When Academy Award nominations are announced Thursday morning from Beverly Hills, Calif., Alfonso Cuaron's 3-D space adventure will likely rival "12 Years a Slave" and "American Hustle" in a close contest for most-nominated film. Though much of the season has been a see-saw between Steve McQueen's heavy historical epic and David O. Russell's lighter Abscam melodrama, "Gravity" should emerge Thursday as an equally strong Oscar contender.
All three are locks for a best picture nomination. And while "Gravity," with a cast of just a few, won't reap the acting nods that the acclaimed ensembles of "American Hustle" and "12 Years a Slave" will, it holds an edge in technical categories. Cuaron's box-office hit ($670 million worldwide) has been hailed for its innovative visual effects, which are sure to be honored by the academy.
The Golden Globes are typically a weak forecaster to the Oscars, but last Sunday's ceremony reflected consensus by naming "American Hustle" best comedy and "12 Years a Slave" best drama. Hollywood's guilds, whose members largely make up the academy, have in their awards nominations also voiced strong support for Paul Greengrass' Somali pirate docudrama "Captain Phillips," Martin Scorsese's finance fiasco "The Wolf of Wall Street" and Alexander Payne's black-and-white road trip "Nebraska."
But an added bit of intrigue, as has been the case in recent years, is how many best-picture nominees there will be.
Though the Coen brothers' "Inside Llewyn Davis" was once viewed as a near certainty, the early 1960s folk tale was overlooked by the screen actors, producers, writers and directors guilds, seemingly dooming its chances.
The most-watched category may be best actor. This year's candidates are especially strong, including Matthew McConaughey ("Dallas Buyers Club"), Chiwetel Ejiofor ("12 Years a Slave"), Tom Hanks ("Captain Phillips"), Bruce Dern ("Nebraska"), Leonardo DiCaprio ("The Wolf of Wall Street") and Robert Redford ("All Is Lost").
That's six names for five spots, and many believe Redford (who has never won an acting Oscar) will be the odd man out after the Screen Actors Guild snubbed him. Also potentially on the outside are Christian Bale ("American Hustle"), Forest Whitaker ("Lee Daniels' The Butler") and Oscar Isaac ("Inside Llewyn Davis").
The best actress category, too, may see a beloved veteran—Meryl Streep for "August: Osage County"—have difficulty making it in. Amy Adams, a winner at the Globes for her performance in "American Hustle," has ascended in prognostications. Others expected to receive nods are Cate Blanchett ("Blue Jasmine"), Sandra Bullock ("Gravity"), Judi Dench ("Philomena") and Emma Thompson ("Saving Mr. Banks").
Other questions linger, too. Will James Gandolfini be posthumously nominated for his supporting performance in the romantic comedy "Enough Said"? Can James Franco sneak in for his grotesque extremes in "Spring Breakers"? Will we actually say "Oscar-nominee 'Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa'"? (It has a legitimate shot in the makeup category.) The answers of a long and winding awards season will come Thursday morning.
Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jake—coyle