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'Dreamgirls' Gets A Leading 8 Oscar Nominations

The musical "Dreamgirls" led Academy Awards contenders Tuesday with eight nominations, but surprisingly was shut out for best picture, positioning the ensemble drama "Babel" or the mob saga "The Departed" as potential front-runners.

"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. "The Departed" had five nominations, among them best picture, a directing slot for Martin Scorsese and a supporting-actor honor for Mark Wahlberg.

Other best-picture nominees were 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."

Despite a scene-stealing performance, Wahlberg's nomination was unanticipated considering he performed opposite such top-billed actors as Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson and Matt Damon. DiCaprio did earn a best-actor nomination for "Blood Diamond."

"I wasn't expecting it at all. I can't believe it. I was sound asleep. My agent called and was screaming," said Wahlberg, who plays a caustic, wisecracking cop. "I thought the house was on fire or something."

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.

But 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."

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 Mirren and 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 (photosKate Winslet photos) as a bored housewife in an affair with a neighbor in "Little Children."

Along with Whitaker and DiCaprio, best-actor nominees were 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."

Whitaker is expected to come away with best actor, though sentiment is high for O'Toole, who has been nominated seven times, losing each. An eighth loss for 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 winning.

This finally may be the year for another perennial loser, Scorsese, who's tied with four other directors for the Oscar-futility record of five nominations and five losses.

The comedy front did bring supporting nominations for Alan Arkin as a 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.

"Dreamgirls" looked as though it might follow 2002's "Chicago" as a rare musical to win best-picture, but like last year's music-themed "Walk the Line" it was a startling omission from the Oscar's top category.

While Murphy and Hudson made it into the supporting categories, lead players Foxx and Beyonce Knowles (photosBeyonce Knowles photos) and director Bill Condon were left out.

Three of the eight nominations for "Dreamgirls" came in a single category - for original song.

And the year's top-grossing movie, "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest," grabbed four nominations in technical categories, including visual effects.

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