The Hollywood awards season kicked off in earnest Thursday with the announcements of Gold Globe awards nominees.
The searing historical epic "12 Years a Slave" and the con-artist caper "American Hustle" led the 71st annual Golden Globes with seven nominations each, suggesting they 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 and Steve McQueen for best director.
"American Hustle" dominated on the Globes' other category side: comedy or musical. The fictionalized story of the FBI's Abscam investigation in the late 1970s earned nominations for best movie comedy, Christian Bale for best actor in a comedy, Jennifer Lawrence for best supporting actress in a comedy and David O. Russell for best director.
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."
This year's comedy competition 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 last film of 2013 to screen, Scorsese's three-hour financial industry extravaganza had been one of the biggest question marks this awards season. Along with the best picture nomination, it earned one for Leonardo DiCaprio's leading performance.
Along with "12 Years a Slave," the dramatic best picture category was rounded out by "Captain Phillips," "Gravity," "Philomena" and "Rush." Alfonso Cuaron's "Gravity," which also received a nomination for Sandra Bullock, will surely benefit more from the Academy Awards' technical categories, which the Globes don't honor.
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 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.
Last year's telecast saw a bump in viewership to 19.7 million.
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.