By JAKE COYLE
NEW YORK — ‘‘Juno’’ landed four Oscar nominations this morning, including best picture, completing its late-breaking ascent and securing its reputation as this year’s ‘‘Little Miss Sunshine.’’
Specialty division Fox Searchlight Pictures didn’t release ‘‘Juno’’ wide until late December, following a run on the festival circuit and an early, limited release that helped build buzz. It received a prolonged standing ovation when it premiered at the Toronto Film Festival, and ever since, the story of a quick-witted 16-year-old girl who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant has ridden waves of applause.
The strategy has proven successful: The comedy has grossed $78.2 million, making it the studio’s best domestic success over 2004’s ‘‘Sideways’’ ($71.5 million) and easily the most lucrative of this year’s best picture nominees.
It has remained in the top 10 at the box office, landing fourth last week — the only best-picture nominated film besides ‘‘Atonement’’ to still be counted among the box office leaders. And it can expect to stay there, thanks to a likely Oscar bump.
In an Academy Awards slate featuring largely established talent, ‘‘Juno’’ has also been one of the best star-making vehicles of the year. It has been a breakthrough for 20-year-old actress Ellen Page, 29-year-old screenwriter Diablo Cody and 30-year-old director Jason Reitman.
All three were nominated by the Academy today.
‘‘I immediately fell in love with (the script),’’ Page said by telephone from London, where she was doing publicity for the film when she got word of her nomination. ‘‘I felt it was a teenage female lead we’ve never seen before. All I wanted to do was be a part of it.’’
‘‘Little Miss Sunshine,’’ the independent film to crash last year’s Oscars, built its buzz beginning with an August release. It, too, was distributed by Fox Searchlight (which is owned by News Corp.) and was one of the more financially successful best picture nominees. In the end, it won for best original screenplay and best supporting actor: Alan Arkin.
‘‘Juno’’ stands a better chance of winning best picture due to its surprising best director nomination for Reitman, who beat out such acclaimed veterans as Tim Burton, Sean Penn and Ridley Scott. Reitman wasn’t earlier nominated by the Directors Guild, but very few films win best picture without a nomination for its chief filmmaker.
‘‘For me, I’m sure no one expected it but still no one was more surprised than me,’’ said Reitman, speaking from the Sundance Film Festival in Utah.
‘‘We were making this $7.5 million teenage comedy up in Vancouver,’’ said the director, whose last film was ‘‘Thank You For Smoking.’’ ‘‘My highest dreams were about playing Sundance and Toronto and this is on a whole ‘nother level. I’m probably kind of doomed to failure at this point.’’
There’s also a correlation between winning best picture and being nominated for best editing, a category for which ‘‘Juno’’ was not nominated. It will also face stiff competition from the leading nominees: ‘‘No Country For Old Men’’ and ‘‘There Will Be Blood,’’ which each landed eight nominations. Also up for best picture are ‘‘Atonement’’ and ‘‘Michael Clayton.’’
Scott Feinberg, who runs the Web site ‘‘And The Winner Is ...’’ and has one of the best Oscar prognostication track records, was one of the first to predict ‘‘Juno’’ as a serious Academy Awards contender.
‘‘This has been such a dark year in movies,’’ Feinberg said. ‘‘And ‘Juno’ is a movie that deals with problems on a smaller scale, on a scale that many people can personally relate to. Everyone’s been a teenager. And in particular, the fact that it has such a hopeful, happy ending sets it apart from most of the field.’’
Feinberg believes that ‘‘Juno’’ — especially considering the warm feeling it leaves moviegoers with — stands a solid chance of winning best picture on Feb. 24 when the winners are announced.
Vegas seemed to disagree. Oddsmaker John Avello, director of race and sports operations at the Wynn Las Vegas resort, today had ‘‘Juno’’ ranked an 8-1 underdog behind the other four nominated films.