Gladiator, Hollywood's high-tech return to the glories of Rome, led the Academy Awards contenders announced in Beverly Hills on Tuesday with 12 nominations, including nods for best picture, actor and director.
Close behind Gladiator in the tally: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the Mandarin-language martial arts epic which drew 10 nominations, including for best picture and best director.
Other best-picture nominees include French romance Chocolat, the legal drama Erin Brockovich, and the gritty drug-war saga Traffic.
Steven Soderbergh received two directing nominations: for Erin Brockovich and Traffic. That's the first time that's happened since 1938, when Michael Curtiz had two best director bids. The other director nominees were Stephen Daldry for Billy Elliot, Ang Lee for Crouching Tiger and Ridley Scott for Gladiator.
Independent film producer Maureen Ryan (Wisconsin Death Trip) is disappointed by the Oscar nominations.
"I felt like last year was not a very good year for films and I think that it was mostly Hollywood formula films that got the majority of Oscar nods," Ryan told CBSNews.com's Justine Blau.
"Gladiator, Almost Famous, Erin Brokovitch got the bulk of everything," she said.
"This year there are only about five films someone can point to and say, 'These were great.' Twenty-five years ago that number would have been 15," said Ryan. "Where have all the great films gone?"
In Ryan's opinion, there were no worthwhile films to see during the entire summer. "It would have been awesome to have a female-friendly film and it would have cleaned up."
"They go from 'Gee, I want to see it' films to 'must-see' movies," said Oscar author Tom O'Neil of the five movies that are contending in the best-picture category. "If you want to play the Oscar game with friends and family, you have to see the films."
Gladiator, released in May, and Erin Brockovich, which came out last March, defied the notion that prestige films must hit theaters late in the year for Oscar consideration. With its Golden Globe for best drama and its probable dominance in technical categories, Gladiator may well emerge as the nominal front-runner.
Like Life Is Beautiful and Il Postino, Crouching Tiger broke the English barrier to score its best-picture nod.
For best actor, the nominees are Russell Crowe for Gladiator; Javier Bardem for Before Night Falls, a film biography of Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas; Tom Hanks as a man stranded on an island in Cast Away; Ed Harris for Pollock, a film biography of abstract painter Jackson Pollock; and Geoffrey Rush as the asylum-bound Marquis de Sade in Quills.
Hanks has won two Oscars, and Rush has one. Past Oscar-winner Michael Douglas was shut out for a best-actor nod for the film Wonder Boys.
For best actress, the nominees are Joan Allen as an embattled vice-presidential nominee in The Contender; Juliette Binoche as an itinerant chocolatier in Chocolat; Ellen Burstyn as a diet-pill addict in Requiem for a Dream; Laura Linney as a sibling coping with her ne'er-do-well brother in You Can Count On Me; and Julia Roberts as a tart-tounged legal aide in Erin Brockovich.
Binoche and Burstyn are past Oscar winners. Snubbed for a best-actress nod was Icelandic pop singer Bjork, who made her film debuin the dark musical Dancer in the Dark. Bjork did score a nomination for best song, I've Seen It All, which she co-wrote.
Supporting actor slots went to Joaquin Phoenix for Gladiator, Jeff Bridges as a flamboyant president in The Contender; Willem Dafoe as the undead Nosferatu in Shadow of the Vampire; Benicio Del Toro as a Mexican drug cop in Traffic; and Albert Finney as a pugnacious attorney in Erin Brockovich.
For supporting actress, the nominees are Judi Dench as a cranky grandmother in Chocolat; Marcia Gay Harden as the painter's wife in Pollock; Kate Hudson as a '70s rock disciple and Frances McDormand as an obsessive mother in Almost Famous; and Julie Walters as a disillusioned ballet teacher in Billy Elliot.
Dench and McDormand both have won Oscars.
The best song category was heavy on big names, including Bob Dylan for Things Have Changed from Wonder Boys. Other nominees included Sting and David Hartley for My Funny Friend and Me from The Emperor's New Groove and Randy Newman for A Fool in Love from Meet the Parents.
Nominees in most of the 23 Oscar categories are chosen by specific branches of the 5,300-member academy, such as actors, directors and film editors. Contenders in some categories, including documentaries and foreign-language films, are selected by special committees.
All academy members were allowed to vote for best-picture nominees. The full academy also is eligible to vote in all categories for the awards themselves.
The Oscars will be presented March 25 at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. Steve Martin will be host for the ceremony, taking over from Billy Crystal, who has been emcee for seven of the last eight Oscar shows.
Dino De Laurentiis, whose credits include Hannibal and Serpico, will receive the Irving G. Thalberg award, which is presented to producers whose work reflects "consistently high quality."
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