Oscar noms all over map; 'Babel' hones int'l flavor

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The multilingual "Babel" clearly spoke Oscar's language Tuesday morning, when nominations for the 79th Annual Academy Awards were announced. The musical "Dreamgirls" might have earned the most nominations, eight, but it was shut out of the best picture race.

Complete list of Academy Award nominations

Instead, it earned the unenviable distinction of becoming the first movie in Oscar history to fail to earn a best picture nomination while collecting the most noms.

"Looking at the whole awards season, there is no clear front-runner," Miramax Films president Daniel Battsek said as he celebrated six noms for "The Queen" and one for Peter O'Toole's autumnal performance in "Venus."

For best picture honors, "Babel," with seven noms, will compete against the crime drama "The Departed," the Japanese-language war film "Letters From Iwo Jima," the quirky comedy "Little Miss Sunshine" and "Queen," a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II under siege from the modern media.

So far, though, a definite front-runner hasn't emerged during an awards season in which "Babel" earned the title of best drama at the Golden Globes but "Little Miss Sunshine" took the Producers Guild of America's film prize last weekend.

"Babel" might tell a globe-hopping story of cultural misunderstandings, but the 5,830 voting members of the Academy seemed to be in a particularly international mood. In the acting categories, they nominated two actresses who deliver foreign-language performances: Penelope Cruz, who stars as a ghost-haunted widow in the Spanish-language "Volver," and Rinko Kikuchi, who plays a deaf student speaking Japanese and also signing in "Babel." Kikuchi's castmate Adriana Barraza, appearing in a role that combines English and Spanish dialogue, also was rewarded with a nomination.

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Guillermo del Toro and Alfonso Cuaron, the trio of Mexican-born directors dubbed the Three Amigos, all figured prominently as one for Peter O'Toole's autumnal performance in "Venus."

In the best picture race, "Babel," with seven noms, will compete against the crime drama "The Departed," the Japanese-language war film "Letters From Iwo Jima," the quirky comedy "Little Miss Sunshine" and "Queen," a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II under siege from the modern media.

So far, though, a definite front-runner hasn't emerged during an awards season in which "Babel" earned the title of best drama at the Golden Globes but "Sunshine" took the Producers Guild of America's film prize Saturday.

"Babel" might tell a globe-hopping story of cultural misunderstandings, but the 5,830 voting members of the Academy seemed to be in a particularly international mood. In the acting categories, they nominated two actresses who deliver foreign-language performances: Penelope Cruz, who stars as a ghost-haunted widow in the Spanish-language "Volver," and Rinko Kikuchi, who plays a deaf student speaking Japanese and also signing in "Babel." Kikuchi's castmate Adriana Barraza, appearing in a role that combines English and Spanish dialogue, also was rewarded with a nomination.

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Guillermo del Toro and Alfonso Cuaron, the trio of Mexican-born directors dubbed the Three Amigos, all figured prominently as well. Gonzalez Inarritu's "Babel" picked up seven noms, del Toro's "Pan's Labyrinth" was close behind with six -- including a best foreign-language film nomination -- and Cuaron's "Children of Men" took three, including best adapted screenplay.

Commenting on the multiculturalism of this year's crop of nominees, Forest Whitaker, nominated as best actor for "The Last King of Scotland," said: "We're finally recognizing that we're all here on the planet together. We all have lives and stories that connect each other. It's amazing, really."

Said IFC Entertainment president Jonathan Sehring, "If you look at a lot of nominated films and filmmakers -- from Alfonso Cuaron to 'Babel' to 'Pan's Labyrinth' -- you see that filmmaking is now a global world, and both Hollywood and audiences aren't intimidated by subtitles anymore." IFC was behind two of the foreign-language film nominees: Denmark's "After the Wedding" and Algeria's "Days of Glory."

With several co-productions among rival studios showing up in this year's nominations, victory had many fathers. Under new chairman Brad Grey, Paramount Pictures staged a resurgence. After it picked up just three noms last year, it laid claim to 19 this time: eight for "Dreamgirls," which it co-produced with DreamWorks, now a division of Paramount, and then released; two from "Flags of Our Fathers," which DreamWorks co-produced with Warner Bros. Pictures; and nine on behalf of its specialty division Paramount Vantage, which distributed "Babel" and the documentary "An Inconvenient Truth."

Warners tallied 18 noms, with "Departed" and "Blood Diamond" leading the pack with five each, while "Iwo Jima," which it co-produced with DreamWorks, received four. As for DreamWorks, it had a role in producing three films that accounted for 14 noms.

