BEVERLY HILLS – The Civil War saga “Lincoln” leads the Academy Awards with 12 nominations, including best picture, director for Steven Spielberg and acting honors for British-born Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones.
Also among the nine nominees for best picture Thursday: the old-age love story “Amour”; the Iran hostage thriller “Argo”; the independent hit “Beasts of the Southern Wild”; the slave-revenge narrative “Django Unchained”; the musical “Les Miserables”; the shipwreck story “Life of Pi”; the lost-souls romance “Silver Linings Playbook”; and the Osama bin Laden manhunt chronicle “Zero Dark Thirty.”
Oscar winners will be announced Feb. 24.
“Life of Pi” surprisingly ran second in nominations with 11, ahead of “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Les Miserables,” which had both been considered potential front-runners.
“It’s a great surprise. I’m deeply honored. Eleven really surprised me. But it’s a good surprise. I’m very happily surprised.” Ang Lee, director of “Life of Pi,” said by telephone from Los Angeles.
More surprising were snubs in the directing category, where three favorites missed out: Ben Affleck for “Argo” and past Oscar winners Kathryn Bigelow for “Zero Dark Thirty” and British-born Tom Hooper for “Les Miserables.” Bigelow was the first woman ever the win the directing Oscar for 2009′s “The Hurt Locker,” while Hooper won a year later for “The King’s Speech.”
The best-picture category also had surprising omissions. The acclaimed first-love tale “Moonrise Kingdom” was left out and only got one nomination, for original screenplay. Also snubbed for best-picture was “The Master,” a critical favorite that did have three acting nominations for Joaquin Phoenix, Amy Adams and Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Harvey Weinstein produced two of the nine best picture nominees _ “Django Unchained” and “Silver Linings Playbook” _ and was naturally pleased.
“I am blown away! I can’t say thank you enough to the Academy for their support of our films,” he said in a statement. “We have a tremendous group of actors and filmmakers who we had the pleasure of working with this year, and I am so happy that their achievements are being recognized.”
Two-time winner Spielberg earned his seventh directing nomination. Also in the mix are Taiwan-born past winner Ang Lee for “Life of Pi” and past nominee David O. Russell for “Silver Linings Playbook.” The other slots went to surprise picks who are first-time nominees: German-born Michael Haneke for his French-language “Amour” and Benh Zeitlin for “Beasts of the Southern Wild.”
The Austrian film “Amour,” which won the top prize at last May’s Cannes Film Festival, mainly had been considered a favorite in the foreign-language category, where it also was nominated. “Amour” had five nominations, including original screenplay and best actress for French-born Emmanuelle Riva.
“It is fulfilling to discover that a film has found the audience and critical acclaim that `Amour’ has garnered,” Haneke said. “I have been very fortunate on both those fronts, but it is especially rewarding to discover that a film has found favor among one’s industry peers who know, in particular, the effort that goes into getting a film _ any film _ made.”
The other foreign-language nominees are 18th-century court saga “A Royal Affair” by Denmark’s Nikolaj Arcel; child soldier drama “War Witch” by Canada’s Kim Nguyen; seafaring adventure “Kon-Tiki” by Norway’s Joachim Roenning and Espen Sandberg; and “No” by Chile’s Pablo Larrain.
The year’s second-biggest U.S. box office hit, “The Dark Knight Rises,” was shut out entirely, even for visual effects. The omission of its predecessor, “The Dark Knight,” from the best-picture category for 2008, was largely responsible for the expansion of the Oscar category from five nominees to 10 the following year. “The Dark Knight” had earned eight nominations and won two Oscars.
Chronicling Abraham Lincoln’s final months as he engineers passage of the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery, “Lincoln” stars best-actor contender Day-Lewis in a monumental performance as the 16th president, supporting-actress nominee Field as the notoriously headstrong Mary Todd Lincoln and supporting-actor prospect Jones as abolitionist firebrand Thaddeus Stevens.
