But not all esteemed films did so well at the Oscar nominations Thursday morning.
The highly praised movie about a key period in the civil-rights movement stars David Oyelowo as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and was directed by relative newcomer Ava DuVernay. Both Oyelowo and DuVernay, in particular, had been singled out for acclaim, but when the Oscar nominations came down, both were shut out. "Selma" ended up with just two nominations: best picture and best song.
The Internet, noting the lack of diversity among the acting and directing categories, reacted with scorn.
"Selma" had been criticized for the way it portrayed some aspects of history -- particularly the role of President Lyndon B. Johnson
-- but as a movie, the reviews were resoundingly favorable, with 99% approval on RottenTomatoes.com.
Noting that other directing nominees weren't penalized for their movies' inaccuracies, Forbes' Scott Mendelson wrote
, "Ms. DuVernay, more than her peers, arguably needed that Oscar validation as a bargaining chip." He added, pointedly, "I'm angry because one of the best films of the year has been libeled and that said libel apparently worked."
But Common, who received a best song nomination for the film, handled the issue gracefully.
"I believe when people vote, they have their perspectives, they have what they think is right and we have to understand, it's a vote," he told CNN. "I just say whatever color we are, keep making quality work and I know it will eventually be recognized."
2. The divide between blockbusters and low-budget films grows
With the expanded list of best-picture nominees, more box-office hits -- films earning $100 million or more domestically -- have made the Oscar grade in recent years. But of this year's eight nominees, the highest-grossing film domestically is "The Grand Budapest Hotel," which came out in March, and it's made just $59 million.
Such hits as "Gone Girl," "Into the Woods," "Unbroken" and "Interstellar," all considered awards possibilities, didn't make the Academy's shortlist. (Admittedly, some of the nominees have just been released, so their box office could climb significantly.)
Los Angeles Times film writer Steve Zeitchik, who wrote about the snubs and surprises
, is surprised himself that more blockbusters didn't make the list.
"The Academy is probably going back and wondering, did we accomplish what we wanted to accomplish by expanding it?" he says. "The fact that there's no 'Gone Girl,' no 'Unbroken,' no 'Interstellar,' is certainly notable on an Academy list that's meant include films of that type."
3. Score one for veterans
Sure, there were some Oscar newcomers, including Benedict Cumberbatch, Eddie Redmayne, Rosamund Pike, Emma Stone and Felicity Jones. And though Steve Carell and Michael Keaton are established performers, they'd never gotten Oscar nominations.
But the nods were full of familiar names, some of which surprised observers.
Robert Duvall, who at 84 is now the oldest supporting actor nominee ever, received his seventh nod. Julianne Moore now has five nominations. Bradley Cooper made it for the third year in a row. Clint Eastwood, though not nominated for best director, was recognized through his "American Sniper," which got six nominations (including Cooper's).
And Meryl Streep, as always, is in a class by herself. Her nomination for playing a witch in "Into the Woods" is her 19th overall, extending her own record. Is it deserved? That's a whole different discussion.
4. Watch out for "Budapest" -- and "Whiplash"
"Birdman" and "Boyhood" have been battling it out all awards season. It'll be no different on Oscar night: Although "Birdman" has more nominations, "Boyhood" is generally considered the favorite.
But in a mild surprise, "The Grand Budapest Hotel," which has stayed in the discussion despite being released 10 months ago (just after the 2014 ceremony, in fact), has continued to build steam, including its best comedy/musical win at the Golden Globes. Wes Anderson finally earned a directing nomination, and the movie has a gravitas that could make it a popular second choice for Oscar voters, despite its comic tone.
"Whiplash" almost certainly won't win best picture, but the nominations for this Sundance winner about a hard-driving music teacher and his egocentric student are an achievement on their own given its minuscule budget and limited distribution. Damian Chazelle, who's at work on another musical
(this one with "Whiplash" star Miles Teller and Emma Watson), will be a name to watch, and J.K. Simmons may soon become the most-esteemed M&M in history
5. 'Lego' falls apart
Besides the "Selma" shocker, perhaps the biggest surprise of the morning was the lack of love for "The Lego Movie." What could have been two hours of product placement was instead a clever, heartwarming film about the need for affection and togetherness, and it was widely expected to earn a nomination for best animated feature -- and perhaps its screenplay. Instead it got just one nomination, for its song "Everything Is Awesome."
Zeitchik wonders whether the movie was too hip for the room.
"The feeling has been that a more conservative or stodgy voter would not quite spark to the film," he says. "I think there's a constituency within the (animators') branch that maybe felt that this was a little too cutting-edge."
"Lego Movie" co-director, co-writer and co-producer Philip Lord, however, wasn't going to be denied. He posted a photo of an Oscar -- made of Lego.