Lagos - Two extravagant comedies, "Birdman" and "The Grand Budapest Hotel," dominated nominations for the 87th annual Academy Awards with nine nods each, while "Boyhood" remained the widely acknowledged front-runner.
The three films were nominated for best picture on Thursday along with "Whiplash," ''The Theory of Everything," ''The Imitation Game," ''American Sniper" and "Selma." The nominations were announced from Beverly Hills, where they were broadcast and streamed live.
World War II code-breaker thriller "The Imitation Game," about unsung hero Alan Turing, trailed close behind with eight nominations, including best actor for Benedict Cumberbatch.
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"I am knocked for six by this," said Cumberbatch of his first Oscar nod. "To ring my parents who are both actors and tell them that their only son has been nominated for an Oscar is one of the proudest moments of my life."
Also with six nominations was Richard Linklater's coming-of-age epic "Boyhood." On Sunday, the 12-years-in-the-making drama won best drama at the Golden Globes, the latest in a string of awards for the uniquely made film.
But Wes Anderson's old Europe caper "The Grand Budapest Hotel," which also won best comedy or musical at the Globes, has emerged as the most unexpected awards heavyweight. It managed nine nominations without a single acting nod. Instead, it was repeatedly cited for Anderson's meticulous craft in categories like directing, production design, makeup and screenplay.
With $59.1 million at the North American box office (opening all the way back in March), "The Grand Budapest Hotel" is also the most money-making best-picture entry in an especially modestly sized batch of nominees.
That, however, is likely to change soon after "American Sniper" expands nationwide this weekend. Clint Eastwood's Navy SEAL drama did especially well Thursday, landing six nods including best actor for Bradley Cooper.
The nominees for best actor aside from Cooper and Cumberbatch are: Steve Carell ("Foxcatcher"), Michael Keaton ("Birdman") and Eddie Redmayne ("The Theory of Everything"). David Oyelowo, who stars as Martin Luther King Jr. in "Selma," was surprisingly left out.
Ava DuVernay's civil rights drama, at one point considered a major contender, faded even after its late debut. "Selma," which has been nagged by criticism over its portrayal of President Lyndon Johnson, managed just two nominations. (The second was for best song.)
The poor showing of "Selma" (and on Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday no less) was striking because it followed an Academy Awards led by "12 Years a Slave" and much chest-thumping about Hollywood's thawing close-mindedness.
But Thursday's nominees, in which all 20 nominated actors are white, was not a diverse bunch. Angelina Jolie, once pegged as a possible best director nominee, also failed to crack a historical male category. Her WWII survival tale "Unbroken" landed three nods, including a 12th nomination for cinematographer Roger Deakins.
Marion Cotillard for the French-language "Two Days, One Night" was the surprise nominee for best actress. She was joined by Felicity Jones ("The Theory of Everything"), Julianne Moore ("Still Alice"), Rosamund Pike ("Gone Girl") and Reese Witherspoon ("Wild"). That left Jennifer Aniston's pained and grieving performance in "Cake" on the outside.
The eight best-picture nominees left out two wild cards that might have added a dose of darkness to the category: the creepy Jake Gyllenhaal thriller "Nightcrawler" and the tragic wrestling drama "Foxcatcher." In the three previous years since the category was expanded (anywhere between five and 10 film may be nominated), there were nine movies contending for best picture.
Big box-office hits were also scarce. Christopher Nolan's sci-fi epic "Interstellar" was restricted to five nominations in technical categories: visual effects, sound mixing, sound editing, score and production design.
"Foxcatcher" helmer Bennett Miller (previously nominated for "Capote") did squeak into best director. Joining him and Anderson are Linklater ("Boyhood"), Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu ("Birdman") and Morten Tyldum ("The Imitation Game").
One of the most notable snubs came in best animation, usually a particularly staid category. Despite critical love and major box office, "The Lego Movie" failed to join nominees "Big Hero 6," ''The Boxtrolls," ''How to Train Your Dragon 2," ''Song of the Sea" and "The Tale of the Princess Kaguya."
This year's smaller sized but much-beloved favorites "Boyhood," ''Birdman" have been largely locked in as front runners throughout much of the ever-expanding industrial complex of Hollywood's lengthy awards season. As studios have focused more and more on easily marketed blockbusters, Oscar season increasingly exists apart from the regular business of the movies, in its own highfalutin, red-carpeted realm.
Ratings, though, are on the rise. Last year's Oscars, hosted by Ellen DeGeneres, drew 43 million viewers, making it the most-watched entertainment telecast in a decade. "12 Years a Slave" took best picture. This year's ceremony on Feb. 22 will be hosted by Neil Patrick Harris.
The nominees for best foreign language film are: "Ida" (Poland), "Leviathan" (Russia), "Tangerines" (Estonia), "Timbuktu" (Mauritania) and "Wild Tales" (Argentina).
Best documentary nods went to "CitizenFour," ''Finding Vivian Maier," ''Last Days in Vietnam," ''The Salt of the Earth" and "Virunga." The last gave Netflix its second Oscar nomination. (It last year released the nominated documentary "The Square.") Left out was the Roger Ebert documentary "Life Itself."