'Hugo' tops the noms with 11 nods

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Nine films received best picture Oscar nominations Tuesday, the first year in which the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences allowed for the number to vary between five and 10.

The films that made the list are “The Artist,” “The Descendants,” “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” “The Help,” “Hugo,” “Midnight in Paris,” “Moneyball,” “The Tree of Life” and “War Horse.”

“Hugo,” Martin Scorsese’s love letter to film (and film preservation), led the nominations with 11, followed by 10 for another tribute to filmmaking, the black-and-white silent “The Artist,” while “Moneyball” and “War Horse” earned six each.

The year is notable for its mix of first-time kudos contenders and veterans. Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy earned their seventh best-pic nomination, with “War Horse.” Also for the seventh time, Woody Allen scored as writer and director for “Midnight in Paris,” meaning he’s passed Billy Wilder for that double-whammy honor. Meryl Streep earned her 17th nom for “The Iron Lady.” John Williams was handed two noms, for “War Horse” and “The Adventures of Tintin,” bringing his overall tally to 47. (Walt Disney holds the individual record, and Allen is third, with his 22nd and 23rd noms.)

In the lead acting categories, Demian Bechir, “A Better Life”; Jean Dujardin, “The Artist”; Gary Oldman, “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”; Rooney Mara, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” and Berenice Bejo, “The Artist” earned their first noms. For supporting roles, Jonah Hill, “Moneyball”; Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer, “The Help”; Melissa McCarthy, “Bridesmaids” are also newly minted nominees.

There are also several best picture nominees that didn’t earn acting noms: “Hugo,” “Midnight in Paris,” “The Tree of Life” and “War Horse” were all notable for no performance noms.

In the animated feature category, DreamWorks Animation nabbed two with “Kung Fu Panda 2″ and “Puss in Boots.” Paramount’s “Rango,” GKIDS’ “A Cat in Paris” and “Chico & Rita” rounded out the category, which included five pics since 18 were eligible. (Last year, there were three contenders, when just 15 pics were eligible.)

Although several nominated picture have been popping up as favorites among critics groups, guild awards and the Golden Globes, Tuesday’s nomination announcement ends months of speculation about a murky Oscar race that has left prognosticators with few clear frontrunners.

Among best picture nominees, DreamWorks’ “The Help” (released through Disney) is the biggest studio boxoffice performer, and Sony Pictures Classics’ “Midnight in Paris” is the top-earning specialty film so far. None of the nine films are in the top 10 worldwide earners, unlike last year’s nominees “Toy Story 3″ ($1.06 billion) and “Inception” ($824 million). However, many of the contenders are still playing, so final tallies aren’t in yet.

It wouldn’t be awards season without a few notable omissions, and this year has plenty, including best-pic hopefuls like “Bridesmaids,” “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” “J. Edgar” and the final “Harry Potter.” In the acting categories, prognosticators were surprised to see Leonardo DiCaprio (“J. Edgar”), Michael Fassbender (“Shame”) and Tilda Swinton (“We Need to Talk About Kevin”) not make the leading list. Albert Brooks (“Drive”) and Vanessa Redgrave (“Coriolanus”) were surprise supporting omissions.

In 15 of the past 21 years, the film that leads in nominations ends up winning best picture, the most recent example being last year: “The Kings Speech” had a leading 12 noms that resulted in four statuettes, including the big prize of best picture.

Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences president Tom Sherak and 2010 Oscar nominee Jennifer Lawrence announced the nominations at a 5:38 a.m. press conference from the Samuel Goldwyn Theater at Academy headquarters in Beverly Hills.

Final ballots will be mailed to voters on Feb. 1 and are due back at PricewaterhouseCoopers by 5 p.m. Feb. 21.

The 84th annual Academy Awards will be televised live on ABC on Feb. 26 from the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland and shown in more than 200 countries around the world.

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