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.
George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Brad Pitt and Octavia Spencer were among the performers receiving nominations, while"The Descendants" and"Moneyball" also scored best picture nods as the field for the 84th Academy Awards was announced in Beverly Hills.
FULL COVERAGE: Oscars 2012
With the nominations, "The Artist" was catapulted to front-runner status even though the black-and-white silent film about Hollywood's transition to "talkies" has not been widely seen. (It has only made just over $12.1 million at box office.) But it's stealing the lion's share of critics awards as well as a Golden Globe for best picture. It earned an extra boost Saturday 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.
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" superstar 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 also 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 Bean in "Moneyball," he also picked up a nomination as producer of that best picture nominee.
Besides Clooney and Pitt, the best actor contenders 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." Missing from the best actress list was Tilda Swinton for "We Need to Talk About Kevin," which had earned her several nominations and wins including the Golden Globe.
SCORECARD: Oscars 2012 nominees
While Hollywood is always accused of being obsessed with youth, that certainly isn'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 is Kenneth Branagh in "My Week with Marilyn," Nick Nolte "Warrior" and the baby of the bunch, Jonah Hill in "Moneyball."
One of the most tightly watched races of the year will be in the best director category: The director of "The Artist," Michel Hazanavicius, is pitted against academy favorite Scorsese, who directed "Hugo." Oddly enough, both are seen as valentines to the early days of cinema.
There were some surprises among the best picture nominees: The 9/11 drama "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close," had received mixed reviews, and "The Tree of Life," Terrence Malick's non-linear family epic also performed well, picking up a directing nomination for the enigmatic Malick as well as a best picture nod.
Perhaps the only sure thing is that the Oscar ceremony is expected to be a lot more entertaining than last year when James Franco and Anne Hathaway misfired as co-hosts. That's because Billy Crystal and his quick wit are back.
The ceremony is scheduled for Feb. 26 at the Kodak Theatre. It is to be aired on ABC.
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