12 Years a Slave

Steve McQueen's "12 Years a Slave" is expected to receive Oscar nominations in the director, adapted screenplay and cinematography categories. (Francois Duhamel / Fox Searchlight / June 29, 2012)

"12 Years a Slave" and "Gravity" became the best picture front-runners after flooring audiences at the Telluride and Toronto film festivals, and little has changed in the ensuing weeks. Naturally, then, given their estimable craft, both movies are also leading the way in the director and cinematographer races. The key category to watch: original screenplay. If "Gravity's" outer-space tale of spiritual rebirth can land a nomination in that competitive group, it will signal the movie has the kind of broad appeal needed to carry it to a best picture win.

Here's how the races for director, cinematography and original and adapted screenplay are shaping up on the eve of the L.A. unveiling of the season's final puzzle piece, Martin Scorsese's "The Wolf of Wall Street."

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Alfonso Cuarón, "Gravity"

Steve McQueen, "12 Years a Slave"

Paul Greengrass, "Captain Phillips"

Alexander Payne, "Nebraska"

David O. Russell, "American Hustle"

Prime contenders: Spike Jonze, "Her"; Joel and Ethan Coen, "Inside Llewyn Davis"; John Lee Hancock, "Saving Mr. Banks"

Bubbling under: Asghar Farhadi, "The Past"; Woody Allen, "Blue Jasmine"; J.C. Chandor, "All Is Lost"; Lee Daniels, "Lee Daniels' The Butler"

Not yet seen: Martin Scorsese, "The Wolf of Wall Street"

For your consideration: Robert Redford grabbed the headlines for his mesmerizing solo turn in "All Is Lost," but the film also confirmed that J.C. Chandor's excellent debut, "Margin Call," was no fluke. Here, Chandor has crafted a simple, elegant story filled with unforgettable images, unbelievable tension and a career-best performance from its star. Rightfully, that should earn Chandor a nomination.

Analysis: Look for the academy to spread the wealth when it hands out the Oscars for picture and director next year. Best early guess: "12 Years" wins picture, with Cuarón taking director honors. Greengrass is likely to join Cuarón and McQueen as nominees here, leaving two spots open. Two-time nominees Payne and Russell stand a good chance to score a hat trick. But if the ambitious "Wolf" dazzles, seven-time nominee Scorsese could knock one of them out of the race.

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Joel and Ethan Coen, "Inside Llewyn Davis"

Woody Allen, "Blue Jasmine"

Bob Nelson, "Nebraska"

Spike Jonze, "Her"