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'Aviator' leads Oscar nominations

Film about Howard Hughes earns 11 nods

By Todd Leopold

"The Aviator" picked up 11 nominations, including nods for best picture, director Martin Scorsese, left, and star Leonardo DiCaprio.
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Adrien Brody announces the Oscar nominations.
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"The Aviator"
"Finding Neverland"
"Million Dollar Baby"
Academy Awards

(CNN) -- Oscar gave wings to "The Aviator" on Tuesday, with the film earning 11 nominations -- including best picture -- to lead the pack for the 77th annual Academy Awards.

The Howard Hughes biography also picked up nods for best actor (Leonardo DiCaprio), best director (Martin Scorsese), best supporting actor (Alan Alda) and best supporting actress (Cate Blanchett).

"Million Dollar Baby," the story of a female boxer, and "Finding Neverland," a biography of "Peter Pan" writer J.M. Barrie, followed with seven nominations each, including best picture for both films.

Jamie Foxx earned two acting nominations: best actor for "Ray" and best supporting actor for "Collateral."

But Oscar also lived up to its reputation as an unpredictable idol.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gave unexpected nominations to "Vera Drake." Though the film earned a widely predicted best actress nomination for Imelda Staunton, it also picked up nods for director Mike Leigh and its original screenplay, credited to Leigh.

But the Academy snubbed "Sideways" actor Paul Giamatti, who had won several critics' awards and was thought to be in the running for best actor.

Mel Gibson's controversial box-office hit "The Passion of the Christ" missed out on a best picture pick, but it earned three nominations: for cinematography, makeup and original score.

However, Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" -- ineligible for a best documentary nomination because the film was not submitted for that category -- was shut out across the board.

The other two nominees for best picture are "Ray" and "Sideways."

The nominations are "a very interesting horse race. It is an open field," Frank Pierson, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences president, told reporters, according to Reuters.

Acting races

With Annette Bening and Hilary Swank up for best actress, that race -- as was widely predicted -- will be a rematch of 1999's contest. Swank beat out Bening ("American Beauty") that year in "Boys Don't Cry."

This time around, Bening has been nominated for "Being Julia," playing an actress in 1930s England who has an affair with a younger man. Swank is up for "Million Dollar Baby" as a boxer who pursues a dream of becoming a champion.

In addition to Bening, Swank and Staunton, the other nominees for best actress are Catalina Sandino Moreno ("Maria Full of Grace") and Kate Winslet ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind").

The front-runner in the best actor category is believed to be Foxx, who won a Golden Globe and critical huzzahs for his performance as musician Ray Charles. Foxx wore prosthetics over his eyes during filming and improved his already proficient piano playing to play the legendary soul singer, who died in 2004.

Including Foxx, four of the five best actor nominees played real people in what has been called the "year of the biopic." The other nominees are DiCaprio, who plays Hughes in "The Aviator"; Don Cheadle, who portrays hotelier Paul Rusesabagina in "Hotel Rwanda"; and Johnny Depp, who plays Barrie in "Finding Neverland."

The only nominated actor playing a fictional character is Clint Eastwood, who portrays a grizzled but softhearted gym owner and boxing trainer in "Million Dollar Baby."

DiCaprio was pleased with his nomination, and alluded to "The Aviator's" long gestation period. "Fortune favors the prepared," he told Reuters.

In the best supporting actor category, Foxx and Alda are joined by Thomas Haden Church ("Sideways"), Morgan Freeman ("Million Dollar Baby") and Clive Owen ("Closer").

Besides Blanchett, who plays Katharine Hepburn in "The Aviator," the other nominees for best supporting actress are Laura Linney ("Kinsey"), Virginia Madsen ("Sideways"), Sophie Okonedo ("Hotel Rwanda") and Natalie Portman ("Closer").

Fifth time the charm for Scorsese?

With "The Aviator," Martin Scorsese, who's never won an Oscar, has earned his fifth nomination for best director. He's up against "Million Dollar Baby's" Eastwood, a previous winner for 1992's "Unforgiven"; Taylor Hackford ("Ray"); Alexander Payne ("Sideways"); and Mike Leigh ("Vera Drake").

Oscar winner Adrien Brody, left, and Academy President (and Oscar-winning screenwriter) Frank Pierson announce the nominations.

Nominees for best original screenplay are John Logan ("The Aviator"); Charlie Kaufman, Michel Gondry and Pierre Bismuth ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind"); Keir Pearson and Terry George ("Hotel Rwanda"); Brad Bird ("The Incredibles"); and Mike Leigh ("Vera Drake").

The nomination for Leigh was particularly striking, since the director is known for using a bare-bones screenplay outline and then letting his actors rehearse and improvise for weeks before filming begins.

The nominees for best animated film feature are "The Incredibles," "Shark Tale" and "Shrek 2."

Brad Bird, who both wrote and directed "The Incredibles," thanked the Academy for recognizing the film in four categories.

"It is such an honor for 'The Incredibles' to receive four Oscar nominations," Bird said in a statement. "The screenplay nomination is particularly gratifying since storytelling is at the heart of what makes Pixar so special and what makes cinema such an amazing art form."

Best adapted screenplay nominees are Richard Linklater, Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke ("Before Sunset"); David Magee ("Finding Neverland"); Paul Haggis ("Million Dollar Baby"); Jose Rivera ("The Motorcycle Diaries"); and Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor ("Sideways").

Best foreign-language film nods went to "As It Is in Heaven" (Sweden), "The Chorus" (France), "Downfall" (Germany), "The Sea Inside" (Spain) and "Yesterday" (South Africa).

Though "Fahrenheit" was shut out, another big documentary hit -- Morgan Spurlock's tale of a monthlong McDonald's diet and its results, "Super Size Me" -- earned a nomination, as did "Born Into Brothels," "The Story of a Weeping Camel," "Tupac: Resurrection" and "Twist of Faith."

Composer and conductor John Williams received his 43rd nomination, this one for best score for "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban." The honor ties Williams with Alfred Newman for most score nominations.

Among Williams' competitors: Newman's son, Thomas, who composed the score for "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events." (Thomas Newman is from the same extended Newman clan that has produced film composers Lionel, Emil, David, Maria and Randy.)

The 77th annual Academy Awards are scheduled for February 27. The show will air on ABC.

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