BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. " Uncertainty rules the Academy Awards as "No Country for Old Men" and "There Will Be Blood" led Tuesday with eight nominations each, two other best-picture contenders trailed with seven, and a writers strike left the fate of the show itself up in the air.
Yet a sampling of reaction from nominees made one thing sound definite: Stars and filmmakers will skip the Oscars if the ceremony does not have the blessing of striking writers.
Hollywood's most glamorous night could go the way of the Golden Globes, whose telecast was scrapped because stars remained steadfast in support of writers and refused to come. If stars boycott and Oscar organizers push ahead with a broadcast ceremony, it could end up as a glorified clips show with no one on hand to collect their trophies and gush their thanks.
Either way, both veterans and newcomers on the Oscar front are braced for a huge disappointment if the Oscars become a casualty of the industry's labor quarrels.
"It's kind of odd to finally win the lottery and there's nobody at the ticket booth," said first-time nominee Viggo Mortensen, who earned a best-actor slot for the crime tale "Eastern Promises."
"My first problem is, I'm going to have to return my dress," wisecracked Michael Moore, an Oscar documentary winner for "Bowling for Columbine," about the prospects of the strike interfering with the Feb. 24 Oscar telecast.
Nominated this time for his health-care documentary "Sicko," Writers Guild of America member Moore said he would not attend an Oscar show that did not have the writers' cooperation, and "no one I know will cross the picket line."
The pall over the awards was deepened Tuesday when Heath Ledger, who appeared in this year's "I'm Not There" and was a nominee just two years ago for "Brokeback Mountain," was found dead at 28.
On the labor front, glimmers of progress accompanied the nominations. Informal talks took place Tuesday between writers and producers that could lead to a resumption of negotiations, a person familiar with the bargaining strategy said.
Nominees said the Oscars would be a small sacrifice in a bigger battle, ensuring that studios share the wealth on revenue from movies and TV shows on the Internet, a key sticking point in writers' stalled contract talks.
"I belong to a union and I think they're fighting for the right reasons, and you want to support that," said Javier Bardem, a potential front-runner for his searing performance as a relentless killer in "No Country for Old Men." "Hopefully, they will get to an agreement soon, because it's affecting a lot of people now. It's not a joke."
Joining the crime saga "No Country" and the historical epic "There Will Be Blood" in the best-picture category were the tragic romance "Atonement," the teen-pregnancy comedy "Juno" and the legal drama "Michael Clayton."
"No Country" earned directing and writing nominations for Joel and Ethan Coen, who also scored a nomination under their editing pseudonym Roderick Jaynes. Also with directing and writing nominations: Paul Thomas Anderson for "There Will Be Blood," which earned a best-actor slot for past Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis.
"Atonement" and "Michael Clayton" were close behind those two films with seven nominations. "Michael Clayton" was the only movie with multiple acting nominations: best actor for past Oscar winner George Clooney and supporting honors for Tilda Swinton and Tom Wilkinson.
Along with Clooney and Day-Lewis, acting categories had plenty more nominees who already have an Oscar, among them Cate Blanchett, a double nominee as best actress for the costume pageant "Elizabeth: The Golden Age" and supporting actress for the Bob Dylan flick "I'm Not There."
For them, missing out on the Oscars would have less of a sting than it might for relative unknowns such as best-actress nominees Marion Cotillard of the Edith Piaf tale "La Vie En Rose" and Ellen Page of "Juno."
"It is what it is," said Page, whose role as a whip-smart pregnant teen in "Juno" has broken her career wide open. "I obviously hope the strike is resolved. I support the writers."
If she had to miss out on her first chance to attend the Oscars, Page said that "worse things have happened in the world, and a lot of people are being affected by the strike a lot more than me."
Along with newcomers, the strike could cost veterans such as supporting players Ruby Dee of the crime story "American Gangster" and Hal Holbrook of the road drama "Into the Wild" one of the biggest nights in their venerable careers. Both in their 80s, Dee and Holbrook earned their first Oscar nominations ever.
At 83, Dee is the second-oldest actor ever nominated, behind Gloria Stuart of "Titanic," who was 87. Holbrook, who turns 83 a week before the Oscars, is the third-oldest.
If both won, they would be the two oldest acting recipients ever, ahead of Jessica Tandy, who was 80 when she won best-actress for "Driving Miss Daisy."
Many in Hollywood hope a tentative contract reached last week between the Directors Guild of America and producers could jump-start negotiations with writers, which broke down Dec. 7.
While nominees sounded firm that they would not cross picket lines, they also were simply coming to grips with the fact that they were up for an Oscar.
"Most of the time I feel like I'm in a very big and pink cloud," said Cotillard, who plays singer Piaf from her exuberant teens to her frail 40s. "From the beginning, this movie has been an extraordinary adventure. It has been a succession of surprises, and that one is quite big."
Lianne Halfon, a producer of "Juno," said she had not felt "so ecstatic since the birth of my son. ... Oh man, it's exciting, and you hear people say that year after year, but it is. It's just like instant champagne in your veins."
Whether champagne will flow Oscar night remains to be seen. On strike since Nov. 5, the writers guild refused to let its members work on the Golden Globes, which prompted stars to avoid the show in solidarity. Globe organizers canceled their glitzy telecast and announced winners in a hasty news conference, without any winners there to accept the prizes.
Leaders of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences insist they will carry through with their ceremony.
"We're going to have a show, and we're going to give these incredible artists what they're due," said Sid Ganis, academy president. "We're going to present the Oscars on Feb. 24, and that is the important thing. Artists are giving their fellow artists a one-time event in many of their entire lives."
"Sicko" director Moore, who took President Bush to task over the Iraq War in his Oscar speech for "Bowling for Columbine" in 2003, tossed a dig at Hollywood management when asked what he might say at the ceremony if he wins this time.
"First, there has to be an Oscar ceremony," Moore said. "My first job is to convince the studios to settle the strike this afternoon. Writers really aren't asking for much, and the studios should do the right thing and settle this."