Hackford said "Ray's" six nominations were a "sweet vindication" of his 15-year quest. "We made a film that didn't have a distributor. I finished the picture and showed it, and it was still turned down. My point is you have to become obsessed with your material and you have to prove them wrong."
Obsession also governed the making of "The Aviator," one of nine Hughes movies that were once on the drawing boards. "There were a lot of impediments to getting this made," said Michael Mann, one of "Aviator's" producers. "It's not a slam-dunk: It's not walking out there with a perfect screenplay for 'Spider-Man 2.' "
King, another "Aviator" producer, previously collaborated with Scorsese on 2002's "Gangs of New York," a sprawling historical drama that went wildly over schedule and budget. Rather than head toward safer waters, King immediately reunited with Scorsese and "Gangs" star DiCaprio for the $116-million Hughes saga.
"I got a lot of phone calls saying, 'You've lost it. You're madder than Howard Hughes,' " King said. "But when Marty read the screenplay, he said, 'This is old Hollywood. We're going back 30 years to the old classics.' "
In all likelihood, "The Aviator" and "Finding Neverland" will mark the Academy Award swansong for Miramax Films under its founders, Bob and Harvey Weinstein. The brothers, whose company aggressively changed how award season campaigns are conducted, are expected to leave Disney-owned Miramax in the coming weeks to form their own production company.
As is inevitable in any Oscar race, there were several major surprises and oversights. Critical favorite Paul Giamatti, who starred as the wine-swilling novelist in "Sideways," was not nominated for best actor. And Javier Bardem's much-praised performance as the quadriplegic at the center of "The Sea Inside" also was bypassed.
There were several upsets among those nominated for best director. "Finding Neverland's" Marc Forster was not among the nominees, even though the film is in the running for best picture.
"I was really disappointed about that. When a film is nominated for seven awards and the man at the center isn't nominated, it is really disappointing," said the film's nominated screenwriter, David Magee.
Alejandro Amenabar, who both directed and co-wrote "The Sea Inside," was not nominated in either category, although the film was selected to compete for best foreign-language feature.
"Kinsey," the drama about sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, was considered a possible nominee in several top categories, including best picture and best actor for Liam Neeson. The film collected but one nomination, best supporting actress, for Laura Linney.
"You just feel emotionally awkward," Linney said. "I owe half of my nomination to Liam, and half of my nomination" to writer-director Bill Condon.
Although it was not expected to draw any top nominations, Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" did collect three technical selections, including cinematography. Michael Moore's equally divisive "Fahrenheit 9/11" was blanked; the filmmaker gambled in bypassing the documentary feature category in a bid for best picture.
Conversely, there were several people who received unanticipated nominations. At the top of that list was English filmmaker Leigh, who was honored for both directing and writing "Vera Drake." The film also collected a predicted nomination for best actress for its star, Staunton.
Along with Foxx and Freeman, the supporting actor nominees were "Aviator's" Alan Alda, "Sideways" costar Thomas Haden Church and "Closer's" Clive Owen. Besides Okonedo and Linney, the supporting actress picks were Natalie Portman from "Closer," "Aviator's" Cate Blanchett and Virginia Madsen from "Sideways."
Unlike last year's awards, which crowned global blockbuster "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" with 11 statuettes, there is no huge box-office hit among the best picture selections.
"Ray" is the highest-grossing of the five, with more than $73 million in ticket sales. But two of the year's biggest hits, "Shrek 2" and "The Incredibles," were named in the animated feature category. "The Incredibles" also was nominated for original screenplay and two sound awards.
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Career nominations: 3
As Julia Lambert, an aging British theater actress treading the boards in the late 1930s, the 46-year-old actress picks up her second nomination in this category. The native of Topeka, Kan., and mother of four made her film debut in the 1988 John Candy comedy "The Great Outdoors" and is married to Warren Beatty. She has also become a recurring visitor to the Oscar red carpet, earning nominations for best actress for 1999's "American Beauty" and for supporting actress in 1990's "The Grifters." She won the Golden Globe for best actress in a musical, as well as being voted best actress by the National Board of Review and the Southeastern Film Critics Assn.
Catalina Sandino Moreno
"Maria Full of Grace"
Career nominations: 1