The Walt Disney Co.'s Buena Vista distribution arm picked up 11 noms from the films that it released, but Disney claimed a chart-topping 20 noms by counting the seven belonging to its specialty division, Miramax, and two for animated shorts.

Among the specialty film divisions, Fox Searchlight -- with 10 nominations for films ranging from "Sunshine" to "Notes on a Scandal" -- was the dominant player, followed closely by Paramount Vantage with nine and Miramax with seven.

As often happens, the best director noms didn't exactly match up with the Academy's best picture choices. Nominated for their helmsmanship were Gonzalez Inarritu for "Babel," Martin Scorsese for "Departed," Clint Eastwood for "Iwo Jima" and Stephen Frears for "Queen." But instead of the "Sunshine" directing team of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the Academy nominated Paul Greengrass for the docudrama "United 93."

The actors branch, meanwhile, ignored a number of established performers -- including Brad Pitt in "Babel," Jack Nicholson in "Departed" and Ben Affleck in "Hollywoodland" -- in favor of newcomers like 10-year-old Abigail Breslin of "Sunshine" as well as comeback performers like Jackie Earle Haley in "Little Children."

In the best actress race, "Volver's" Cruz will face off against Judi Dench, who plays a manipulative schoolteacher in "Scandal"; Helen Mirren for "Queen"; Meryl Streep for her comedy turn as a fearsome magazine editor in "The Devil Wears Prada"; and Kate Winslet, who portrays an adulterous wife in "Little Children."

In the best actor category, the nominees are Leonardo DiCaprio, who plays a soldier of fortune in "Diamond"; Ryan Gosling, who appears as an addicted teacher in "Half Nelson"; Peter O'Toole, giving him his eighth nomination, for his aging actor in "Venus"; Will Smith, who plays a father determined to improve his lot in life in "The Pursuit of Happyness"; and Whitaker, who stars as the late Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in "Last King."

The best supporting actress category is dominated by first-time nominees: Jennifer Hudson for "Dreamgirls," along with "Babel's" Barraza and Kikuchi and "Sunshine's" Breslin. The fifth nominee is Cate Blanchett, the winner in the category for 2004's "The Aviator," nominated this year for "Scandal."

Competing for best supporting actor are Alan Arkin, who plays a bawdy granddad in "Sunshine"; Haley, who returns to the screen as a sex offender in "Little Children"; Djimon Hounsou, who plays an embattled father in the midst of Sierra Leone's civil war in "Diamond"; Eddie Murphy, who sings and dances as an R&B man in "Dreamgirls"; and Mark Wahlberg, one of the good cops in "Departed."

For adapted screenplay, the seemingly improvised "Borat" cracked the nominees circle. Its writing team of Sacha Baron Cohen, Anthony Hines, Peter Baynham, Dan Mazer and Todd Phillips were nominated, along with Cuaron, Timothy J. Sexton, David Arata, Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby for "Children of Men," William Monahan for "Departed," Todd Field and Tom Perrotta for "Little Children" and Patrick Marber for "Scandal."

For original screenplay, the nominees are Guillermo Arriaga for "Babel," Iris Yamashita and Paul Haggis for "Iwo Jima," Michael Arndt for "Sunshine," del Toro for "Labyrinth" and Peter Morgan for "Queen."

Pedro Almodovar's Spanish entry "Volver," though it earned Cruz an acting nomination, failed to score a best foreign-language film nomination. Those nominations went to Denmark's "After the Wedding," Algeria's "Days of Glory," Germany's "The Lives of Others," Mexico's "Labyrinth" and Canada's "Water."

For best animated feature, the Academy nominated Pixar's "Cars," Warner Bros. Pictures' "Happy Feet" and Sony Pictures' "Monster House."

Although voters might have turned a deaf ear to "Dreamgirls" as a best picture nominee, the music branch was humming its tune. Because the film is an adaptation of the 1981 Broadway musical, most of its songs weren't eligible because they weren't original to the film. But Henry Krieger, working with several collaborators, wrote four new songs for the film, and three of them -- "Listen," "Love You I Do" and "Patience" -- earned nominations, dominating the original song category, which also includes Randy Newman's "Our Town" from "Cars" and Melissa Etheridge's "I Need to Wake Up" from "Truth." In fact, "Wake Up" was the first song from a docu nominated in the category since "Mondo Cane" introduced the pop tune "More" in 1963.

The nominations were announced at the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theatre in Beverly Hills by Academy president Sid Ganis and Salma Hayek, a best actress nominee for 2002's "Frida." Winners will be announced at the Oscar ceremony, hosted by Ellen DeGeneres, on Feb. 25 at the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland.

Nicole Sperling in Los Angeles and Gregg Goldstein in Park City contributed to this report.

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