Beverly Hills, Calif. Led by the splashy black musical "Dreamgirls" and the multilingual "Babel," diversity took on a deeper meaning at the Oscar nominations Tuesday, extending beyond ethnicity to age, gender and experience.
"Dreamgirls" received a leading eight nominations, although it was surprisingly left out of the best-picture race. Co-stars Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson, already Golden Globe winners for their roles as tormented R&B singers, are both favorites in the supporting-acting categories.
"Babel," which has seven nominations, takes place over three continents in four languages. Among its nominees are two first-timers: Adriana Barraza of Mexico and Rinko Kikuchi of Japan, who are competing against one another for best supporting actress.
And "Babel" director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu - one of the "big three" Mexican directors, if you will - heard his name called along with those of longtime friends and colleagues Guillermo del Toro (for "Pan's Labyrinth," which has six nominations) and Alfonso Cuaron (up for best adapted screenplay for "Children of Men," which he also directed).
"These are films that, first of all, touch people's hearts but at the same time I think it's a celebration of the world film community," Inarritu, who's nominated for best picture and director, told The Associated Press. "I think it's finally recognition and acknowledgment that there are other ways to tell stories, that it does not matter what language, which country you're from, there are ways to cross borders and break prejudices."
Meanwhile, old lions Martin Scorsese and Clint Eastwood faced off once again in the best director category, with Scorsese seeking the first Oscar of his distinguished career, for "The Departed."
Veterans Helen Mirren ("The Queen") and Forest Whitaker ("The Last King of Scotland") were favored to win the lead acting awards, while on the other end of the spectrum 10-year-old Abigal Breslin and 26-year-old Ryan Gosling received surprise acting nominations.
Barraza, who plays a housekeeper fighting desperately to protect the children in her charge, said the nominations set great precedents for filmmakers and actors alike.
"My first thought is of happiness. It's a joy," Barraza said by phone from Miami. "American cinema is receiving people from all over the world - this can open up doors for everybody."
Penelope Cruz, whose name has long been bandied about as a contender for her sexy, feisty turn in "Volver," became the first Spanish woman to receive a best-actress nomination.
"It's a big thing for me," Cruz told AP Television. "When I was growing up dreaming about becoming an actress, I never saw this as a part of it. I never saw it as a possibility."
Djimon Hounsou, a supporting-actor nominee for "Blood Diamond," said it's too early to determine whether Hollywood and U.S. audiences finally are developing broader tastes.
"I hope so," said Hounsou, who starred in Steven Spielberg's 1997 slavery saga "Amistad," a slave-ship story and box-office dud that may have been ahead of its time. "Time will tell. Hollywood certainly is taking steps forward trying to tell those types of stories."
But the exciting range of nominees also includes a slew of first-timers sprinkled among the stalwarts. They're both young and old in films large and small, and they come from a variety of artistic backgrounds.
Inarritu is competing for the best-director prize with veterans Scorsese (up for the sixth time) and Eastwood (whose "Letters From Iwo Jima" is almost entirely in subtitled Japanese).
Al Gore's global-warming warning "An Inconvenient Truth" was nominated as best documentary feature. Three of the other films in this category were by women: "Jesus Camp," about evangelical children, from Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady; "My Country, My Country," about the January 2005 elections in Iraq, from Laura Poitras; and "Deliver Us From Evil," about the victims of a sexually abusive Catholic priest, from Amy Berg.
Academy Award nominations
Best Picture: "Babel," "The Departed," "Letters From Iwo Jima," "Little Miss Sunshine," "The Queen."Actor: Leonardo DiCaprio, "Blood Diamond"; Ryan Gosling, "Half Nelson"; Peter O'Toole, "Venus"; Will Smith, "The Pursuit of Happyness"; Forest Whitaker, "The Last King of Scotland."Actress: Penelope Cruz, "Volver"; Judi Dench, "Notes on a Scandal"; Helen Mirren, "The Queen"; Meryl Streep, "The Devil Wears Prada"; Kate Winslet, "Little Children."Supporting Actor: Alan Arkin, "Little Miss Sunshine"; Jackie Earle Haley, "Little Children"; Djimon Hounsou, "Blood Diamond"; Eddie Murphy, "Dreamgirls"; Mark Wahlberg, "The Departed."Supporting Actress: Adriana Barraza, "Babel"; Cate Blanchett, "Notes on a Scandal"; Abigail Breslin, "Little Miss Sunshine"; Jennifer Hudson, "Dreamgirls"; Rinko Kikuchi, "Babel."Directing: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, "Babel"; Martin Scorsese, "The Departed"; Clint Eastwood, "Letters From Iwo Jima"; Stephen Frears, "The Queen"; Paul Greengrass, "United 93."