In what observers are calling one of the most competitive Academy Awards races in recent memory, "American Hustle" and "Gravity" scored big with 10 Oscar nominations each Thursday.

Other contenders, like "Lee Daniels' The Butler" and the Cohen Brothers' "Inside Llewyn Davis," and actors Tom Hanks, Robert Redford and Oprah Winfrey, were snubbed.

"American Hustle" director David O. Russell was looking particularly strong. His con-man black comedy, loosely based on the 1970s ABSCAM sting operation, locked up nods in all four acting categories, as well as best film and best director. This comes a year after his "Silver Linings Playbook" received eight nominations and a best actress win for Jennifer Lawrence. In 2010, he had seven nominations for "The Fighter," with Christian Bale and Melissa Leo winning Oscars.

Meanwhile, "Gravity" pulled in nods for best film, best actress for Sandra Bullock and best director for Alfonso Cuarón, as well as in several technical categories.

Other movies contending for best picture are "12 Years a Slave" (which garnered nine nominations), "Captain Phillips," "Dallas Buyers Club," "Her," "Nebraska," "Philomena," and "The Wolf of Wall Street."

Perhaps the biggest surprise was "Dallas Buyer's Club," which also garnered a supporting actor for Jared Leto and best actor bid for Matthew McConaughey in the role of real-life AIDS patient Ron Woodroof, who started a black market pharmaceutical operation and fought the U.S. medical establishment in his quest to get effective drugs. McConaughey, in the midst of a career resurgence after several acclaimed roles, was joined in the best actor category by Christian Bale ("American Hustle"), Bruce Dern ("Nebraska"), Chiwetel Ejiofor ("12 Years a Slave") and Leonardo DiCaprio ("The Wolf of Wall Street").


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Tom Hanks' acclaimed performance in "Captain Phillips" was a notable absence in the nominees' circle. So was Robert Redford's in the shipwreck drama "All Is Lost." Redford has never won an Oscar for acting, and some critics saw this as perhaps his best performance.

Two films with African-American themes and casts were also largely shut out. East Bay filmmaker Ryan Coogler's "Fruitvale Station," about the death of Oscar Grant at the hands of a white BART police officer, was snubbed despite acclaimed work by Coogler and stars Michael B. Jordan and Octavia Spencer. And the civil rights-themed "Lee Daniels' The Butler," about longtime White House servant Eugene Allen, generated no nominations for Daniels or stars Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey.

Director Steve McQueen fared much better. His "12 Years a Slave" garnered nominations for best picture, director, actor, supporting actor (Michael Fassbender) and supporting actress (Lupita Nyong'o). Should McQueen win for best director, he will be the first black filmmaker to do so.

Best actor nominee Ejiofor said in a statement, "At no point during filming, in the sweltering heat of New Orleans, did any of us ever foresee the journey this film would take us all on. Steve McQueen created an entire family to tell one man's tale and I am delighted that so many of this family have also been recognized today."

The Oscar nominations reflect what was a strong year for biographical performances. Besides Ejiofor and McConaughey, there was DiCaprio, nominated for his portrayal of Wall Street trader Jordan Belfort, whose wild life and spectacular fall made for a best-selling memoir and controversial movie. DiCaprio told he E! News he was "deeply humbled and even happier to share" Oscar nods with his film's director Martin Scorsese, supporting actor Jonah Hill and screenwriter Terry Winter. "'The Wolf of Wall Street' has been a passion project of mine, and I found the role to be one of the most challenging and rewarding of my career," DiCaprio added.

Best actress contenders include Amy Adams ("American Hustle"), Cate Blanchett ("Blue Jasmine"), Sandra Bullock ("Gravity"), Judi Dench ("Philomena") and Meryl Streep ("August: Osage County").

Rounding out the supporting actor category are Barkhad Abdi ("Captain Phillips") and Bradley Cooper ("American Hustle"). Supporting actress nominees are Sally Hawkins ("Blue Jasmine"), Jennifer Lawrence ("American Hustle"), Julia Roberts ("August: Osage County") and June Squibb in ("Nebraska").

If the 84-year-old Squibb wins, she'll be the oldest performer to ever win an Oscar, the Academy said. A victory also could make 23-year-old Lawrence the youngest woman to have two Academy Awards.

Those vying for best director also include Alfonso Cuaron ("Gravity") and Alexander Payne ("Nebraska").

The 86th Academy Awards take place March 2.

Contact Tony Hicks at Facebook.com/BayAreaNewsGroup.TonyHicks or Twitter.com/insertfoot.