If this year's Oscar nominations are a gauge of contemporary cinema, today's film-makers are apparently preoccupied with the dark side of the human soul - whether it be the unadulterated evil of the assassin in No Country For Old Men or the rotten heart of the oil magnate in There Will Be Blood, the murderous corruption of corporate America in Michael Clayton or war's poisonous murder of love in Atonement.

That's not to mention the power of revenge in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street, the savagery of conflict in In The Valley Of Elah, the ruthlessness of crime in Eastern Promises or the devastation of disease in Away From Her.

If not for the warm humanity of Juno, the good humour of Ratatouille or the uplifting story of courage The Diving Bell And The Butterfly, this would be a relentlessly bleak year at the Oscars, perhaps reflecting the mood of the world today as the Bush administration enters its final year in office.

Voters too were choosing darker films at the expense of the feelgood ones. Ignored entirely by Academy voters were Hairspray, Knocked Up and The Great Debaters, which all offered sunnier outcomes than the wretched denouements of No Country For Old Men, There Will Be Blood or Atonement.

On an industry note, the Oscar nominations this year offer a clear demonstration the studios' classics divisions are now delivering awards prestige to their parent companies, as they were intended to do. Post-Weinstein Miramax Films led the pack this year with 21 nominations, followed by two-year-old Paramount Vantage with 19. Also figuring highly were Universal's Focus Features and Fox Searchlight.

The main divisions of the studios themselves were less successful. Universal did not make much impression with American Gangster or Charlie Wilson's War, the Paramount/Warner musical Sweeney Todd stumbled with just three nominations and only Warner Bros had a significant winner with Michael Clayton (to which it holds domestic rights only). But then again, Warner's specialty arm, Warner Independent Pictures, is less prolific than its peers at other studios, notching up just one nod this year for Tommy Lee Jones' performance in In The Valley Of Elah .

The Academy continued to generate controversy for its foreign-language category, somehow managing to block out the best foreign language films of the year whether by its arcane rules or restrictive selection process.

4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days; The Diving Bell And The Butterfly; Lust, Caution; The Band's Visit, Persepolis and La Vie En Rose were all omitted, leaving the chair of the foreign-language committee Mark Johnson to declare recently that the omissions were 'embarrassing'.

Widespread media criticism of the procedure could prompt an overhaul of the category in future years.

With the links below, Screen Internationalhighlights several major categories this year, looking at the key nominees that will be vying for Academy Awards on Sunday.

Best Picture

Best Director

Best Actor

Best Actress

Best Supporting Actress

Best Supporting Actor

Best Adapted Screenplay

Best Original Screenplay

Foreign-Language Feature

Documentary And Shorts