12 Years A Slave, American Hustle: top Oscar contenders?

Hollywood is holding its breath for the unveiling Thursday of this year's Oscar nominations, with top Golden Globes winners 12 Years A Slave and American Hustle leading a crowded field of contenders. Journalists and industry watchers will gather for the 5:30 am (1330 GMT) announcement at the headquarters of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which organizes the Oscars ceremony.

This year's field of contenders is the strongest for years, making the task of predicting who will be nominated -- let alone who will win the famous golden statuettes on March 2 -- tougher than ever.

"Every Oscar category this year is overflowing with possibilities and there's no consensus," wrote Tim Gray, the awards editor for industry journal Variety.

But awards predictions website Gold Derby forecast that 12 Years A Slave -- which took home the Globe for best dramatic film -- would lead with 13 nominations.

The site's experts predicted that crime caper American Hustle -- which took the best musical/comedy film award as well as two acting prizes at the Globes -- would take 10 nods, as would 3D space adventure Gravity.

The nominations for the Oscars, Tinseltown's most coveted honors, come just days after Sunday's Golden Globes, where AIDS activist movie Dallas Buyers Club won two awards, and both Gravity and Martin Scorsese's high-finance epic The Wolf of Wall Street took one.

But the voters who choose the Globes winners could hardly be more different from those who choose the Oscar nominees, and laureates.

The Globes-organizing Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA) comprises about 80 non-US journalists. The Academy, by contrast, has some 6,000 voting members who are industry professionals specialized in a variety of branches.

For the best picture Oscar, 12 Years a Slave by British director Steve McQueen, is a clear frontrunner. It tells the true story of a free black man (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) sold into slavery in 1840s America.

But the best film shortlist, after a recent change in rules, can now comprise between 5-10 movies, and in such a strong year seems likely to be closer to the higher end.

American Hustle is the next most cited in the top category, followed by the spectacular Gravity, which stars Sandra Bullock as a scientist abandoned in orbit with George Clooney after a space accident.

Dallas Buyers Club, with a painfully thin Matthew McConaughey as an AIDS activist fighting for patients' rights in the 1980s, is also likely in the running, as is Scorsese's high-flying film starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

Saving Mr Banks ticks a lot of Oscar voters' boxes, with Tom Hanks as Walt Disney wooing Mary Poppins author PL Travers, played by Emma Thompson. Films with film settings won the last two best picture Oscars (Argo in 2013 and The Artist in 2012).

Other movies filling out the category could include the Coen brothers' Inside Llewyn Davis, Somali pirate thriller Captain Phillips (with Hanks again) and black-and-white road movie Nebraska.

For best director it is likely a head-to-head between McQueen for 12 Years a Slave and Alfonso Cuaron for Gravity. American Hustle helmer David O Russell, Scorsese and Briton Paul Greengrass (Captain Phillips) are also favored.

For best actor, Ejiofor and Globe winner McConaughey are likely frontrunners, but Hanks and DiCaprio are also in a field which could also include veteran Robert Redford for his tour-de-force role in shipwreck film All is Lost.

Australian Cate Blanchett, who won the best drama actress Golden Globe, is strongly tipped to do the same at the Oscars, but Bullock, Thompson, Amy Adams from American Hustle and Judi Dench from Philomena are also in the frame.

In the best supporting actor race, Jared Leto could repeat his Dallas Buyers Club Globes success, but other contenders include Barkhad Abdi, the lead pirate in Captain Phillips, as well as Michael Fassbender's evil plantation owner in 12 Years a Slave or Hanks in Saving Mr Banks.

Favorites for the foreign language prize include The Hunt by Dane Thomas Vinterberg, The Grandmaster from Hong Kong's Wong Kar-wai and The Great Beauty by Italian Paolo Sorrentino.

In the animated movie category, Disney's Globe winner Frozen is widely expected to lead nominations, against rivals likely to include Despicable Me 2, The Croods and Japanese historical fantasy The Wind Rises.

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