- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 23, 2007

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif.

The musical “Dreamgirls” led Academy Awards contenders yesterday with eight nominations but surprisingly was shut out in the best-picture category after being considered a potential front-runner.

The sweeping ensemble drama “Babel” was close behind with seven nominations, including best picture and acting honors for two newcomers to U.S. audiences, Adriana Barraza and Rinko Kikuchi.

Other best-picture nominees were Martin Scorsese’s bloody crime saga “The Departed,” Clint Eastwood’s World War II spectacle “Letters From Iwo Jima,” the road-trip comedy “Little Miss Sunshine” and the monarchy-in-crisis chronicle “The Queen.”

Going into nominations day, the best-picture competition looked unusually wide open, with no consensus on a favorite. With Golden Globe musical winner “Dreamgirls” out of the running, the race could come down to Golden Globe drama winner “Babel” and “The Departed,” though “The Queen” could be a dark-horse contender as well.

Front-runners in all four acting categories nabbed nominations and seem poised to come home with Oscars on Feb. 25: Helen Mirren for best actress as British monarch Elizabeth II in “The Queen”; Forest Whitaker for best actor as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in “The Last King of Scotland”; and Eddie Murphy and former “American Idol” finalist Jennifer Hudson as soulful singers in “Dreamgirls.”

Miss Mirren said she had no idea “The Queen” would have such an impact.

“It is one of the hardest roles to play — not just a living person, but one who is part of our everyday lives in Britain,” she said.

Oscar attention is a new experience for Mr. Murphy, whose fast-talking persona has brought him devoted audiences but little awards acclaim in his 25-year career. For Miss Hudson, the nomination caps a speedy rise to stardom with her first film role just two years after making her name on “American Idol.”

The best-actress category featured a 14th nomination for two-time Oscar winner Meryl Streep, padding her record as the most-nominated actor ever, this time as a demonically demanding boss in “The Devil Wears Prada.” Joining Miss Mirren and Miss Streep as best-actress nominees were Penelope Cruz as a woman dealing with bizarre domestic crises in “Volver”; Judi Dench as a scheming teacher in “Notes on a Scandal”; and Kate Winslet as a woman in an affair with a neighbor in “Little Children.”

Other best-actor nominees were Leonardo DiCaprio as a mercenary hunting a rare gem in “Blood Diamond”; Ryan Gosling as a teacher with a drug addiction in “Half Nelson”; Peter O’Toole as a lecherous old actor in “Venus”; and Will Smith as a homeless dad in “The Pursuit of Happyness.”

Mr. Whitaker is expected to come away with best actor, though sentiment is high for Mr. O’Toole, who has been nominated seven times, losing each time. An eighth loss for Mr. O’Toole, who nearly turned down an honorary Oscar three years ago because he hoped to earn one outright, would put him in the record books as the actor with the most nominations without a win.

This finally may be the year for another perennial loser, Mr. Scorsese, who is tied with four other directors for the Oscar-futility record of five nominations and five losses. “The Departed” marks Mr. Scorsese’s return to the cops-and-mobsters genre he mastered in decades past and is considered his best shot finally to win an Oscar. A sixth defeat would put him alone in the record book as the losingest director ever.

Prim Oscar voters maintained their track record of ignoring over-the-top comic performances, snubbing Sacha Baron Cohen for his Golden Globe-winning role in the raucous “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.”

The comedy front did bring supporting nominations for Alan Arkin as foul-mouthed grandfather and Abigail Breslin as a girl obsessed with beauty pageants in “Little Miss Sunshine,” though the film’s three key performers, Greg Kinnear, Toni Collette and Steve Carell, were overlooked.

Ten-year-old Abigail Breslin became the fourth-youngest actress ever nominated.

The supporting-actor category also includes Mark Wahlberg as a caustic cop in “The Departed,” outshining his higher-billed co-stars, including Mr. DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson and Matt Damon, with his scene-stealing performance.

With five blacks, two Hispanics and an Asian, it was the most ethnically diverse lineup ever among the 20 acting nominees. After decades in which the Oscars were a virtual whites-only club, with minority actors only occasionally breaking into the field, the awards have featured a much broader mix of nominees in the past few years.

Black actors in particular have come into their own, with Oscar wins by Halle Berry, Denzel Washington, Jamie Foxx and Morgan Freeman and three of the four acting front-runners this year. Asians and Hispanics still lag behind, though nominations for Misses Cruz, Barraza and Kikuchi are signs that Hollywood is making strides toward greater diversity.

Miss Cruz’s “Volver,” from Spanish director and past Oscar darling Pedro Almodovar, was shut out for foreign-language picture, but another Hispanic film scored well. Mexican director Guillermo del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth” had six nominations, including best foreign-language film, screenplay, cinematography and score.

