Tom Hanks' starring role in "Captain Phillips" was one of his most acclaimed performances in a distinguished career. But the two-time Oscar winner, who is also a governor of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, took nothing for granted — working tirelessly to promote "Captain Phillips" and his other big film, "Saving Mr. Banks," in which he plays Walt Disney.
But when Academy Award nominations were read out before dawn Thursday, Hanks' name was never called.
Cold-blooded snub? Probably not. Instead, Hanks' double omission is more proof that 2013 was indeed a golden year for film, one in which there were so many strong (and commercially successful) films that academy members couldn't include all those worthy of recognition.
Emma Thompson wasn't nominated for her starring role in "Saving Mr. Banks," Robert Redford was cast adrift from his sinking sailboat tale "All Is Lost," and Paul Greengrass and Spike Jonze missed the cut for directing, respectively, the hijacking thriller "Captain Phillips" and the dystopian love story "Her."
"There's incredible work being done by incredible filmmakers," said Michael De Luca, a producer on "Captain Phillips." "Not to over-inflate it, but it feels like it could be another renaissance" in movies.
Oscar voters had little trouble finding several movies to lavish with multiple nominations in top categories. The con man tale "American Hustle" and the space thriller "Gravity" tied with the most nominations with 10 apiece, as the slave drama "12 Years a Slave" collected nine. "Captain Phillips," the AIDS story "Dallas Buyers Club" and the road movie "Nebraska" all had six nominations.
Tellingly, many of these nominated films were financed independently. As major studios focus on superheroes and sequels, it's the independent financiers who bankroll the edgier, director-driven films whose merits are measured by reviews, not Happy Meals tie-ins.
Two of the best picture nominees — "American Hustle" and "Her" — were bankrolled by producer Megan Ellison, daughter of billionaire businessman Larry Ellison. She had more combined nominations with 17 than Paramount Pictures (13) and 20th Century Fox (11).
"I know we couldn't make this movie without Megan," said David O. Russell, who directed and co-wrote "American Hustle." "And 'Her' couldn't have gotten made without Megan."
The best picture finalists "The Dallas Buyers Club," the stock swindle film "The Wolf of Wall Street," lost-child drama "Philomena" and "12 Years a Slave" also were financed outside the studio system. Only three of the best-picture selections, "Gravity," "Nebraska" and "Captain Phillips," were made and distributed by major studios.
"The independent financiers are critical," said Rachel Winter, a producer of "The Dallas Buyers Club." "They are bucking the cycle that we are in — and we are in such a crazily specific one right now."
Her movie was underwritten by executives from a Texas fertilizer company after Hollywood studios turned the project down more than 120 times over the last 20 years.
The Academy Award nominations will help encourage others to take similar risks, noted Tracey Seaward, a producer of "Philomena" whose financing was pieced together from three European backers. "It's really a great boost and shows there's an audience for serious storytelling," she said.
Many film critics have called 2013 one of the best years for movies in memory. Happily for Hollywood, several of this year's top contenders also are box-office hits — unlike past years, in which major contenders never escaped the art house.
"Gravity" has grossed more than $256 million in domestic theaters, "American Hustle" has surpassed $104 million, "Captain Phillips" stands at $105 million and "The Wolf of Wall Street" just climbed past $81 million.