Heaping seven nominations on both the con-artist melodrama “American Hustle” and the grimly historical “12 Years a Slave,” the Golden Globes nominations set up a showdown of contrasts: comedy and drama, light and dark, white and black.
The two films were validated as Academy Awards front-runners in the Globes nominations announced Thursday in Beverly Hills, Calif., by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, refining what had been a scattered awards season in a year many consider encouragingly plentiful of worthy movies.
The differences between the two top-nominees are vast. While David O. Russell’s fictionalized caper “American Hustle” takes a playful, exaggerated approach to an already outlandish story (the FBI’s scandal-uncovering Abscam investigation in the disco 1970s), Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave,” based on Solomon Northup’s 1853 memoir, is unflinching in its portrait of Southern slavery – a subject Hollywood has seldom depicted rigorously or truthfully.
“I feel this film is pivotal and just good for the world,” said Lupita Nyong’o, who was nominated for best supporting actress. The other nominations for “12 Years a Slave” include best picture, drama; best actor for Chiwetel Ejiofor; best director for McQueen; and best supporting actor for Michael Fassbender.
“American Hustle,” though equally dramatic as it is comedic, is for Russell a closely felt story of self-renewal. Reteaming much of the casts from his last two acclaimed films (“Silver Linings Playbook” and “The Fighter”), the movie’s warm reception completes a personal redemption for the director.
“There is not a molecule in my body that isn’t humbly grateful,” said Russell. “From the second we made `The Fighter,’ it’s been a journey that began from a low point for me to a new period that I feel my life was leading up to.”
“American Hustle” received nominations for best picture, comedy; Russell for best director; Christian Bale for best actor, comedy; Amy Adams for best actress, comedy; and Jennifer Lawrence, last year’s Oscar darling, for best supporting actress.
The distinction drawn by the Globes between drama and comedy-musical, won’t be there for Oscar voters, who’ll have to weigh the differences of “12 Years a Slave” and “American Hustle” – that classic dichotomy of hard-to-watch and easy-on-the-eyes – against each other.
The field can’t be said to have narrowed too much, though. The innovative, 3-D space odyssey “Gravity,” which received four nominations Thursday including best dramatic film and best actress for Sandra Bullock, will surely be more of a heavyweight at the Academy Awards, which honor technical achievement categories that the Globes don’t.
The `60s Greenwich Village folk tale “Inside Llewyn Davis” (three nods) and the soulful, futuristic romance “Her” (three nominations) have each won best film from other groups. Support is also strong for Alexander Payne’s father-son road trip “Nebraska” (five nominations), the Somali pirate thriller “Captain Phillips” (four nods), and Martin Scorsese’s wild high-finance party “The Wolf of Wall Street” (two nominations). All five were nominated for best picture.
A movie that could have been a theatrical release, Steven Soderbergh’s Liberace drama “Behind the Candelabra,” topped the Globes’ television nominations. The HBO film helped the cable channel yield a leading nine nominations among TV networks.
The digital platform Netflix, though, emerged as a new challenger with six total nods. The subscription service’s first major foray into original programming, the political thriller “House of Cards,” tied “Candelabra” with four nominations. “House of Cards,” produced by David Fincher and starring Kevin Spacey, is also a product of filmmakers who turned to the small screen.
But in a year where TV’s rise was much trumpeted, the movies put forth a dynamic argument for the big screen. Ron Howard, whose Formula One thriller “Rush” was a surprise nominee as best dramatic film and best supporting actor for Daniel Bruhl, said it’s a “remarkable movie season.”
“It’s a great time for the medium in the face of a lot economic doubt and a lot of competition from other mediums,” said Howard.
This year’s comedy competition – usually a mixed bag compared to the dramatic categories – could be the strongest field ever for the Globes (even if many don’t neatly slide under the label of “comedy” or “musical”). Aside from “American Hustle,” the group includes “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “Nebraska,” “Her” and “Inside Llewyn Davis.”
Two 77-year-old veterans landed best actor nominations: Robert Redford in the drama “All Is Lost,” and Bruce Dern in the comedy “Nebraska.” Redford, who hasn’t ever won an acting Oscar, gives a nearly unspoken performance as a man shipwrecked in the Indian Ocean in “All Is Lost.”
“The only other time that the Golden Globes came into my life was in 1964,” said Redford. “I think the organization was only about a year old, but I was voted Star of Tomorrow in 1964. So it’s been awhile.”
Redford was passed over Wednesday by the Screen Actors Guild, a snub he said he wasn’t even aware of.
In “Nebraska,” Dern plays a taciturn Montana man who believes he’s won a mailing sweepstakes. He’s been unusually forthright about his honest enjoyment in being back in the spotlight with “Nebraska,” which was also nominated for Payne’s screenplay and June Squibb’s supporting performance.
“He’s eating it up. He’s having a ball,” Payne said of Dern. “It’s a new start for him at this point in his career and he’s chomping at the bit to act. He’s got a lot to give, that guy.”
Though the Globes are known for their idiosyncratic choices (last year “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” received three curious nominations), their 2013 picks contained few oddities.
Most notably shutout was “Lee Daniels’ The Butler,” the civil rights history told through a long-serving White House butler played by Forest Whitaker. Oprah Winfrey has been considered a favorite among supporting actresses. Also denied were hopefuls “Fruitvale Station” and “Prisoners.”
Among the nominees included many big names (Cate Blanchett, “Blue Jasmine”; Judi Dench, “Philomena”; Tom Hanks, “Captain Phillips”; Kate Winslet, “Labor Day,” Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts, “August: Osage County,” Joaquin Phoenix, “Her”; Matthew McConaughey, “Dallas Buyers Club,” Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “Enough Said,” Emma Thompson, “Saving Mr. Banks) and some fresh faces (Barkhad Abdi, “Captain Phillips”; Jared Leto, “Dallas Buyers Club”; Greta Gerwig, “Frances Ha”; Oscar Isaac, “Inside Llewyn Davis”).
“Joel and Ethan have completely changed my life,” the 33-year-old Isaac, who plays guitar and sings in the film, said of the Coens. “There’s a reason why that happens to so many actors who are involved in their movies.”
Gerwig, who plays a young, meandering New York dancer in “Frances Ha,” said: “When the phone rang this morning, I silenced it and I thought, UGH, who do I owe money to?”
The last film of 2013 to screen, Scorsese’s three-hour financial industry extravaganza had been one of the biggest question marks this awards season. After being snubbed Wednesday by the Screen Actors Guild Awards nominations, it earned a nomination for Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance as an out-of-control Wall Street trader, along with the best picture nomination.
The awards and their boozy telecast are known for a desire to attract stars, even if their films aren’t quite up to snuff. (It will be a long time before the HFPA, a collection of about 85 largely freelance journalists, lives down its nominations for Johnny Depp’s “The Tourist.”) This year’s ceremony on Jan. 12 will again be hosted by Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, who led last year’s broadcast to 19.7 million viewers, a significant bump for the Globes. They often serve as a preamble to the more prestigious Oscars, which will be held March 2.
Associated Press writers Jessica Herndon, Anthony McCartney and Derrik J. Lang contributed to this report from Los Angeles.
Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jake-coyle