Paramount Vantage's maidenrelease Babel leads the fieldheading into January's 64th Golden Globe Awards with seven nominations, whileHelen Mirren earned three acting nods, Leonardo DiCaprio picked up two, andForest Whitaker kept his robust prospects alive with a nomination for TheLast King Of Scotland.

Hollywood Foreign PressAssociation (HFPA) voters spread their goodwill far and wide this year,rewarding 10 films with at least two mentions each. The Departed earned six nominations including best drama,dramatic actor for DiCaprio and director for Martin Scorsese. ParamountPictures led the studio pantheon with 15 nominations in total despite shut-outsfor World Trade Center and Perfume, followed by Fox Filmed Entertainment with 14.

The inaugural animated filmcategory features Warner Bros' Happy Feet, Pixar's Cars, and Sony'sMonster House.

DreamWorks' Dreamgirls picked up five including comedy or musical actressfor Beyonce Knowles and hotly tipped supporting stars Eddie Murphy and JenniferHudson.

Pathe's The Queen earned four nods including dramatic actress forMirren and director for Stephen Frears, while Fox's Borat earned two nominations for best comedy or musicaland best male performance for Sacha Baron Cohen.

Clint Eastwood led thedirector race with two mentions for Paramount/Warner Bros' Flags Of OurFathers and Warner Bros/DreamWorks' LettersFrom Iwo Jima. Mel Gibson's Apocalypto, released domestically through Buena Vista, wasnamed among the foreign language nominees.

However the HFPA's largesseonly extended so far and there were several notable absentees from today'sannouncement. Paul Greengrass failed to receive a nomination for United 93, which was shut out despite recently winning film ofthe year from the New York Film Critics Circle and director of the year from LACritics. Robert De Niro's epic The Good Shepherd failed to snare a single nomination, as did StevenSoderbergh's The Good German. Dreamgirlsdirector Bill Condon also failed tomake the cut.

"It's incredible, anamazing moment," Helen Mirren said during a break from Christmas shoppingin Farnham, England, where she is filming Inkheart. Speaking of her role as Elizabeth II in TheQueen (she was also nominated twicein the mini-series or a motion picture made for television category for ElizabethI and Prime Suspect: The FinalAct), Mirren said: "Like themajority of people in Britain, I feel the monarchy is an icon. We're all veryconfused about our relationship to that institution, partly because it has suchdeep roots in our society. Taking all that on was intimidating. I would neverhave done it if I hadn't thought the script by Peter Morgan was so remarkable,even-handed and poetic. I was hoping to put on the screen a human being whowasn't an icon and I didn't want to create a caricature or be sycophantic. Iwanted you to be able to see through the institution to a person who wasconflicted, vulnerable, powerful and flawed."

Mirren will square up toJudi Dench for Notes On A Scandalin the dramatic actress stakes, as well as Maggie Gyllenhaal for Sherrybaby, Kate Winslet for Little Children, and Penelope Cruz for Volver. Dench was in playful mood when she said: "I amincredibly grateful that the HFPA has been able to see past my sinister deedsas the deliciously wicked Barbara Covett by acknowledging my work. This is alsorecognition of Patrick Marber's thrilling screenplay, Richard Eyre's impeccabledirection, the ever-astonishing Cate Blanchett and Bill Nighy, and ourincredible cast and crew."

Dramatic actor nomineeForest Whitaker worked hard researching his role as the notorious Ugandandictator Idi Amin in The Last King Of Scotland. "Learning the accent and Swahili was importantto me," Whitaker said. "I thought if I could trick my brain intothinking English was my second language that would be key. I was always tryingto understand what it would be like to be Ugandan, and it helped that we wereable to film in the country. I'd seen Barbet Schroeder's [1974] documentaryabout Amin and noticed how his thoughts would shift suddenly. He would belaughing but you could see him calculating underneath it all. It was importantto bring that to this character."

Whitaker's fellow dramaticactor nominees are DiCaprio for The Departed and Blood Diamond, Peter O'Toole for Venus, and Will Smith for The Pursuit Of Happyness.

Ben Affleck earned asupporting actor nomination for Focus Features/Miramax Films' Hollywoodland. "This exceeded what I hoped to achieve withthe role, because it's turned my career in a direction where I can get involvedin more mature projects," Affleck said. "The role made me feel goodabout acting for the first time in a while and that was more than I had hopedfor. It has been said that [George] Reeves didn't have a single adult fan inhis career and it tortured him, so it's ironic that now he has a lot of adultfans and I think he would have liked that. The Golden Globes is a laid-backawards show and I'm pleased to be invited to the party and I think George wouldhave liked to have been invited too."

Babel director Inarritu said the film's success rewardedyears of hard work by a wide network of collaborators. "This has takenthree years of my life and I feel like I've given away a liver. It's anextension of myself and it was a great collaboration." Producer SteveGolin of Anonymous Content agreed: "We couldn't be more happy. I scoutedlocations with Alejandro and going to all these different countries informedthe movie we were making. You travel to all these places and it strikes you howsimilar we are, despite the differences in environment."

Bobby producer Holly Weirsma got involved on the projectin late 2005 around the time they were pulling down The Ambassador Hotel in LosAngeles, where Bobby Kennedy was assassinated. "I called Emilio [Estevez]and told him I had to be involved," Weirsma said. "I admire whatBobby Kennedy stood for. I wanted to help show people what kind of leader hewas, so people would consider this when they vote. We actually managed to filmsome scenes in the actual hotel as they were destroying it and if we'd had awide shot in some of these scenes you'd have seen the bulldozers tearing downthe hotel."

Four Fox FilmedEntertainment films feature in the comedy or musical film category, includingFox Searchlight's Thank You For Smoking and Little Miss Sunshine."I was thrilled to just get the film made, then I was thrilled to just getit bought," Thank You For Smoking director Jason Reitman said. "Considering this was an independentmovie and a satire about lobbying, what's been wonderful is how accessible ithas been to people. I've travelled the world with this and it's made peoplelaugh. To get this kind of reaction is unreal." Little Miss Sunshine co-director Jonathan Dayton understands the longslog. "There were four years when no-one wanted to make this movie andfinally Valerie [Faris, co-director] and I get it made and this happens -it's amazing. This was a wonderful convergence of talent that I hope we canduplicate on our next film."

Pan's Labyrinth, which will be released in North America throughPicturehouse, will contest the foreign language race with Letters From IwoJima, The Lives Of Others and Volver (both released through Sony Pictures Classics), and Apocalypto. "It's like a coming together of all the thingsI've learned over the course of five films," director Guillermo del Torosaid. "The whole thing took me three years from idea to getting it onscreen and I'm very proud. This has the intimacy and esoteric nature of TheDevil's Backbone and Cronos, and the technical design considerations of BladeII and Hellboy. It feels good."

Sacha Baron Cohen took therare step of dropping out of character as he commented on the nominations for Borat. "I am extremely honoured," Baron Cohensaid. "I'm very proud as well for my fellow writers as well as ourdirector Larry Charles, and our producer Jay Roach, and am very thankful forthe HFPA's belief and acknowledgment of our film. I have been trying to letBorat know this great news but for the last four hours both of Kazakhstan'stelephones have been engaged. Eventually, Premier Nazarbayev answered and saidhe would pass on the message as soon as Borat returned from Iran, where he isguest of honour at the Holocaust Denial Conference."