Paramount Vantage’s maiden release Babel leads the field heading into January’s 64th Golden Globe Awards with seven nominations, while Helen Mirren earned three acting nods, Leonardo DiCaprio picked up two, and Forest Whitaker kept his robust prospects alive with a nomination for The Last King Of Scotland.

Hollywood Foreign Press Association (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. Paramount Pictures led the studio pantheon with 15 nominations in total despite shut-outs for World Trade Center and Perfume, followed by Fox Filmed Entertainment with 14.

The inaugural animated film category features Warner Bros’ Happy Feet, Pixar’s Cars, and Sony’s Monster House.

DreamWorks’ Dreamgirls picked up five including comedy or musical actress for Beyonce Knowles and hotly tipped supporting stars Eddie Murphy and Jennifer Hudson.

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

Clint Eastwood led the director race with two mentions for Paramount/Warner Bros’ Flags Of Our Fathers and Warner Bros/DreamWorks’ Letters From Iwo Jima. Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto, released domestically through Buena Vista, was named among the foreign language nominees.

However the HFPA’s largesse only extended so far and there were several notable absentees from today’s announcement. Paul Greengrass failed to receive a nomination for United 93, which was shut out despite recently winning film of the year from the New York Film Critics Circle and director of the year from LA Critics. Robert De Niro’s epic The Good Shepherd failed to snare a single nomination, as did Steven Soderbergh’s The Good German. Dreamgirls director Bill Condon also failed to make the cut.

‘It’s incredible, an amazing moment,’ Helen Mirren said during a break from Christmas shopping in Farnham, England, where she is filming Inkheart. Speaking of her role as Elizabeth II in The Queen (she was also nominated twice in the mini-series or a motion picture made for television category for Elizabeth I and Prime Suspect: The Final Act), Mirren said: ‘Like the majority of people in Britain, I feel the monarchy is an icon.

We’re all very confused about our relationship to that institution, partly because it has such deep roots in our society. Taking all that on was intimidating. I would never have 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 who wasn’t an icon and I didn’t want to create a caricature or be sycophantic. I wanted you to be able to see through the institution to a person who was conflicted, vulnerable, powerful and flawed.’

Mirren will square up to Judi Dench for Notes On A Scandal in 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 am incredibly grateful that the HFPA has been able to see past my sinister deeds as the deliciously wicked Barbara Covett by acknowledging my work.

This is also recognition of Patrick Marber’s thrilling screenplay, Richard Eyre’s impeccable direction, the ever-astonishing Cate Blanchett and Bill Nighy, and our incredible cast and crew.’

Dramatic actor nominee Forest Whitaker worked hard researching his role as the notorious Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in The Last King Of Scotland. ‘Learning the accent and Swahili was important to me,’ Whitaker said. ‘I thought if I could trick my brain into thinking English was my second language that would be key.

‘I was always trying to understand what it would be like to be Ugandan, and it helped that we were able to film in the country. I’d seen Barbet Schroeder’s [1974] documentary about Amin and noticed how his thoughts would shift suddenly. He would be laughing but you could see him calculating underneath it all. It was important to bring that to this character.’

Whitaker’s fellow dramatic actor 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 a supporting actor nomination for Focus Features/Miramax Films’ Hollywoodland. ‘This exceeded what I hoped to achieve with the role, because it’s turned my career in a direction where I can get involved in more mature projects,’ Affleck said. ‘The role made me feel good about acting for the first time in a while and that was more than I had hoped for. It has been said that [George] Reeves didn’t have a single adult fan in his career and it tortured him, so it’s ironic that now he has a lot of adult fans and I think he would have liked that. The Golden Globes is a laid-back awards show and I’m pleased to be invited to the party and I think George would have liked to have been invited too.’

Babel director Inarritu said the film’s success rewarded years of hard work by a wide network of collaborators. ‘This has taken three years of my life and I feel like I’ve given away a liver. It’s an extension of myself and it was a great collaboration.’ Producer Steve Golin of Anonymous Content agreed: ‘We couldn’t be more happy. I scouted locations with Alejandro and going to all these different countries informed the movie we were making. You travel to all these places and it strikes you how similar we are, despite the differences in environment.’

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

Four Fox Filmed Entertainment films feature in the comedy or musical film category, including Fox 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 get it bought,’ Thank You For Smoking director Jason Reitman said. ‘Considering this was an independent movie and a satire about lobbying, what’s been wonderful is how accessible it has been to people. I’ve travelled the world with this and it’s made people laugh. To get this kind of reaction is unreal.’ Little Miss Sunshine co-director Jonathan Dayton understands the long slog. ‘There were four years when no-one wanted to make this movie and finally 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 can duplicate on our next film.’

Pan’s Labyrinth, which will be released in North America through Picturehouse, will contest the foreign language race with Letters From Iwo Jima, The Lives Of Others and Volver (both released through Sony Pictures Classics), and Apocalypto. ‘It’s like a coming together of all the things I’ve learned over the course of five films,’ director Guillermo del Toro said. ‘The whole thing took me three years from idea to getting it on screen and I’m very proud. This has the intimacy and esoteric nature of The Devil’s Backbone and Cronos, and the technical design considerations of Blade II and Hellboy. It feels good.’

Sacha Baron Cohen took the rare step of dropping out of character as he commented on the nominations for Borat. ‘I am extremely honoured,’ Baron Cohen said. ‘I’m very proud as well for my fellow writers as well as our director Larry Charles, and our producer Jay Roach, and am very thankful for the HFPA’s belief and acknowledgment of our film. I have been trying to let Borat know this great news but for the last four hours both of Kazakhstan’s telephones have been engaged. Eventually, Premier Nazarbayev answered and said he would pass on the message as soon as Borat returned from Iran, where he is guest of honour at the Holocaust Denial Conference.’