Steven Spielberg's Lincoln, a portrait of the Civil War-era president at the most critical point of his career, earned a leading seven Golden Globe nominations this morning.

Lincoln is up for the best dramatic film trophy, and will face off against the Iran hostage drama Argo, shipwreck story Life of Pi, slavery revenge tale Django Unchained and the hunt for Osama Bin Laden thriller Zero Dark Thirty for the top prize, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association announced Thursday. 

Along with Spielberg's directing nod, the performances in the historical epic Lincoln were singled out, with star Daniel Day-Lewis and co-stars Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones nominated.

Day-Lewis will see strong competition for the dramatic film actor title, including from Joaquin Phoenix's raw navy veteran-turned-religious follower in The Master and John Hawkes's praised turn as a paralyzed man seeking the help of a sex therapist in The Sessions.

Rounding out the category's nominess are Richard Gere, who plays a cutthroat hedge-fund magnate in Arbitrage, and Denzel Washington's portrayal of a troubled, alcoholic airline pilot in Flight.

The field for best dramatic film actress is equally competitive and includes some of the industry's top performers, including Helen Mirren as the strong-minded filmmaker's wife in Hitchcock and Marion Cotillard as a whale trainer who loses her legs in an accident (Rust and Bone). Also nominated are Jessica Chastain, for her role as a CIA analyst in Zero Dark Thirty, Naomi Watts (who plays a mother caught up in the Asian tsunami in The Impossible) and Rachel Weisz, as a woman embroiled in a torrid affair (The Deep Blue Sea).

The nominees for direction came strictly from the drama side. Along with Spielberg, Ben Affleck is nominated for Argo, Kathryn Bigelow for Zero Dark Thirty, Ang Lee for Life of Pi and Quentin Tarantino for Django Unchained.

Unlikely pairings, romances in comedy/musical category

The best comedy or musical film nominees are the warm retiree story The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, musical theatre remake Les Misérables; quirky childhood romance Moonrise Kingdom, British romantic drama Salmon Fishing in the Yemen and misfits tale Silver Linings Playbook.

David O. Russell's Silver Linings saw its stars Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence nominated for their roles as two outcasts who come together for a dance competition.

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The romantic comedy Salmon Fishing in the Yemen was a surprise contender, earning a trio of nominations, including for co-stars Emily Blunt, left, and Ewan McGregor. (Alliance Films)

Cooper, who said he watched the announcement with his mother in Los Angeles, said he was thrilled when his name was called.

"It's funny, you're listening, you're watching their mouths move, you know, and trying to see if they're going to form your word, the word of your name. It's actually kind of pathetic. So when Megan Fox actually said, 'Bradley Cooper,' I thought, 'Oh wow!"'

Lawrence is up against three of today's most acclaimed actresses: Judi Dench, who plays a widow and retiree in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Maggie Smith, who plays a former singer in Quartet, and Meryl Streep, who stars in the marriage-counselling romantic comedy Hope Springs. Emily Blunt rounds out nominees for best musical or comedy film actress for her turn as a consultant in the romance Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.

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Film director Quentin Tarantino's latest, Django Unchained, is a lead Golden Globe nominee. (Andy Kropa/Invision/Associated Press)

Blunt's co-star, Ewan McGregor, is a contender in the corresponding best actor in a musical or comedy film category. Along with McGregor and Cooper, the nominees include Jack Black, for the based-on-a-true-story black comedy Bernie, Hugh Jackman's portrayal of the heroic Jean Valjean in Les Misérables and Bill Murray, who stars as Franklin D. Roosevelt in Hyde Park on Hudson.

Aside from Lincoln, Argo and Django Unchained lead the film contenders overall (each has five nominations).

"It's very gratifying to get this many nominations from the HFPA for a film I worked so hard on and am so passionate about," Tarantino said in a statement.

Other movie-related Globes nominees include:

  • Supporting actor: Alan Arkin, Argo; Leonard DiCaprio, Django Unchained; Philip Seymour Hoffman, The Master; Tommy Lee Jones, Lincoln; Christoph Waltz, Django Unchained.
  • Supporting actress: Amy Adams, The Master; Sally Field, Lincoln; Anne Hathaway, Les Misérables; Helen Hunt, The Sessions; Nicole Kidman, The Paperboy.
  • Foreign language: Amour, A Royal Affair, The Intouchables, Kon-Tiki, Rust and Bone.
  • Animated film: Brave, Frankenweenie, Hotel Transylvania, Rise of the Guardians, Wreck-It Ralph.
  • Screenplay: Mark Boal, Zero Dark Thirty; Tony Kushner, Lincoln; David O. Russell, Silver Livings Playbook; Quentin Tarantino, Django Unchained; Chris Terrio, Argo.
  • Original score: Mychael Danna, Life of Pi; Alexandre Desplat, Argo; Dario Marianelli, Anna Karenina; Tom Tykwer, Johnny Klimek and Reinhold Heil, Cloud Atlas; John Williams, Lincoln.

