OSCAR NOMINEES: Clockwise, "Hugo," "The Descendants,"… (Paramount Pictures / Fox…)
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences paid homage Tuesday morning to the early days of cinema by bestowing the lion's share of Oscar nominations on two films that are valentines to the early days of cinema. "Hugo," Martin Scorsese's heartfelt love letter to filmmaking, earned the most nominations with 11, including best picture, best director and best screenplay as well as several technical Oscars. "The Artist," the low-budget black-and-white silent movie that offers a glimpse of Hollywood during its transition to the "talkies," earned 10 nominations, including nods for best picture, best director, screenplay, actor and supporting actress.
On the acting side, George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Brad Pitt and Viola Davis were among the performers receiving nominations, while "The Descendants" and "Moneyball" also scored best picture nods as the 84th Academy Awards nominees were announced in Beverly Hills.
With the nominations, "The Artist" was catapulted to front-runner status even though it has not been widely seen. (It has only made about $12.1 million at box office.) However, it's stealing the lion's share of critics awards as well as a Golden Globe for best picture. It earned an extra boost last week when it won the Producers Guild Award. The award is one of the more reliable predictors of Oscar gold: Over the last four years, the PGA and the academy have agreed on best picture.
FULL COVERAGE: The Oscars
Rounding out the nine best picture nominees are "War Horse," "The Tree of Life," "Midnight in Paris," "The Help," "Hugo," and "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close." Disappointing comedy fans was the no-show "Bridesmaids," which some had suggested could win a best picture nod. However, the raunchy girl comedy wasn't completely shut out. Melissa McCarthy picked up a best supporting actress nomination, and the film received a best original screenplay nomination for "Saturday Night Live" star Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo.
It was a particularly good morning for buddies Clooney and Pitt. In addition to Clooney's best actor nod for playing a middle-aged father of two in "The Descendants," he earned an adapted screenplay nomination for the political thriller "The Ides of March." Pitt earned a nomination for lead actor as Oakland A's General Manager Billy Beane in "Moneyball"; he also picked up a nomination as producer of that best picture contender.
Besides Clooney and Pitt, the best actor nominees are Demian Bichir in "A Better Life," Jean Dujardin in "The Artist" and Gary Oldman in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy." Vying with Streep, who earns her 17th Oscar nomination as Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady," are: Glenn Close in "Albert Nobbs," Viola Davis in "The Help," Rooney Mara in "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" and Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe in "My Week with Marilyn."
PHOTOS: Oscars 2012 top nominees
Though Hollywood is always accused of being obsessed with youth, that certainly wasn't the case in the supporting actor category. All but one of the nominees is over 50, and two of them -- Christopher Plummer, for "Beginners," and Max Von Sydow for "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close" -- are 82.
Joining them are Kenneth Branagh in "My Week with Marilyn," Nick Nolte in "Warrior" and the baby of the bunch, Jonah Hill in "Moneyball."
Alongside McCarthy and Spencer in the supporting actress category are Berenice Bejo in "The Artist," Jessica Chastain in "The Help" and Janet McTeer in "Albert Nobbs."
SCORECARD: Oscars 2012 nominees
One of the most intriguing races to watch on Oscar night will be between the veteran Scorsese, who won the Oscar for best director five years ago for "The Departed," and the Hollywood newcomer, French filmmaker Michel Hazanavicius of "The Artist." Taking on these front-runners in the best director category are Alexander Payne for "The Descendants," Terrence Malick for "The Tree of Life" and Woody Allen for "Midnight in Paris."
Though Allen allegedly doesn't give credence to award shows, the academy certainly favored his romantic romp set in the City of Light. The 76-year-old Allen earned four Oscar nods in all, including best picture, original screenplay and art direction. The film has also turned out to be the biggest financial success of his career, earning over $56 million domestically and $148.3 million worldwide.
There were several snubs and surprises among the nominations -- and a first.
PHOTOS: What's next for the awards season contenders?
Among the acting nominees, notably missing from the list were Tilda Swinton for "We Need to Talk About Kevin," Michael Fassbender for "Shame," and Albert Brooks for "Drive." All three had earned several critics honors as well as Golden Globe nominations, but were overlooked Tuesday.