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From left, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jeremy Renner, Christian Bale and Jennifer Lawrence in a scene from "American Hustle."
Nominations for the 86th Annual Academy Awards will be announced Thursday morning at 8:30 a.m. ET/5:30 a.m. PT.
Expected to feature prominently in the list of nominees are director Steve McQueen's pre-Civil War epic "12 Years a Slave," the Sandra Bullock space odyssey "Gravity," 80's AIDS drama "Dallas Buyers Club" and David O. Russell's art-heist caper "American Hustle."
Other titles in the best picture mix should include the Coen Brothers' folk-era tale "Inside Llewyn Davis," the modern-day pirate drama "Captain Phillips," Martin Scorsese's ode to greed, "The Wolf of Wall Street," and the disfunctional family dramedy, "August: Osage County."
"Lee Daniels' The Butler" will be looking for love from the Academy for the film and its stars Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey after the historical civil rights drama was completely shut out of Sunday's Golden Globe Awards.
While a nomination (or win for that matter) at the annual Hollywood Foreign Press Association fest is rarely an indication of Oscar inclusion, "The Butler's" snub at the Globes delivered a window of promotional silence during the period Academy voters were filling in their nominations ballots. Those ballots had to be filed prior to the Globes telecast.
If Whitaker gets a best actor nod Thursday morning, he'll be sure to face heavy-hitting competition from the likes of "12 Years'" Chiwetel Ejiofor, Bruce Dern of "Nebraska," Robert Redford for "All Is Lost" and Matthew McConaughey, who won the best actor Golden Globe for "Dallas Buyers Club."
Other possible contenders include Leonardo DiCaprio ("The Wolf of Wall Street"), Joaquin Phoenix ("Her"), Oscar Isaac ("Inside Llewyn Davis") and Tom Hanks ("Captain Phillips").
The best actress competition should see Globe winner Cate Blanchett receive a nomination for her critically-acclaimed role in Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine." Also expected to be named are perpetual nominee Meryl Streep ("August: Osage County"), Amy Adams ("American Hustle"), Judi Dench ("Philomena"), Bullock ("Gravity") and Emma Thompson ("Saving Mr. Banks"). In with an outside chance of hear their name called are Brie Larson ("Short Term 12"), Julia Louis-Dreyfus ("Enough Said") and Adele Exarchopolous ("Blue is the Warmest Color").
The 2014 best supporting actress field is crowded with strong performances. Lupita Nyong'o ("12 Years a Slave"), Julia Roberts ("August: Osage County") June Squibb ("Nebraska") and Sally Hawkins ("Blue Jasmine") all deserve a nod. Winfrey's inclusion here for "The Butler" would add interest for viewers and voters alike.
A pleasant, though unexpected, surprise would be to hear Scarlett Johannson's name among supporting nominees. In "Her," Johannson plays Samantha, the disembodied voice of an advanced operating system used by Theodore (Phoenix). Think a sexy Siri without the autotune quality. Samantha is capable of insight and emotional growth akin to a human’s. In effect, Johannson is Phoenix's leading lady, even if we never actually see her. Her nuanced take on the role should be considered, though voters will probably balk at the idea of nominating a strictly aural performance.
Jared Leto's gender-bending role in "Dallas Buyers Club" (he also took home a Golden Globe Sunday for his performance) looks set for a berth on the supporting actor list. Michael Fassbender ("12 Years a Slave"), Daniel Bruhl ("Rush") and Barkhad Abdi ("Captain Phillips") will be hard pressed to beat Leto when the award is finally handed out in March.
A sentimental, though justifiable, inclusion here would be the late James Gandolfini for his role in "Enough Said").
In other races, the near-space beauty of "Gravity" should garner a slew of technical awards, while Disney box-office juggernaut "Frozen" looks to be a certain inclusion in the best animated film race.
The 86th Annual Academy Awards will be telecast on Mar. 2, on ABC.