Updated at: 01/10/2013 3:07 PM
By JILL LAWLESS
(AP) LONDON - Hollywood’s movie elite sent their love to "Amour" on Thursday, giving director Michael Haneke’s searing portrait of old age five Academy Award nominations including best foreign film and _ unexpectedly _ best picture.
The film stars octogenarian French acting greats Emmanuelle Riva and Jean-Louis Trintignant as a loving Parisian couple whose world is devastated by the wife’s serious illness.
Unflinching, unsentimental and in French, it was a surprise inclusion among nine best-picture nominees, and also garnered nominations for Haneke’s direction, original screenplay and the performance of 85-year-old Riva.
Haneke said he was "very happy and gratified ... that the voting members of the Academy have taken the film so strongly to their hearts."
A foreign-film finalist alongside movies from Canada, Denmark, Norway and Chile, "Amour" is one of a handful of non-English-language films ever nominated for the best-picture Oscar.
Although far from mainstream movie formula _ there’s no happy ending _ it has left a trail of enraptured critics and emotionally drained audiences since its May premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won the top prize.
Unsparing but tender in its depiction of illness and death, "Amour" is a departure for the director of "Funny Games," "Hidden" and "The White Ribbon," who is best known for films shot through with tension and sudden outbursts of violence.
Riva said Haneke’s talent for evoking reality onscreen was key to the success of "Amour."
"That’s why it touched the world," she said. "We are all little, fragile people on this earth, sometimes nasty, sometimes generous."
Haneke gives few interviews and makes few concessions to industry hype. But the filmmaker said the nominations were "a joyous occasion."
"It is fulfilling to discover that a film has found the audience and critical acclaim that `Amour’ has garnered," he said in a statement.
Riva said from New York that she’d awoken at 8:30 a.m. to news of her nomination, "which is rare, because at my age I need lots of sleep."
"It’s the last stage of my life, so this nomination is a gift to me, a dream I could never had imagined," she said.
Austria also scored an acting nomination, with Christoph Waltz up for best supporting actor for Quentin Tarantino’s "Django Unchained." Waltz won the supporting actor prize for his turn as a loquacious Nazi in Tarantino’s "Inglourious Basterds."
Australian actors also made a strong showing, with nominations for Naomi Watts (best actress for "The Impossible"), Jacki Weaver (supporting actress for "Silver Linings Playbook") and Hugh Jackman, a best-actor nominee for "Les Miserables."
"The whole thing is kind of surreal for me," Jackman said. "I grew up idolizing many of the actors in my category."
After a strong British flavor to the Oscars over the past few years, Day-Lewis was the only U.K. acting nominee, although Adele was a finalist for her "Skyfall" theme song. The British singer tweeted her delight: "Oh my god I feel like Meryl Streep!! Thank you."
The other foreign-language nominees are 18th-century court saga "A Royal Affair" by Denmark’s Nikolaj Arcel; child soldier drama "War Witch" by Canada’s Kim Nguyen; seafaring adventure "Kon-Tiki" by Norway’s Joachim Roenning and Espen Sandberg; and "No" by Chile’s Pablo Larrain.
"No" tells the story of a Chilean ad agency that helped to oust dictator Augusto Pinochet through a clever marketing campaign around a 1988 referendum. The film, starring Gael Garcia Bernal, was a surprise hit at Cannes and has since gathered accolades around the world.
Larrain said it struck a chord because it told an unusual story.
"Dictators are not usually ousted through democratic elections and this is a profoundly human story, which is resolved through things that have to do more with beauty than with horror," he said.
"A Royal Affair" is a tale of love and intrigue centered on the triangle of an ailing Danish king, his queen and the monarch’s forward-thinking physician, played by former Bond villain Mads Mikkelsen.
Director Arcel said the nomination made Thursday "one of the most exciting days in my life and career."
"Kon-Tiki" recreates explorer Thor Heyerdahl’s audacious 1947 journey across the Pacific Ocean on a balsa-wood raft. The 101-day trip was designed to prove that South Americans could have settled Polynesia in pre-Columbus times.
The $16 million budget makes it one of the most expensive Norwegian movies ever made.
Roenning said being nominated for an Oscar was "totally unreal."
"My agent rang, and I howled and woke up the whole hotel," Roenning told Norwegian broadcaster NRK by phone from Los Angeles.
Directed by Montreal-born Nguyen, "War Witch" _ known as "Rebelle" in French _ follows a 12-year-old girl abducted by a rebel army. It was filmed in Congo with a partly non-professional cast but set amid an unspecified conflict.
Its teenage star, Rachel Mwanza _ who formerly lived on the streets of Kinshasa _ won acting prizes at the Berlin and Tribeca film festivals.
Nguyen said that the Oscar nomination for "War Witch" was "a great privilege and an honor" _ and a rare piece of good news for war-ravaged Congo.
"When (Mwanza) came back from Berlin when she won the Silver Bear, people were cheering for her on the streets," he said. "Things are going so badly in Congo and they need this. This really makes a difference."
Nguyen said he hadn’t yet been able to get through to Congo to tell Mwanza the good news. But, he vowed: "We’re going to see that she gets to the Oscars."
He conceded that Haneke was probably the front-runner to take the foreign-language prize when winners of the 85th Oscars are announced in Hollywood on Feb. 24.
"We’re clearly the underdog in all of this. Haneke has such a legacy," Nguyen said. Still, he added, "underdogs are appreciated in the United States. "
Associated Press Writers Thomas Adamson in Paris, Luis Henao in Santiago, Chile, Jan Olsen in Copenhagen, Matti Huuhtanen in Helsinki, Charlie Gans in New York and Charmaine Noronha and Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.
Jill Lawless can be reached at http://Twitter.com/JillLawless
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)