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(CNN) — As celebrities walk down the Oscar red carpet Sunday in front of the Dolby Theatre just ahead of the 86th Academy Awards, they may want to ponder time, space and con artistry.

The best picture front-runners express aspects of all three. “12 Years a Slave” is a searing look at a tragic era in America’s past, about a free man taken into Deep South slavery in the 1840s. “Gravity” is set in outer space, where an astronaut comes to terms with herself.

And the third favorite, “American Hustle,” is a loose, laugh-filled look at a pair of shifty professionals and their involvement with a political scandal.

“Hustle” and “Gravity” led all films with 10 nominations each, and “12 Years” received nine.

Other films up for best picture are “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “Captain Phillips,” “Philomena,” “Dallas Buyers Club,” “Her” and “Nebraska.”

But there are…

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