Some people didn't even realize it at first. After all the oohing and applauding at the announcement of the 79th Annual Academy Award nominations subsided, the dozens of assembled journalists and publicists began descending the stairs to the lobby of the Academy headquarters. It was at that point, out of the blue, that one attendee blurted out, ''Oh my God! Dreamgirls didn't get nominated!''
Yeah, we heard. After its best-picture victory at the Golden Globes and nominations from the Producers, Directors, and Screen Actors Guilds usually signs that big-ticket Oscar nods are on the way the star-studded musical was shut out of the Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay categories. Its only consolation: The film earned more nominations (eight in all, including two for supporting players Jennifer Hudson and Eddie Murphy) than any other entry this year, due largely to its trio of Best Original Song nods. It's the first time in history that the film with the most nominations didn't get one for Best Picture.
As competing theories ricocheted through wireless networks It's an antigay thing! It's an anti-black thing! It's an anti-front-runner thing! one bizarre bit of trivia emerged: While Dreamgirls' writer-director, Bill Condon, was overlooked twice, composer Henry Krieger became an instant three-time nominee. ''The first person to call was Bill,'' says Krieger, who co-wrote the stage musical as well as the new songs. ''All he could do was just be effervescent about the fact that the songs were nominated and how thrilled he was for me.'' As for Krieger's reaction to Condon's snubs? ''I want to stay positive this morning. You can probably intuit that it's nothing that I feel very good about. But the world of Hollywood is beyond my ken.''
He wasn't the only one who felt bewildered. Grabbing Dreamgirls' Best Picture place alongside expected nominees Babel, The Departed, Little Miss Sunshine, and The Queen was Letters From Iwo Jima creating one of the most unpredictable top races in years. Clint Eastwood's WWII drama scored four nods, including one for its original screenplay written by newcomer Iris Yamashita and co-conceived by Oscar vet Paul Haggis, the creator of last year's Best Picture, Crash. ''You walk down the street to get some coffee, and you have people coming up to you, going, 'You're in! You're out! You're in! You're out!''' says Haggis from New Mexico, where he's shooting In the Valley of Elah. ''It's like, Leave me alone, I have work to do! But it was nice to wake up this morning, head to work, be told 'Congratulations,' and be able to say 'For what?'''
This year's other best-picture winner at the Globes, Babel, scored seven nods, making the Picture, Director, and Original Screenplay races and filling two of the five Best Supporting Actress slots with Adriana Barraza and Rinko Kikuchi. Interestingly, the 20 acting nominees include five blacks, two Latinas, and one Asian the most diverse group ever. ''The times that we are living in, with a government that seems to be closing borders, I think it's fantastic,'' says Babel director Alejandro González Iñárritu, a Mexican. ''It's a celebration that the Academy's acknowledging and opening the borders of world cinema.'' Djimon Hounsou, Blood Diamond's Benin-born Supporting Actor nominee, agrees: ''It really shows where Hollywood's heart is and that they're somewhat compelled to want to tell other stories and shine lights on so many other political stories.''
Barraza and González Iñárritu led a large Mexican Oscar contingent, which also included visionary filmmakers Guillermo del Toro and Alfonso Cuarón. ''I woke up at 4:30,'' Barraza says from her Miami home. ''I was watching TV with my husband. I was prepared to scream or cry.'' And after the announcement? ''I screamed and I cried. I'm proud because as a Mexican actress, it's really a no-no to be considered for these prizes.'' She wasn't the only Mexican contender suffering from insomnia. ''I woke up and looked at my watch and it was 3:30, so I went downstairs and started watching The Wild Bunch,'' says Pan's Labyrinth auteur del Toro, whose film landed a phenomenal six nods. ''My wife came down and we sat on the sofa when the announcements were made. I tell you, that sofa hasn't seen that much action in a while.''
Even a few shoo-ins seemed a bit overwhelmed when the news actually arrived. ''I literally feel like I've never been nominated for anything before in my life,'' says Little Children's Best Actress contender Kate Winslet, who landed her fifth career nod at age 31. ''You don't understand. I am a girl from a small town in England who was told as a teenager that she might have a career in acting if she was happy to settle for playing fat parts. The fact that I'm not going to win in a million years is completely beside the point right now.'' Indeed, with the season's two biggest awards magnets The Queen's Helen Mirren and The Last King of Scotland's Forest Whitaker predictably hearing their names called, their competitors are mere pretenders to the throne. Hudson and Murphy, meanwhile, remain in front in the supporting contests, but their leads may have shrunk a smidge.
While Meryl Streep, as expected, collected her record-extending 14th nomination for The Devil Wears Prada, there were a few surprises in the acting races. Leonardo DiCaprio's Best Actor nod came for Blood Diamond, not The Departed, and the latter film's Jack Nicholson failed to make the list. As a result, Supporting Actor nominee Mark Wahlberg was the only Departed star recognized. ''My brother's in town and we're playing golf,'' Wahlberg said soon after getting the news. ''He's going to freak out about me being on the phone all day. But I'm going to let him win, so he'll be happy.'' (Whatever happens with Best Picture, Martin Scorsese looks like he'll finally win his first statuette for The Departed, though the directing category got a lot more interesting with the unanticipated inclusion of United 93's Paul Greengrass.)
One of Wahlberg's competitors, Little Children's Jackie Earle Haley, received so many calls at his San Antonio home that his voice-mailbox wouldn't accept any more. ''It's one thing to tell you my story,'' says the former child star. ''It's another thing to live it. To have been where I've been, and to dry up, and for me to be able to come back and practice this again, this craft, and then to have this happen? I really am just freaking out.''
Others looked at the Oscars more practically. Notes on a Scandal screenwriter Patrick Marber, snubbed by the Academy two years ago for Closer after earning a Globe nod, feared the same fate awaited him this time. ''You feel like you've fallen on the final fence if you don't get an Oscar nomination,'' he says. ''So it means a lot and my agent tells me it will mean a lot to me financially.''
But our favorite nominee story belongs to Half Nelson's Ryan Gosling, who earned his first Best Actor nod for a film that grossed less than $2.7 million. ''I was at home in L.A. and was on the phone with my manager and she said, 'They just said your name,''' he says. ''But before I could register it, I heard this huge squeal and crash outside my window. And I went to the window and this poor cop on a motorcycle had been hit by a van. He'd been thrown half a block and was laying in the street. So I was fielding all these congratulatory phone calls while watching this guy get put into an ambulance. So I didn't know how to feel. Then I was watching the news later and I saw that he only got a broken arm. So I realized it was a pretty good day for both of us.'' (Additional reporting by Gilbert Cruz, Jeff Jensen, and Vanessa Juarez)