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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

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And I'm Melissa Block.

Oscar nominations were announced this morning, and Clint Eastwood's "Letters from Iwo Jima" is the surprise contender for Best Picture. "Dreamgirls" had another less pleasant surprise.

NPR's Kim Masters reports.

KIM MASTERS: Even the most experienced Oscar pundits were shocked when "Dreamgirls" got eight nominations but was overlooked for Best Picture. The pundits were equally surprised when Eastwood's film, completely overlooked in earlier award nominations from Hollywood's influential guilds, was named.

"Letters from Iwo Jima" is a little seen World War II film in Japanese.

(Soundbite of movie, "Letters from Iwo Jima")

Unidentified Man: (Speaking foreign language)

MASTERS: The nomination reflects the Academy's great regard for Eastwood, as well as respect for his achievement in making this film and "Flags of our Fathers" in the same year. Other nominees in the Best Picture category were "Little Miss Sunshine," "The Queen," "The Departed" and "Babel."

Another film made on a global canvas, "Babel," picked up seven nominations, including Best Director for Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. He said his film is about the inability to express and receive love.

Mr. ALEJANDRO GONZALEZ INARRITU (Director, "Babel"): Which is a big tragic situation that we are unable, even with all the technologies given us so many tools to communicate. We are unable to do that in the most intimate ways. You know, with our husband and wife and kids, and even the countries and cultures are struggling with that same thing.

MASTERS: Inarritu is one of a trio of celebrated Mexican directors and all three were nominated in various categories. Inarritu had multiple nods for "Babel." Guillermo del Torro is recognized for Best Foreign Language nominee "Pan's Labyrinth." And Alfonso Cuaron was named for writing and editing "Children of Men."

Inarritu was pleased that all three were named.

Mr. INARRITU: The Academy is acknowledging the fact that the world is becoming a cultural orgy that the community of world filmmakers are trying to take advantage of the universal power of cinema, and putting stories about humanity and transcending our limitations, our borders and our provincial way of thinking.

MASTERS: For best directors, the Academy named Inarritu, Eastwood and Stephen Frears for "The Queen." Paul Greengrass got a surprise nomination for "United 93."

Mr. PAUKL GREENGRASS (Director, "United 93"): I was very surprised. Actually, I didn't even hear it was today, to be honest.

MASTERS: Greengrass acknowledged that many doubted Academy members would be willing to watch the film, given its difficult subject matter.

Mr. GREENGRASS: I personally do believe passionately that cinema has to engage with the world. It has to deal with the way the world is.

MASTERS: This has also turn out to be a strong year for African American actors. The Best Actor category includes Forest Whitaker and Will Smith. Best Supporting Actor pits Eddie Murphy against Djimo Hounsou. And Jennifer Hudson is considered a favorite in the Best Supporting Actress category for "Dreamgirls." A frontrunner in the Best Actress category is Helen Mirren for "The Queen."

Mirren said she had concluded she wasn't likely to receive this type of recognition. Yes, she's been nominated before, but -

Ms. HELEN MIRREN (Actress, ""The Queen"): Very often, and yes that I've been nominated, they sort of say it was very difficult to find any good performances this year. Indicating that they're scrapping the bottom of the barrel in nominating me.

MASTERS: Mirren will find out whether this is her year when the Academy announces the winners on February 25th.

Kim Masters, NPR News.

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