Joining Day-Lewis in the best-actor field are Bradley Cooper as a psychiatric patient trying to get his life back together in “Silver Linings Playbook”; Australian-born Hugh Jackman as Victor Hugo’s tragic hero Jean Valjean in “Les Miserables”; Phoenix as a Navy vet who falls in with a cult in “The Master”; and Denzel Washington as a boozy airline pilot in “Flight.”
Cooper had been a bit of a long shot, while a best-actor potential favorite missed out _ John Hawkes as a man in an iron lung aiming to lose his virginity in “The Sessions.”
Nominated for best actress are Jessica Chastain as a CIA operative hunting bin Laden in “Zero Dark Thirty”; Jennifer Lawrence as a troubled young widow struggling to heal in “Silver Linings Playbook”; Riva as an ailing woman tended by her husband in “Amour”; Quvenzhane Wallis as a spirited girl on the Louisiana delta in “Beasts of the Southern Wild”; and British-born Naomi Watts as a mother caught up in a devastating tsunami in “The Impossible.”
Riva is the oldest nominee ever in the category at 85, while Wallis is the youngest ever at 9.
Along with Field, supporting-actress nominees are Adams as a cult leader’s devoted wife in “The Master”; Anne Hathaway as an outcast mother reduced to prostitution in “Les Miserables”; Helen Hunt as a sex surrogate in “The Sessions”; and Australian-born Jacki Weaver as an unstable man’s doting mom in “Silver Linings Playbook.”
Besides Jones, the supporting-actor contenders are Alan Arkin as a wily Hollywood producer in “Argo”; Robert De Niro as a football-obsessed patriarch in “Silver Linings Playbook”; Seymour Hoffman as a dynamic cult leader in “The Master”; and Austrian-born Christoph Waltz as a genteel bounty hunter in “Django Unchained.”
The Oscars feature a best-picture field that ranges from five to 10 films depending on a complex formula of ballots from the 5,856 voting members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
“Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane is the Oscar host. He got his own nod for writing the lyrics to “Everybody Needs A Best Friend” from his movie “Ted.”
“That’s kind of cool I got nominated,” MacFarlane deadpanned. “I get to go to the Oscars.”
Walt Disney predictably dominated the animated-feature category with three of the five nominees: “Brave,” `’Frankenweenie” and “Wreck-It Ralph.” Also nominated were “ParaNorman” and “The Pirates! Band of Misfits.”
“I’m absolutely blown away,” Rich Moore, director of “Wreck-It Ralph” said by phone.
“Lincoln” is Spielberg’s best awards prospect since his critical peak in the 1990s, when he won best-picture and directing Oscars for “Schindler’s List” and a second directing Oscar for “Saving Private Ryan.” The 12 nominations for “Lincoln” matched Spielberg’s personal best with “Schindler’s List,” which won seven Oscars.
Spielberg’s latest film could vault him, Day-Lewis and Field to new heights among Hollywood’s super-elite of multiple Oscar winners.
A best-picture win for “Lincoln” would be Spielberg’s second, while another directing win would be his third, a feat achieved only by Frank Capra and William Wyler, who each earned three directing Oscars, and John Ford, who received four.
“Lincoln” also was the ninth best-picture nominee Spielberg has directed, moving him into a tie for second place with Ford. Only Wyler directed more best-picture nominees, with 13.
Day-Lewis and Field both have two lead-acting Oscars already, he for “My Left Foot” and “There Will Be Blood” and she for “Norma Rae” and “Places in the Heart.” A third Oscar for either would put them in rare company with previous triple winners Ingrid Bergman, Walter Brennan, Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep. Katharine Hepburn is the record-holder with four acting Oscars.
“Lincoln” composer John Williams _ whose five Oscars include three for the music of three earlier Spielberg films, “Jaws,” `’E.T. the Extra-terrestrial” and “Schindler’s List” _ earned his 43rd nomination for best score, extending his all-time record in the category.
By DAVID GERMAIN
AP Movie Writer