This image released by Fox Searchlight shows Chiwetel Ejiofor, center, in a scene from "12 Years A Slave." (AP Photo/Fox Searchlight, Jaap Buitendijk)
The searing historical epic "12 Years a Slave" and the con-artist caper "American Hustle" lead the 71st annual Golden Globes with seven nominations each.
The nominations announced Thursday morning in Beverly Hills, Calif., by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association suggested "American Hustle" and "12 Years a Slave" — one outlandish and farcical, the other grimly accurate — may be this year's Oscar favorites.
Hailed by critics as the movies' most unblinking portrait of slavery, "12 Years a Slave" verified its front-runner status with nominations including best film drama, Chiwetel Ejiofor for best actor in a drama, Steve McQueen for best director and Michael Fassbender and Lupita Nyong'o for their supporting roles.
"All of these nominations hopefully mean that more people will go and see it and that is really exciting because I feel this film is pivotal and just so good for the world," said Nyong'o.
"American Hustle" dominated on the Globes' other category side: comedy or musical. The fictionalized story of the FBI's Abscam investigation amid the disco 1970s earned nominations for best movie comedy and David O. Russell for best director. Much of its starry cast received nominations, including lead actors Christian Bale and Amy Adams, as well as last year's Oscar darling, Jennifer Lawrence for best supporting actress.
Also in the mix are Alexander Payne's father-son road trip "Nebraska," with five nominations, including best actor for Bruce Dern. The space odyssey "Gravity" earned four nominations, as did the Somali pirate thriller "Captain Phillips," starring Tom Hanks as the kidnapped cargo ship captain.
Alfonso Cuaron's innovative 3-D spectacle "Gravity," for which star Sandra Bullock received a best actress nomination, should be a bigger Oscar heavyweight at the Academy Awards, which honor technical categories that the Globes don't. With more than $630 million in worldwide box office, "Gravity" also figures to be the populist favorite.
This year's comedy competition — usually a mixed bag compared to the dramatic categories — could be the strongest field ever for the Globes. Aside from "American Hustle," the group includes Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street," Alexander Payne's "Nebraska," Spike Jonze's "Her" and the Coen brothers' "Inside Llewyn Davis."
The soulful futuristic romance "Her" and '60s Greenwich Village folk tale "Inside Llewyn Davis" both reaped three nominations, including nods for its stars: newcomer Oscar Isaac for "Llewyn Davis" and Joaquin Phoenix for "Her."
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 77-year-old Dern rounds out best actor in a comedy for his performance as a taciturn Montana man who believes he's won a mailing sweepstakes. He's joined on the dramatic best actor side by another 77-year-old veteran, Robert Redford, who had surprisingly been overlooked by the Screen Actors. The actor, who hasn't ever won an acting Oscar, was nominated by the Globes for his nearly unspoken performance as a man shipwrecked in the Indian Ocean in "All Is Lost."
In the dramatic best picture category, "12 Years a Slave" was joined by "Captain Phillips," ''Gravity," ''Philomena" and "Rush." Most notably shutout was "Lee Daniels' The Butler," the Civil Rights history told through a long-serving White House butler played by Forest Whitaker.
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 a preamble to the more prestigious Oscars, which will be held March 2.
This year's Cecil B. DeMille lifetime achievement award will be given to Woody Allen, who, long a absentee from award shows, isn't expected to attend. His latest film "Blue Jasmine," a portrait of a bitter, fallen socialite played by Cate Blanchett, won nominations Thursday for Blanchett and Sally Hawkins.
The last two years, one of the Globes' best-picture winners went on to top the Academy Awards. Last year, the Globes awarded Ben Affleck's "Argo" best picture for drama. The year before that, the silent film ode "The Artist" won best picture for a comedy.
Though the Globes are often known for idiosyncratic choices (last year "Salmon Fishing in the Yemen" received three nominations), their 2013 picks contained few oddities.
Among the surprises were a few nominees for best actress in a comedy. Julie Delpy was nominated for her performance in the romance "Before Midnight," the third film in Richard Linklater's series. And Greta Gerwig received a nod for "Frances Ha," the black-and-white story of a young, meandering New York dancer.
"When the phone rang this morning, I silenced it and I thought, UGH, who do I owe money to?" said Gerwig.
Disney's making-of "Mary Poppins" tale "Saving Mr. Banks," a possible Oscar contender, fared poorly Thursday, earning only a nomination for Emma Thompson's lead performance as "Poppins" author P.L. Travers. While the Texas HIV drama "Dallas Buyers Club" was rewarded with expected nominations for Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, it failed to land any others.
McConaughey, Redford and Ejiofor are joined in best actor by Tom Hanks for "Captain Phillips" and Idris Elba, who plays the late Nelson Mandela in "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom."
A film that could have easily been a theatrical release, Steven Soderbergh's Liberace drama "Behind the Candelabra," topped the Globes' television nominations. The HBO film helped lead the cable channel to 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.