“If each one of them got nominated on their own, that would be great, but the fact that they all did … that’s just too much for one little girl this early in the morning,” said Salma Hayek, an Oscar nominee for 2002’s “Frida,” who helped announce the nominees yesterday morning.

Mexican filmmaker Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu earned a best-director nomination for “Babel.”

Mr. Inarritu and Mr. Scorsese were joined in the best-director category by Mr. Eastwood for “Letters From Iwo Jima,” Stephen Frears for “The Queen” and Paul Greengrass for the September 11 docudrama “United 93.”

“Dreamgirls” looked as though it might follow 2002’s “Chicago” as a rare musical to win as best picture, but like last year’s music-themed “Walk the Line,” it was a startling omission from the Oscars’ top category. While Mr. Murphy and Miss Hudson made it into the supporting categories, lead players Mr. Foxx and Beyonce Knowles and director Bill Condon were left out.

Three of eight nominations for “Dreamgirls” came in a single category — for original song.

Two-time best-picture and director winner Mr. Eastwood’s “Letters From Iwo Jima” had been considered a longshot and clearly was the film that denied “Dreamgirls” its chance at the top trophy.

The year’s top-grossing movie, “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” grabbed four nominations in technical categories, including visual effects.

Mr. Eastwood continued his late-career surge and Oscar magic with four nominations for the Japanese-language “Letters” including original screenplay. His World War II companion film “Flags of Our Fathers” also had two technical nominations, including sound editing, in which it will compete against “Letters.”

Also in the sound-editing category is Mel Gibson’s violent tale of the ancient Maya civilization, “Apocalypto,” which got three nominations.

OSCAR CASH NUMBERS

North American box-office performance for Oscar best-picture nominees:

Babel, Paramount Vantage, seven nominations, released October, $23.7 million.

The Queen, Miramax, six nominations, released September, $35.6 million.

The Departed, Warner Bros., five nominations, released October, $121.7 million.

Letters From Iwo Jima, Warner Bros., four nominations, released December, $958,923 as of a week ago.

Little Miss Sunshine, Fox Searchlight, four nominations, released July, $59.6 million.

Paramount Vantage is a division of Viacom Inc.; Miramax is a division of the Walt Disney Co.; Fox Searchlight Pictures is owned by News Corp.; Warner Bros. is a unit of Time Warner Inc.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Best Picture:

“Babel”

“Letters From Iwo Jima”

“Little Miss Sunshine”

“The Departed”

“The Queen”

Best Actor in a Leading Role:

Leonardo DiCaprio for “Blood Diamond”

Ryan Gosling for “Half Nelson”

Peter O’Toole for “Venus”

Will Smith for “The Pursuit of Happyness”

Forest Whitaker for “The Last King of Scotland”

Best Actress in a Leading Role:

Penelope Cruz for “Volver”

Judi Dench for “Notes on a Scandal”

Helen Mirren for “The Queen”

Meryl Streep for “The Devil Wears Prada”

Kate Winslet for “Little Children”

Best Actor in a Supporting Role:

Alan Arkin for “Little Miss Sunshine”

Jackie Earle Haley for “Little Children”

Djimon Hounsou for “Blood Diamond”

Eddie Murphy for “Dreamgirls”

Mark Wahlberg for “The Departed”

Best Actress in a Supporting Role:

Adriana Barraza for “Babel”

Cate Blanchett for “Notes on a Scandal”

Abigail Breslin for “Little Miss Sunshine”

Jennifer Hudson for

“Dreamgirls”

Rinko Kikuchi for “Babel”

Best Director:

Clint Eastwood for “Letters From Iwo Jima”

Stephen Frears for “The Queen”

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu for “Babel”

Paul Greengrass for “United 93”

Martin Scorsese for “The Departed”

Best Foreign-Language Film:

“After the Wedding” (Denmark)

“Days of Glory” (Algeria)

“Pan’s Labyrinth” (Mexico)

“The Lives of Others” (Germany)

“Water” (Canada)

Best Animated Feature Film:

“Cars”

“Happy Feet”

“Monster House”

Best Adapted Screenplay:

(Sacha Baron Cohen/Anthony Hines/Peter Baynham/Dan Mazer)

“Children of Men” (Alfonso Cuaron/Timothy Sexton/David Arata/Mark Fergus/Hawk Ostby)

“The Departed” (William Monahan)

“Little Children” (Todd Field/Tom Perrotta)

“Notes on a Scandal” (Patrick Marber)

Best Original Screenplay:

“Babel” (Guillermo Arriaga)

“Letters From Iwo Jima” (Iris Yamashita/Paul Haggis)

“Little Miss Sunshine” (Michael Arndt)

“Pan’s Labyrinth” (Guillermo Del Toro)

“The Queen” (Peter Morgan)

Best Documentary:

“An Inconvenient Truth”

“Deliver Us From Evil”

“Iraq in Fragments”

“Jesus Camp”

“My Country, My Country”

Source: Agence France-Presse

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