Who will get Oscar noms for Best Picture? -- ''Dreamgirls,'' ''The Departed,'' and ''Babel'' lead the pack

By Dave Karger
Updated January 12, 2007 at 05:00 AM EST

There are two locks in this category, and they have nothing in common except the letter D. First, Martin Scorsese’s brash and violent cop saga The Departed has critics comparing it to the director’s best brash and violent films of the past. And Bill Condon’s vibrant, sassy Dreamgirls, long considered the front-runner, may have taken a few hits recently (no early critics-award victories, for instance), but it did make the short lists for the Producers Guild, Directors Guild, and Screen Actors Guild prizes. That, combined with its strong box office and superb technical credentials, means it’s a sure thing here.

That leaves three spots — and five films fighting for them. Helen Mirren’s turn as Elizabeth II has garnered The Queen lots of attention, but, just as Capote scored a Best Picture nod last year, voters are likely to view the film as an impressive overall achievement as well. Babel, meanwhile, seems to have as many detractors as it does ardent supporters, but its fan club may be enough to push it in. And with its inclusion on every top-tier award list so far (not to mention its fab sleeper box office), Little Miss Sunshine has become the underdog contender of the year…and the Oscars love a little movie that could.

So what gets left out? Potentially United 93, the film that’s racked up the most critics’ Best Picture awards (nine so far) but runs the risk of being too frightening for some voters to watch and too brutal for those who do. Another critical smash, Letters From Iwo Jima, is hampered by its last-minute release and possible vote-splitting with Clint Eastwood’s other WWII film, Flags of Our Fathers, but support for Eastwood and the movie’s subject matter mean it has the best shot at displacing one of its competitors.

As for the real long shots, the adult dramas Little Children and Notes on a Scandal will likely make their mark in the acting and screenplay categories, while the sharp comedies The Devil Wears Prada and Thank You for Smoking stand to lose out to their more serious competition. Blood Diamond boasts that Oscar-friendly combo of an emotional punch and political relevance but has taken a backseat to Leonardo DiCaprio’s other film, The Departed. Late entries Pan’s Labyrinth and Children of Men won glowing reviews but have a better shot in the Best Director race. And despite surprise nods at the Golden Globes and the SAG Awards, the tepidly received ensemble drama Bobby is still the darkest horse of all.

For Your Consideration

Doomsday visions rarely get tapped for Best Picture. But Children of Men, adapted from P.D. James’ novel, deserves to make the cut. Set in a future England where global infertility has led to a locked-down police state, it makes the end of civility feel nightmarishly real with swirling camera moves, unsettling offscreen rumbles, and sudden, ghastly violence — all leavened with just enough hope amid the despair.