AP Film Writer
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."