Two extravagant comedies, "Birdman" and "The Grand Budapest Hotel," dominated nominations for the 87th annual Academy Awards with nine nods each, while "Boyhood" remained the widely acknowledged front-runner.
The three films were nominated for best picture on Thursday along with "Whiplash," ''The Theory of Everything," ''The Imitation Game," ''American Sniper" and "Selma." The eight films, mostly more modestly sized movies dwarfed by Hollywood's stampede of bigger blockbusters at the box office, gave the Oscars a classy if not particularly high-wattage batch of nominees.
In Hollywood's ever-expanding industrial complex of awards season, the year's front-runners — Richard Linklater's coming of age epic "Boyhood" (six noms) and Alejandro Gonazalez Inarritu's elegantly shot backstage romp "Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)" — haven't been dislodged from their lofty perch, steadily accumulating hardware.
"This is what everyone waits for. This is the last one, unless there's another one that I don't know about," said Michael Keaton, who was rewarded with a best-actor nod for his performance as a washed-up star trying to mount a serious Broadway play in "Birdman." He added: "I don't care how much people tell you: 'It's gonna happen.' When it happens, you're thrilled."
The uniquely time-elapse "Boyhood" earned Linklater nominations for best director and screenplay, as well as supporting nods Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke. The film, 12 years in the making, landed the latest in a string of awards Sunday at the Golden Globes, taking best drama.
But there were other films — "The Grand Budapest Hotel," ''American Sniper" and "The Imitation Game" — that came away big winners Thursday, just as others such as "Selma" failed to breakthrough.
World War II code-breaker thriller "The Imitation Game," about pioneering computer scientist Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch), captured eight nominations, including best actor for Cumberbatch. The film's distributor, the Weinstein Co., has previously shepherded prestige British period films ("The King's Speech") all the way to best picture.
"I am knocked for six by this," said Cumberbatch of his first Oscar nod. "To ring my parents who are both actors and tell them that their only son has been nominated for an Oscar is one of the proudest moments of my life."
Wes Anderson's old Europe caper "The Grand Budapest Hotel," which also won best comedy or musical at the Globes, has emerged as the most unexpected awards heavyweight. It managed nine nominations without a single acting nod and was instead repeatedly cited for Anderson's meticulous craft in directing, production design, makeup and screenplay.
With $59.1 million at the North American box office (opening all the way back in March), "The Grand Budapest Hotel" is also the most money-making best-picture entry.
That, however, is likely to change soon after "American Sniper" expands nationwide this weekend. Clint Eastwood's Navy SEAL drama — one of the season's last entries — did especially well Thursday, landing six nods including best actor for Bradley Cooper.
Steve Carell ("Foxcatcher") and Eddie Redmayne ("The Theory of Everything") rounded out the best actor category. Redmayne, the freckled British actor who stars as Stephen Hawking in the film, said by phone from Los Angeles that he was woken with the news.
"I was in a deep, dark sleep," said Redmayne. "I was in a dazed state. I was half undressed and stumbled to the door. I found my manager there brandishing a phone with a lot of screams coming out of it."
David Oyelowo, who stars as Martin Luther King Jr. in "Selma," was surprisingly left out of best actor. Ava DuVernay's civil rights drama, at one point considered a major contender, faded even after its late debut. "Selma," which has been nagged by criticism over its portrayal of President Lyndon Johnson, managed just two nominations. (The second was for best song.)
The poor showing of "Selma" (and on King's birthday no less) was striking because it followed an Academy Awards led by best-picture winner "12 Years a Slave" and much chest-thumping about Hollywood's thawing close-mindedness.
On Twitter, DuVernay called the nominations "an Oscar gift" to King on his birthday, but referenced Oyelowo's oversight, calling him "our miracle."
Yet Thursday's nominees, in which all 20 nominated actors are white, was not a diverse bunch. Like DuVernay, Angelina Jolie also failed to crack the historical male category of best director. Her WWII survival tale "Unbroken" landed three nods, including a 12th nomination for cinematographer Roger Deakins.
Marion Cotillard for the French-language "Two Days, One Night" was the surprise nominee for best actress. She was joined by Felicity Jones ("The Theory of Everything"), Julianne Moore ("Still Alice"), Rosamund Pike ("Gone Girl") and Reese Witherspoon ("Wild"). Those picks left Jennifer Aniston's pained and grieving performance in "Cake" on the outside.
The eight best-picture nominees left out two wild cards that might have added a dose of darkness to the category: the creepy Jake Gyllenhaal thriller "Nightcrawler" and the tragic wrestling drama "Foxcatcher." In the three previous years since the category was expanded (anywhere between five and 10 film may be nominated), there were nine movies contending for best picture.
Big box-office hits were also scarce. Christopher Nolan's sci-fi epic "Interstellar" was restricted to five nominations in technical categories: visual effects, sound mixing, sound editing, score and production design. David Fincher's popular and well-reviewed "Gone Girl" managed only Pike's nomination.
"Foxcatcher" helmer Bennett Miller (previously nominated for "Capote") squeaked into best director. Also nominated were Inarritu ("Birdman") and Morten Tyldum ("The Imitation Game").
One of the most notable snubs came in best animation, usually a particularly staid category. Despite critical love and major box office, "The Lego Movie" failed to join nominees "Big Hero 6," ''The Boxtrolls," ''How to Train Your Dragon 2," ''Song of the Sea" and "The Tale of the Princess Kaguya."
"Lego" co-director Phil Lord tweeted a photo of a Lego-built Oscar, writing: "It's okay. Made my own!"
Some nominees came with the reliability of clockwork. Meryl Streep landed her 19th nomination (a record) for her supporting performance as a witch in Disney's Stephen Sondheim musical "Into the Woods." Along with Arquette, the other nominees were Keira Knightley ("The Imitation Game"), Emma Stone ("Birdman") and Laura Dern ("Wild").
Aside from Hawke, supporting actor nominations went to Robert Duvall ("The Judge"), Edward Norton ("Birdman"), Mark Ruffalo ("Foxcatcher") and J.K. Simmons ("Whiplash").
The nominees for best foreign language film are: "Ida" (Poland), "Leviathan" (Russia), "Tangerines" (Estonia), "Timbuktu" (Mauritania) and "Wild Tales" (Argentina). The acclaimed black-and-white "Ida" also surprised with a nod for cinematography.
Best documentary nods went to "CitizenFour," ''Finding Vivian Maier," ''Last Days in Vietnam," ''The Salt of the Earth" and "Virunga." The last gave Netflix its second Oscar nomination. (It last year released the nominated documentary "The Square.") Left out was the Roger Ebert documentary "Life Itself."
The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences will hope this year's coterie of stars will be enough to maintain the recent upswing in ratings for the Oscars. Last year's ceremony, hosted by Ellen DeGeneres, drew 43 million viewers, making it the most-watched entertainment telecast in a decade.
This year's show on Feb. 22 will be hosted by Neil Patrick Harris, a veteran of the Tony Awards.
Associated Press writers Lindsey Bahr and Derrik J. Lang in Beverly Hills contributed to this report