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Wily Oscar spreads shock and aws among picks

/ Source: The Associated Press

Usually the Oscar race seems pretty much firmed up long before anyone’s name is announced as a nominee. Not so this year — there were some wonderful surprises and surprising snubs. Among them:

Wahlberg edges out castmates
Mark Wahlberg, the artist formerly known as Marky Mark, beat out his more established co-stars in “The Departed” — Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon — to score a nomination for best supporting actor. Among the talented ensemble cast in Martin Scorsese’s mob drama, which also includes Alec Baldwin and Martin Sheen, Wahlberg was a consistent scene stealer as a bitter Boston detective. He was even more arresting than in his days as a rapper and underwear model.

How do you say ‘Oscar’ in Mayan?
It looked like Mel Gibson was nuts when he said he was making an ultraviolent historical epic in subtitled Mayan with an entirely unknown cast. Now it looks like he was on to something — not only did it open at No. 1 at the box office, it has three Oscar nominations: makeup, sound editing and sound mixing. Say what you will about Mel, the man knows how to make a mean — and technically flawless — action picture.

Wake-up call “Dreamgirls,” the de facto front-runner throughout awards season, received a leading eight nominations — except for the biggie, best picture. It looked like a shoo-in, especially after winning the Golden Globe for best musical or comedy. Co-stars Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson (who also won at the Golden Globes) were nominated in the supporting-actor categories, as expected. But director Bill Condon was shut out, as were top-billed stars Jamie Foxx and Beyonce Knowles. And of the film’s eight nominations, three are for original song. (The others came in art direction, costume design and sound mixing.)

Nada para Pedro
Longtime critical darling and Oscar favorite Pedro Almodovar was left out of the foreign-language category with “Volver,” his supernatural tale of strong women in a small Spanish town. The film’s star, Penelope Cruz, did score a best-actress nomination, though — the first for a Spanish actress. Almodovar was widely expected to be included in the category; his 1999 film “All About My Mother” won the foreign-language prize, and he also earned an Oscar for his original screenplay for 2002’s “Talk to Her.”

The Sept. 11 films
Paul Greengrass received a much deserved directing nomination for “United 93,” his harrowing, detailed docudrama about the hijacked flight that nose-dived into a Pennsylvania field. He took the spot that might have gone to Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris of “Little Miss Sunshine,” the only ones in the best-picture category who didn’t also get a nomination for best director. “United 93” also was recognized for its editing. Oliver Stone’s stirring “World Trade Center,” meanwhile, received no nominations despite his elaborate re-creation of ground zero and strong performances from Nicolas Cage, Michael Pena, Maria Bello and Maggie Gyllenhaal.

The return of Kelly Leak
Jackie Earle Haley, until recently best known for his role as bad-boy slugger Kelly Leak in the 1976 classic “The Bad News Bears,” has completed his comeback with a supporting-actor nomination for “Little Children.” Haley is chilling as a former sexual predator who returns to his hometown and sparks fear in suburbanites. He also appeared last year as a bloodless bodyguard in “All the King’s Men.”

Small films, big performances
A couple of Sundance favorites also found themselves among the Oscar nominees. Ryan Gosling, who did complex work as a drug-addicted junior high school teacher in the low-budget “Half Nelson,” received a best-actor nomination. And the independent darling “Little Miss Sunshine,” besides being honored among the best-picture and original-screenplay contenders, also earned supporting-actor nominations for adorable 10-year-old Abigail Breslin and Alan Arkin as a cantankerous grandfather.