In a year highlighted by real-life stories but filled with few surprises, his story on the life of eccentric US billionaire Howard Hughes received a total of 11 nominations including best picture, best actor and best director.

In 18 of the last 20 years, the film that enjoyed the most Oscar nominations went on to win the best picture statuette.

Tying for second place in Hollywood’s premier awards were “Finding Neverland,” the story of Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie, and Clint Eastwood’s drama “Million Dollar Baby”.

Each received seven nominations, including best picture.

37-year-old Jamie Foxx is the early favourite to win the best actor award, after winning an expected nomination for his acclaimed performance as blind soul legend Ray Charles in “Ray.”

Foxx won a second nod as best supporting actor for the Tom Cruise thriller “Collateral,” becoming only the 10th actor to be recognised in both categories in the same year.

He’s locked in a showdown for best supporting actor with Thomas Haden Church for “Sideways,” Alan Alda for “The Aviator,” Morgan Freeman for “Million Dollar Baby” and Britain’s Clive Owen for the sexual intrigue “Closer.”

Foxx’s toughest competition could come from heartthrob Leonardo DiCaprio, who won his first best actor nomination for his portrayal as the eccentric Hughes.

“The Aviator”, which cost US$110m to make, also saw the long-overlooked Martin Scorsese nominated as best director.

Scorsese has been nominated for a total of six Oscars in the past but has never won.

Australian Cate Blanchett is in the running for best supporting actress in her role as Katharine Hepburn.

The film also picked up nods for best cinematography, costume design, art direction, film editing, sound mixing and original screenplay.

Following “Aviator,” “Neverland” and “Million Dollar Baby” in the nomination stakes were “Ray,” with six nods, including best picture, best actor for Foxx and best director for Taylor Hackford; the bittersweet California road movie “Sideways,” with five, including best picture and best director for Alexander Payne; and Disney-Pixar’s animated “The Incredibles,” with four.

Four out of the five best actor nominees played real-life characters, including Foxx, DiCaprio, Johnny Depp as J.M. Barrie and Don Cheadle as hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina in the genocide drama “Hotel Rwanda.”

The only one to play a fictional character was veteran screen icon Clint Eastwood.

The 74-year-old, who plays a tough old boxing coach in “Million Dolalr Baby,” also won a best director nomination.

But Liam Neeson missed out on a nod for his role as a famed sexologist in “Kinsey”.

And “Sideways” star Paul Giamatti was also notably snubbed.

The competition is also strong for best actress.

Early favourites include previous Oscar-winner Hilary Swank, nominated this year for her role as a tragic female boxer in “Million Dollar Baby,” and Annette Bening for her portrayal of an aging actress in “Being Julia.”

They’re pitted against Britons Imelda Staunton, for the 1950s abortion saga “Vera Drake,” Kate Winslet, for “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” as well as Catalina Sandino Moreno, for the Spanish-language drug-running story “Maria Full of Grace.”

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