The films that would be chosen as best-picture nominees for the Academy Awards looked fairly predictable. Figuring out which of those films might be the front-runners was another matter.
Likely contenders for the top Oscar in Tuesday's nominations were the musical "Dreamgirls," the mob saga "The Departed," the multinational drama "Babel" and the British-royalty tale "The Queen."
The road-trip comedy "Little Miss Sunshine" looked like a solid bet to take the fifth best-picture slot.
Earlier awards shows such as the Golden Globes typically help narrow down the field to a favorite or two. This season, Hollywood's biggest honor seems up for grabs, with "Dreamgirls" winning best musical or comedy and "Babel" taking best drama at the Globes.
But "The Departed" and "The Queen" also were considered possible contenders to come away with the best-picture Oscar.
Last weekend's Producers Guild of America Awards further complicated the fuzzy best-picture competition. "Little Miss Sunshine," an independently produced flick with a relatively modest budget, won the guild's top feature-film prize over such big-studio fare as "Dreamgirls" and "The Departed."
There was far less drama over expected winners in other key categories. Helen Mirren looked like a lock to win best actress as British monarch Elizabeth II in "The Queen."
Forest Whitaker also seemed a sure bet as Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in "The Last King of Scotland," though Peter O'Toole was a potential dark horse as a lecherous old actor in "Venus."
Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson as soulful singers in "Dreamgirls" had the edge for the supporting-acting prizes.
Mirren, Whitaker, Murphy and Hudson all won Golden Globes for their roles.
Other potential acting nominees included Penelope Cruz for "Volver," Judi Dench for "Notes on a Scandal," Will Smith for "The Pursuit of Happyness," Meryl Streep for "The Devil Wears Prada" and Leonardo DiCaprio, Jack Nicholson and Mark Wahlberg for "The Departed."
After going 0-for-5 on his best-director nominations in the past, Martin Scorsese seemed positioned to finally win Hollywood's biggest honor for a filmmaker with "The Departed," his return to the bloody crime genre whose modern conventions he pioneered with "Mean Streets," "Taxi Driver" and "Goodfellas."
In most categories, nominees are chosen by specific branches of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, such as actors, writers and directors. The academy's full membership of about 5,800 was eligible to vote for best-picture nominations and can cast ballots for the winners in all categories at the Oscar ceremony itself, reports AP.
The Oscars award ceremony will be held on Feb. 25 in Hollywood's Kodak Theatre.
Composer Ennio Morricone, a five-time nominee for musical scores to such films as "The Mission," "The Untouchables" and "Bugsy," will receive an honorary Oscar for career achievement.