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Aviator ahead in Oscar race

Los Angeles, Jan. 25 (Reuters): The Aviator, Martin Scorsese's epic film biography of Howard Hughes, bagged 11 Oscar nominations on Tuesday, beating out Clint Eastwood's boxing saga Million Dollar Baby and drama Finding Neverland, which received seven each.

All three films were nominated for best picture for the 77th annual Academy Awards, along with the Ray Charles biography Ray and comedy Sideways. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences President Frank Pierson called it the Academy's first 'horse race' in several years. 'It's wide open,' Pierson said.

Scorsese, the 63-year-old veteran who has never won an Oscar in six previous nominations, was nominated as best director for The Aviator.

He is vying against the 74-year-old Eastwood who was nominated both as best director and as best actor. Eastwood, the archetypal screen tough guy, has won an Oscar for best directing but never as an actor.

Ray received six nominations, including one for Jamie Foxx, who played soul legend Charles, as best actor. In a rare twist, Foxx was also nominated for his supporting role in crime drama Collateral opposite Tom Cruise.

No actor has won both accolades in the same year, but Foxx has received rave reviews for both performances.

The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson's religious drama, picked up three nominations outside the major award categories for cinematography, makeup and original score.

Michael Moore's anti-Bush documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, which the director had positioned as a best-picture contender, did not receive any Oscar nominations.

The other nominees for best actor were: Don Cheadle in Hotel Rwanda, Johnny Depp in Finding Neverland, and Leonardo DiCaprio in The Aviator.

Best actress nominations went to Annette Bening in Being Julia, Catalina Sandino Moreno in Maria Full of Grace, Imelda Staunton in Vera Drake, Hilary Swank in Million Dollar Baby and Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Sideways received five nominations, including one for best supporting actor for Thomas Haden Church and best supporting actress for Virginia Madsen. But Paul Giametti, the star of the movie, was not nominated for best actor ' a major surprise.

Other best director nominees were Taylor Hackford for Ray, Alexander Payne for Sideways, and British director Mike Leigh for abortion drama Vera Drake.

The nominees for best foreign-language film were Sweden's As It Is in Heaven, France's The Chorus, Germany's Downfall, The Sea Inside from Spain and South Africa's Yesterday.

It was the first nomination for a South African film. China's highly praised House of Flying Daggers did not make the foreign film list although it was nominated for best cinematography.

The Academy Awards will be presented on February 27 in a red-carpet ceremony in Los Angeles and broadcast live on the ABC television network.

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