Among the nominated Canadians is Mychael Danna, a frequent Ang Lee collaborator who composed the score for Life of Pi.

  • Original song: For You (music and lyrics by Keith Urban) from Act of Valor; Not Running Anymore (music and lyrics by Jon Bon Jovi) from Stand Up Guys; Safe & Sound (music and lyrics by Taylor Swift, John Paul White, Joy Williams and T Bone Burnett) from The Hunger Games; Skyfall (music and lyrics by Adele and Paul Epworth) from Skyfall; Suddenly (music by Claude-Michel Schonberg and lyrics by Schonberg and Alain Boublil) from Les Misérables.

Films that get attention at the Golden Globes can get a boost for Hollywood's top prize, the Academy Awards, the nominations for which will be announced just days before the Globes gala next month.

TV nominees feature veterans and newbies

Among TV nominees are stalwarts The Big Bang Theory and Modern Family, which will face off against newer series Episodes, Girls and Smash for the best TV comedy or musical prize.

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TV favourite The Big Bang Theory earned nominations for best TV comedy and for actor Jim Parsons, seen at right with co-star Johnny Galecki. (Sonja Flemming/CBS/Associated Press)

Popular series Breaking Bad and Downton Abbey are among the best TV drama contenders, along with Boardwalk Empire, Homeland and The Newsroom.

Leader among the TV contenders, however, was HBO's Game Change, which explored the 2008 U.S. presidential race. Its five nominations included best TV movie and lead actress kudos for Julianne Moore, who portrays Republican vice-presidential hopeful Sarah Palin, as well as for co-stars Woody Harrelson, Ed Harris and Sarah Paulson. In its sophomore year, spy drama Homeland was right behind, earning four nomations, including for best TV drama and for actors Claire Danes, Damian Lewis and Mandy Patinkin.

The performance categories leaned more toward stars of established shows, though there was an injection of a few newcomers as well.

Actress Hayden Panettiere, for instance, was in Nashville when she learned that her new show earned several nominations, including her own for best supporting actress in a TV series.

"I had my phone on my chest sleeping because they told me to be around just in case, but I never expected to get this call," she said. "It took me a second, and then it hit me and I just started welling up. I got pretty emotional."

Other TV nominees include:

Actress in a TV comedy or musical: Zooey Deschanel, New Girl, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep; Lena Dunham, Girls, Tina Fey, 30 Rock; Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation.

  • Actor in a TV comedy or musical: Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock; Don Cheadle, House of Lies; Louis C.K., Louie; Matt LeBlanc, Episodes; Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory.
  • Actress in a TV drama: Connie Britton, Nashville; Glenn Close, Damages; Claire Danes, Homeland; Michelle Dockery, Downton Abbey; Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife.
  • Actor in a TV drama: Steve Buscemi, Boardwalk Empire; Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad; Jeff Daniels, The Newsroom; Jon Hamm, Mad Men; Damian Lewis, Homeland.
  • Miniseries or TV movie: Game Change; The Girl; Hatfields & McCoys; The Hour; Political Animals.
  • Actress, miniseries or movie: Nicole Kidman, Hemingway & Gellhorn; Jessica Lange, American Horror Story: Asylum; Sienna Miller, The Girl; Julianne Moore, Game Change; Sigourney Weaver, Political Animals.
  • Actor, miniseries or movie: Kevin Costner, Hatfields & McCoys; Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock; Woody Harrelson, Game Change; Toby Jones, The Girl; Clive Owen, Hemingway & Gellhorn.
  • Supporting actress, television: Hayden Panettiere, Nashville; Archie Panjabi, The Good Wife; Sarah Paulson, Game Change; Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey; Sofia Vergara, Modern Family.
  • Supporting actor, television: Max Greenfield, New Girl; Ed Harris, Game Change; Danny Huston, Magic City; Mandy Patinkin, Homeland; Eric Stonestreet, Modern Family.

The HFPA, comprised of nearly 90 entertainment reporters for media outlets outside of the U.S., administers the annual celebration of film and television, considered one of the season's most high-profile awards. 

Comedy stars Fey and Poehler, both nominated, will also emcee the Golden Globes gala on Jan. 13.

The HFPA previously revealed the gala will also pay tribute to Jodie Foster, two-time Golden Globe best-actress winner (The Accused, Silence of the Lambs), as the latest recipient of its Cecil B. de Mille Award for for lifetime achievement. She joins past honourees such as Morgan Freeman, Sophia Loren, Martin Scorsese and Audrey Hepburn.

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Game Change, which explored the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign, leads the TV nominees. The HBO TV film starred Ed Harris as Arizona Senator John McCain and Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin. (Phil Caruso/HBO/Associated Press)

With files from The Associated Press