Los Angeles: Fantasy romance "The Shape of Water" topped the Oscars nominations list on Tuesday with 13 nods, one shy of the record, as the Academy also gave a rare nomination to a woman in the directing category.
In second place was tense World War II epic "Dunkirk," with eight nods, while crime drama "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri," generally thought to be the favourite in the best picture category, picked up seven nominations.
But "The Shape of Water," Guillermo del Toro's Cold War-set story of love between a mute cleaning woman and a mystery merman-like creature, dominated the competition.
It scored nods for best picture, best director and best actress for its star Sally Hawkins.
Richard Jenkins and Octavia Spencer each scored nominations in the supporting acting categories, and the film was also nominated for best original screenplay, with the rest of its nods coming in technical categories.
The haul fell one short of the record for most nominations ever, held jointly by "La La Land," "Titanic" and "All About Eve."
"This nomination is for every one of us who brought our hearts to this film," Hawkins said in a statement retweeted by the movie's official Twitter account.
"I'm here because of the greatness of others. I stand on the shoulders of giants."
The 90th Academy Awards -- the climax of Hollywood's awards season, to be hosted by late night funnyman Jimmy Kimmel -- will be held on March 4.
Organizers will be looking to rebound after last year's flubbed announcement of the best picture winner -- the trophy was initially given to "La La Land," when the actual winner was "Moonlight."
In a departure from previous years, there are very few clear frontrunners, making the race far more interesting.
With the #MeToo and Time's Up campaigns against sexual misconduct and gender inequality dominating the 2018 awards circuit, the Oscars announcement was seen as an opportunity for the industry to support female filmmaking -- snubbed at the Golden Globes.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will be seen as having righted that wrong to some degree, with its nod for Greta Gerwig, the director of "Lady Bird."
Before Tuesday, just four women had been nominated for best director since 1927.
In the best director category, Gerwig and Del Toro take on Christopher Nolan ("Dunkirk"), Jordan Peele ("Get Out") and Paul Thomas Anderson ("Phantom Thread").
There was also the first nod for a female cinematographer, Rachel Morrison, who shot Dee Rees's racial drama "Mudbound."
Gerwig recently told Variety she was "heartened" by "the number of women who are making really interesting films and the desire to shine a spotlight on them."
"The Shape of Water" will vie for best picture honours with eight other films, including "Dunkirk," "Three Billboards," coming-of-age movies "Call Me By Your Name" and "Lady Bird," and Winston Churchill saga "Darkest Hour."
Others in the coveted top category are dark satire "Get Out," Daniel Day-Lewis's apparent final film "Phantom Thread" -- he has announced his retirement -- and Pentagon Papers thriller "The Post."
"Three Billboards" -- buoyed by strong showings at the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards -- remains in pole position for the top prize, according to the Gold Derby awards prediction website.
For best actor, Day-Lewis will battle for a golden statuette with Timothee Chalamet ("Call Me by Your Name"), Daniel Kaluuya ("Get Out"), Gary Oldman ("Darkest Hour") and Denzel Washington ("Roman J. Israel, Esq.").
"I'm walking around in a daze. I'm so proud of Team Get Out. What a ride. What an experience. What a year. What a team. I'm so happy and proud of King Peele," Kaluuya said in a statement to Entertainment Weekly.
In the best actress category, Hawkins has competition from Frances McDormand ("Three Billboards"), Margot Robbie ("I, Tonya"), Saoirse Ronan ("Lady Bird") and Meryl Streep ("The Post"), who notched her record 21st nomination.
Best supporting actor pits Jenkins against Christopher Plummer, a last-minute stand-in for Kevin Spacey, who was dropped from "All the Money in the World" after being accused of numerous cases of sexual misconduct.
The other nominees were Willem Dafoe ("The Florida Project"), Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell (both "Three Billboards").
The Oscars cap a difficult few months for the film industry, which has faced widespread allegations of sexual harassment and assault, sparking a period of soul-searching that has cast a shadow over the normally joyous awards season.
A flood of allegations since October have led to the downfall of numerous powerful figures including Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Tambor and Brett Ratner.
James Franco ("The Disaster Artist"), a popular contender for best actor, joined Spacey in seeing his Oscar hopes shot down in flames after becoming tainted by scandal.