Chiwetel Ejiofor in a scene from "12 Years A Slave"

Chiwetel Ejiofor in a scene from "12 Years A Slave" Credit: AP

There are always a few surprises in the best picture Oscar nominees. For starters, this year's list is once again an odd-numbered nine, not an even ten. Not making the cut, apparently, were Woody Allen's "Blue Jasmine" and the Coen brothers' "Inside Llewyn Davis," critical hits that earned nominations in other categories. And the movie that initially looked set to sweep the Oscars, "Lee Daniels' The Butler," is nowhere to be seen. But here's the biggest surprise of all: The Producers Guild Awards, a near-clairvoyant predictor of this Oscar, went to both "Gravity" and "12 Years a Slave," the first tie in PGA history. Here's a brief run-down of this unusually tough-to-call race:

AMERICAN HUSTLE David O. Russell's high-energy caper-comedy is a contender, but its awards will come elsewhere, namely in the acting and writing categories.

CAPTAIN PHILLIPS Terrific reviews, but this is the rare Tom Hanks movie that might be a little too brainy and edgy for Oscar voters.

DALLAS BUYERS CLUB The attraction here is the acting, from Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto as AIDS patients in the 1980s. Otherwise, this is a fairly straightforward message movie.

GRAVITY In a year of topical, challenging, visionary films, will the Academy really give best picture to a 90-minute sci-fi thriller starring Sandra Bullock? We might be surprised.

HER Spike Jonze's sci-fi fable about virtual romance hasn't been able to attract a large audience. Those who do see it, however, tend to love it.

NEBRASKA Bruce Dern's seemingly effortless performance took up most of the media oxygen around this well-received movie. A best picture nod is nice, but a win is unlikely.

PHILOMENA This modest film is a surprise entry -- or maybe not, given its Oscar-aggressive studio, The Weinstein Company. Mostly, the nod is well-deserved recognition for star and co-writer Steve Coogan.

THE WOLF OF WALL STREET A good showing for Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio, but this 3-hour-long comedy-drama seems a long shot for best picture.

12 YEARS A SLAVE Here's where the rubber meets the road. Steve McQueen's artful film has that "important" feel that Oscar voters usually like, but will they pick it to win?

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