By Bob Tourtellotte
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A group of movies offering personal redemption and hope swept up Oscar nominations on Tuesday, led by Martin Scorsese's colorful "Hugo" with 11 and silent-era romance "The Artist" with 10, including a best film nod for both.
They were joined in the key category for the world's top movie honors by baseball film "Moneyball" and Steven Spielberg's World War One drama "War Horse," about a boy looking for his horse amid deadly conflict, which each had six nominations.
Drama "The Descendants," starring George Clooney as a man dealing with a troubled family who eventually finds an answer to his problems, also landed in the best film category.
"It's a small movie and a simple movie. There's no cynicism or sarcasm. It's about hope and how people have to adapt to a changing world," "The Artist" director Michel Hazanavicius told Reuters about his film telling of a silent film-era actor whose Hollywood star falls until he finds love.
"Hugo" producer Graham King said that while much has been written about Scorsese creating an homage to the birth of movies, the film has many layers including the story of "a boy who is trying to find his family and find his way home."
"Descendants" producer Jim Burke added fuel to the hopeful fire by telling Reuters: "It's not uncommon for a family to have its ups and downs and it seems to me, despite the tragic nature of some occurrences, they engaged (the father) with his family and brought them closer."
Joining those films in the race for best movie was civil rights drama "The Help," Woody Allen's whimsical "Midnight in Paris," Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life" and 9/11 movie "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close."
The number of bright films in the race follows a trend at box offices that helped push triumphant tale "The King's Speech" to last year's best film Oscar winner during hard economic times. And they contrast with recent best picture winners, crime thriller "The Departed," dark drama "No Country for Old Men," and war tale "The Hurt Locker."
The Oscars are given out by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and this year's winners will be named at a gala ceremony in Hollywood on February 26.
NINE NOMINEES; ONE WINNER
With so many nominees - nine - among best picture contenders, clues in the race come from the best director category because in the Oscar's 83 previous years there has been a strong correlation between the best director and best film winners.
Joining Hazanavicius in that category are "The Descendants" maker Alexander Payne, Scorsese with "Hugo," Allen for "Midnight in Paris" and Malick with "Tree of Life." Shut out was Tate Taylor, director of widely touted "The Help."
Although it had 11 nominations, the nods for "Hugo" came largely from categories such as art direction and costume design, whereas "The Artist" landed in top groups including best actor for Frenchman Jean Dujardin and supporting actress for Berenice Bejo. Actors make up the largest voting branch of the Academy.
Among actresses, Meryl Streep playing former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady" will compete against Glenn Close in a gender-bending role in "Albert Nobbs," Viola Davis for "The Help," Rooney Mara in "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" and Michelle Williams in "My Week with Marilyn."
Tuesday's nomination marked the 17th for Streep and extended her reign as Oscar's most-nominated actress. She faces stiff competition from Williams in her turn as Marilyn Monroe. Earlier this month, Streep won the Golden Globe for best actress in drama and Williams was named top actress in a comedy or musical.
CLOONEY VS. PITT
The title of best actor sets up an intriguing match between friends Clooney and Brad Pitt. Pitt turned in a magical performance as baseball executive who finds success using statistics to build a winning team in "Moneyball."
But the pair of Hollywood A-listers face-off against Dujardin, as well as Gary Oldman in "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" and Demian Bichir in "A Better Life."
It was Oldman's first nomination, and speaking to Reuters from Berlin, he said he was "thrilled and shocked" at the nod.
In other key awards, Berenice Bejo will be joined in the best supporting actress race by Jessica Chastain and Octavia Spencer, both in "The Help," Janet McTeer for "Albert Nobbs" and Melissa McCarthy for comedy "Bridesmaids."
"We've been working so hard for six months, and to finally get a nomination was like, 'wow,' It was worth it," Bejo told Reuters about her and her movie's nominations.
Best supporting actor nominees were Kenneth Branagh in "My Week with Marilyn," Jonah Hill for "Moneyball" and veterans Nick Nolte in "Warrior," Christopher Plummer for "Beginners" and Max von Sydow in "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close."
Foreign language film nominees were Belgian movie "Bullhead," Canada's "Monsieur Lazhar," Iranian film "A Separation," "Footnote" from Israel and Poland's "In Darkness."
"Rango" will compete for best animated movie against "Kung Fu Panda 2," "Puss in Boots," "A Cat in Paris," and "Chico & Rita."
Finally, Sony Pictures Entertainment had the most nods, 21, of any studio, but producer King with "Hugo," studio Fox Searchlight with "Descendants" and Harvey Weinstein and his Weinstein Co. ("The Artist," "Iron Lady" and "Marilyn"), may be the biggest winners because typically nominations lure fans to box offices and all of those movies are in theaters, now.
(Reporting By Bob Tourtellotte; Editing by Will Dunham and Cynthia Osterman)
(This story corrects to Tuesday in the first paragraph.)