The crowd-pleasing musical "Dreamgirls" led Academy Awards contenders on Tuesday 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, including best picture and acting honours for two newcomers to US audiences, Mexico's Adriana Barraza and Japan's Rinko Kikuchi. The gothic fairy tale "Pan's Labyrinth" had six nominations, including best foreign-language film.
Other best-picture nominees were the bloody crime saga "The Departed," the 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 favourite. With "Dreamgirls," a Golden Globe winner out of the race, the best picture competition was even more up for grabs.
But front-runners in all four acting categories nabbed nominations and seem poised to come home with Oscars on February 25: Britain's 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."
All four preceded the Oscar nominations with wins at the Golden Globes.