Representing one of the most heated Oscar races in years, the Academy Award lead actor nominees announced Thursday are Christian Bale for "American Hustle," Bruce Dern for "Nebraska," Leonardo DiCaprio for "The Wolf of Wall Street," Chiwetel Ejiofor for "12 Years a Slave" and Matthew McConaughey for "Dallas Buyers Club."
Competition in the category is so fierce that two of Hollywood's iconic leading men failed to earn nominations, despite giving performances widely regarded as among the finest in their careers: Tom Hanks in "Captain Phillips" and Robert Redford in "All Is Lost."
Bale's nomination for his role as the schlubby Bronx con artist Irving Rosenfeld in director David O. Russell's "American Hustle" was one of the surprises Thursday morning. The Oscar nomination is his second. Bale, 39, previously won for his supporting role in "The Fighter," which Russell also directed.
Dern was nominated for his performance as Woody Grant, an old curmudgeon chasing a dubious sweepstakes prize in director Alexander Payne's "Nebraska."
Reached by phone at his home in Pasadena, the 77-year-old actor said he got word of the nomination from his wife and his business partner. "I was coming down my hallway to get to the — as I say in 'Nebraska' — the latrine," Dern said, and the two women "came chugging down the hall toward me, dancing deliriously, and I was really excited because I realized we must have done well." ("Nebraska" tallied six nominations in all.)
This is Dern's second Academy Award nomination; his first was back in 1978, for his supporting role in "Coming Home."
DiCaprio, 39, was nominated for his performance as the unscrupulous stockbroker Jordan Belfort in director Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street." Reactions to the film, with its three hours of rampant greed and hedonism, have been polarized, but them movie snagged five nominations in all. DiCaprio's nomination was his fourth.
Ejiofor, 36, was nominated for his performance as Solomon Northup, a free man kidnapped and sold into slavery in director Steve McQueen's "12 Years a Slave." The Oscar nomination is his first.
McConaughey, a fellow first-time nominee, was nominated for his performance as Ron Woodroof, an AIDS patient who smuggled drugs into the U.S. for himself and others, in director Jean-Marc Vallee's "Dallas Buyers Club." The 44-year-old actor won the Golden Globe on Sunday for best actor in a drama.
In addition to Hanks' and Redford's, other performances passed over this year include Joaquin Phoenix in "Her," Forest Whitaker in "Lee Daniels' The Butler" and Oscar Isaac in "Inside Llewyn Davis."
The 86th Academy Awards will be presented March 2 at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.