It was a bonanza for"independent" film as the 75th annual Academy Awardnominations were unveiled this morning at the Academy headquarters in BeverlyHills, California. Paramount Pictures was the only old-style Hollywood studiowith a Best Picture Oscar nomination this year, and that - for The Hours- was shared with Miramax Films. Indeed, Miramax - the WeinsteinBrothers' Disney-owned specialized outfit - had a field day, scoringan incredible 40 nominations.

Miramax's hit musical Chicago led the way with 13 nominations including bestpicture, director (Rob Marshall), actress (Renee Zellweger), supporting actor(John C Reilly), two in the supporting actress category (Catherine Zeta-Jones,Queen Latifah) and adapted screenplay (Bill Condon). Richard Gere who won aGolden Globe recently for his performance in the film was omitted from the bestactor category.

Meanwhile Miramax haddomestic rights on Gangs Of New York, the Martin Scorsese-directed epic which came in with a powerful tennominations including best picture and Scorsese's fourth for director. The film, which wasfinanced by Initial Entertainment Group (IEG) with Miramax, also took actor(Daniel Day-Lewis) and screenplay nominations as well as a slew of technicalnods.

And The Hours, which was produced by Paramount-based Scott Rudinbut co-financed by Paramount and Miramax, scored nine nominations includingpicture, director for Stephen Daldry (his second Oscar nomination for hissecond film), actress (Nicole Kidman), supporting actor (Ed Harris), supportingactress (Julianne Moore) and adapted screenplay (David Hare).

For Moore it was a doublewhammy, since she was also nominated in the best actress category for FarFrom Heaven, although Kidman andMoore's Hours co-star MerylStreep had to content herself with a supporting actress nod for Adaptation. That nomination - her 13th -makes her the most nominated actor in Academy history.

Nor was Michael Caine doingtoo badly, with his sixth nomination for Intermedia's The QuietAmerican - another filmdistributed in the US and other territories by Miramax. In fact it was a strongmorning for Intermedia, which owns IEG, winning a total of 15 nominations for Gangs,Adaptation and Caine.

Perhaps the biggest triumphfor independent film was the Academy's acknowledgment of Spain'sPedro Almodovar in both the director and screenplay categories for Talk ToHer. A strong indication thatAlmodovar is probably the world's most celebrated working film-maker, thenominations are a bittersweet win for Spain's film industry which snubbedAlmodovar's hit film first by not selecting it for the foreign languagefilm category and second by overlooking it in the recent Goyas. The film Spaindid select for both local kudos - Mondays In The Sun - failed to score a foreign language Oscarnod.

Another foreign-languagetriumph was in the best original screenplay category. Brothers Alfonso andCarlos Cuaron were nominated for Y Tu Mama Tambien, a box office hit last year in the US but a filmwhich was overlooked in 2001 by Mexico as its submission for the foreignlanguage category. It is the first time since 1976 that two nonEnglish-language screenplays have been nominated. In that year, Cousin,Cousine and Seven Beauties were the nominees. Neither won.

The actual nominees in theforeign language category were, as always, somewhat surprising. CarolineLink's popular Nowhere In Africa from Germany, Zhang Yimou's epic Hero from China, and Aki Kaurismaki's The ManWithout A Past from Finland wereperhaps to be expected, but Carlos Carrera's The Crime Of Father Amaro from Mexico and Paula Van Der Oest's Zus & Zo from The Netherlands were unconventional choices.

The Kaurismaki nominationwas the first ever Oscar nomination for a Finnish film. Hero marked the second nomination for China afterZhang's 1990 film Ju Dou, FatherAmaro was Mexico's sixthnomination (Amores Perros was thelast in 2000), as was Zus & Zofor The Netherlands (Character was the last nominee - and winner -in 1997), while Nowhere In Africais the fourth nomination for Germany and the first since Link's BeyondSilence in 1997.

Another European triumph wasThe Pianist, RomanPolanski's Holocaust drama which scored six nominations in totalincluding best picture, director, actor (Adrien Brody) and adapted screenplay.The film, which won the Palme d'Or at Cannes last year, marks a return toform and favour for Polanski who has been nominated for best director twicebefore (Chinatown in 1974 and Tess in 1980). It is, of course, unlikely that Polanskiwill attend the Oscar ceremony itself on March 23. The Pianist was financed by the troubled French movie giantStudioCanal, although world sales have now been taken over by sister companyFocus Features.

Meanwhile New LineCinema's The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers triumphed with a best picture nominationamong its six nods this year - a stunning achievement for a sequel andone which bodes well for the third film in the trilogy The Return Of TheKing which will be eligible nextyear. New Line's About Schmidt fared less well than expected, missing out in picture, director andscreenplay categories and taking only two acting nominations for Jack Nicholson(best actor) and Kathy Bates (best supporting actress). For Nicholson, it was his 12thnomination - the most of any male actor in history, although his Ironweed and Heartburn co-star Streep is still one ahead.

While Spike Jonze's Adaptation was omittedfrom picture and director categories, its screenwriters Donald &Charlie Kaufman scored a nomination as did actors Nicolas Cage, Chris Cooperand Meryl Streep. Since Donald Kaufman doesn't exist, the Academy hasalready decreed that should Adaptation win in the adapted screenplay category, only one statuette will beawarded.

In the animated filmcategory, five films made the shortlist as opposed to three in thecategory's inaugural year last year. Disney scored three nominations- for its productions Lilo & Stitch and Treasure Planet as well as for its presentation of HayaoMiyazaki's Japanese smash Spirited Away, while DreamWorks was nominated for Spirit:Stallion Of The Cimarron and Fox forits CGI animated Ice Age.

Other multiple nominees wereMiramax's Frida which hadsix nominations including best actress for Salma Hayek (although her co-star Alfred Molina was overlooked), andDreamWorks/Fox's Road To Perdition which also had six including best supporting actor for Paul Newman (hisninth) and best cinematography for the late Conrad Hall.

Composer John Williamsnotched up his 42nd scoring nomination for Catch Me If You Can, one short of the all-time music record of 43 byAlfred Newman. Newcomers to Oscar nominations in the music categories includePaul Simon, U2 and Eminem for their orignal songs from The Wild ThornberrysMovie, Gangs Of New York and 8 Mile respectively.

Michael Moore's BowlingFor Columbine, which was an outsiderfor a maverick best picture nomination, still made the final five for bestdocumentary feature alongside Daughter From Danang, Prisoner Of Paradise,Spellbound and France's WingedMigration - another nomineefrom producer Jacques Perrin who produced 1999's best foreign languagefilm nominee Himalaya - L'Enfance D'Un Chef aka Caravan.

Studios which faredwell behind Miramax were Focus Features with 15 (including Talk To Her, Hero and Y Tu Mama for which it had international rights), DreamWorks with 11, Paramount and20th Century Fox with 10, New Line Cinema with eight, and SonyPictures and Sony Pictures Classics with eight (four apiece). Disney had threenominations, while Universal had two, Warner Bros had one and United Artistsscored one for MGM. IFC Films, the recently formed theatrical distribution unitof The Independent Film Channel, won two nominations for original screenplayfor Y Tu Mama and for first-timenominee Nia Vardalos for My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

And unusually two studiochiefs scored nominations. Harvey Weinstein notched up his second producingnomination for Gangs Of New York - he won in 1998 for Shakespeare In Love, while Jeffrey Katzenberg was nominated for hisproducing work on Spirit.