfonso Cuaron, "Gravity"; Alexander Payne, "Nebraska"; Steve McQueen, "12 Years a Slave"; Martin Scorsese, "The Wolf of Wall Street"

» Foreign Language Film: "The Broken Circle Breakdown," Belgium; "The Great Beauty," Italy; "The Hunt," Denmark; "The Missing Picture," Cambodia; "Omar," Palestinian territories

» Adapted screenplay: Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke, "Before Midnight"; Billy Ray, "Captain Phillips"; Steve Coogan and Jeff Pope, "Philomena"; John Ridley, "12 Years a Slave"; Terence Winter, "The Wolf of Wall Street"

» Original screenplay: Eric Warren Singer and David O. Russell, "American Hustle"; Woody Allen, "Blue Jasmine"; Craig Borten & Melisa Wallack, "Dallas Buyers Club"; Spike Jonze, "Her"; Bob Nelson, "Nebraska"

» Animated feature film: "The Croods"; "Despicable Me 2"; "Ernest & Celestine"; "Frozen"; "The Wind Rises"

» Production design: "American Hustle," "Gravity," "The Great Gatsby," "Her," "12 Years a Slave"

» Cinematography: "The Grandmaster," "Gravity," "Inside Llewyn Davis," "Nebraska," "Prisoners"

» Sound Mixing: "Captain Phillips," "Gravity," "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," "Inside Llewyn Davis," "Lone Survivor"

» Sound editing: "All is Lost," "Captain Phillips," "Gravity," "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," "Lone Survivor"

» Original score: "The Book Thief," John Williams; "Gravity," Steven Price; "Her," William Butler and Owen Pallett; "Philomena," Alexandre Desplat; "Saving Mr. Banks," Thomas Newman

» Original song: "Alone Yet Not Alone" from "Alone Yet Not Alone," Bruce Broughton and Dennis Spiegel; "Happy" from "Despicable Me 2," Pharrell Williams; "Let It Go" from "Frozen," Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez; "The Moon Song" from "Her," Karen O and Spike Jonze; "Ordinary Love" from "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom," Paul Hewson, Dave Evans, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen

» Costume: "American Hustle," "The Grandmaster," "The Great Gatsby," "The Invisible Woman," "12 Years a Slave"

» Documentary feature: "The Act of Killing," "Cutie and the Boxer," "Dirty Wars," "The Square," "20 Feet from Stardom"

» Documentary (short subject): "CaveDigger," "Facing Fear," "Karama Has No Walls," "The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life," "Prison Terminal: The Last Days of Private Jack Hall"

» Film editing: "American Hustle," "Captain Phillips," "Dallas Buyers Club," "Gravity," "12 Years a Slave"

» Makeup and hairstyling: "Dallas Buyers Club," "Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa," "The Lone Ranger"

» Animated short film: "Feral," "Get a Horse!," "Mr. Hublot," "Possessions", "Room on the Broom"

» Live-action short film: "Aquel No Era Yo (That Wasn't Me)," "Avant Que De Tout Perdre (Just before Losing Everything)," "Helium," "Pitaako Mun Kaikki Hoitaa? (Do I Have to Take Care of Everything?)," "The Voorman Problem"

» Visual effects: "Gravity," "The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug," "Iron Man 3," "The Lone Ranger," "Star Trek Into Darkness"

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