Oscar Nominations Announced

Steven Soderbergh became the first director in 63 years to earn two Best Director Oscar nominations, receiving nods for Traffic and Erin Brockovich as Hollywood prepared to honor the best of 2000.

Oscar nominations were handed down this morning in Beverly Hills. The 73rd Academy Awards ceremony will air March 25 on ABC-TV.

Soderbergh's two entries also garnered Best Picture nominations and will compete in that all-important category against Chocolat, Gladiator and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Gladiator, Hollywood's first Roman epic since the 1960s, led all contenders with 12 nominations, including nods for actor Russell Crowe and supporting actor Joaquin Phoenix.

The martial arts saga Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was close behind with 10 nominations, including one for director Ang Lee. The movie, which is in Mandarin, also became the third foreign-language film to score a Best Picture nomination.

The achievement comes as the Taiwanese film reaches another milestone — topping the list as the best-grossing foreign film. Variety reports Crouching Tiger hit $60.3 million at the domestic box office this past weekend, surpassing Oscar winner Life Is Beautiful's record $57.6 million. Tiger also broke Life Is Beautiful's record for the most Oscar nominations given to a foreign film.

Surprise Nomination for Harris

The last time a director received a double nomination was in 1938, when Michael Curtiz was nominated for Angels With Dirty Faces and Four Daughters. Neither film won.

Soderbergh and Lee will compete against Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot) and Ridley Scott (Gladiator).

Crowe was nominated for Best Actor last year for The Insider, but lost to Kevin Spacey. This year he faces competition that is sure to challenge the Roman warrior. Two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks was nominated yet again for his performance as a man stranded on a Pacific Ocean island in Cast Away.

Some Oscar watchers were surprised by the nomination of Ed Harris, who plays abstract painter Jackson Pollock in the critically acclaimed Pollock. The film came out in December in New York and Los Angeles and remains in limited release.

Also nominated: Javier Bardem, who portrayed Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas in Before Night Falls, and Geoffrey Rush, who plays the asylum-bound Marquis de Sade in Quills.

The Best Actress nominees are Joan Allen, who plays a scandal-plagued vice-presidential nominee in The Contender; Juliette Binoche as a love-conjuring confectioner in Chocolat; Ellen Burstyn in Requiem for a Dream; Laura Linney in You Can Count On Me; and Julia Roberts in Erin Brockovich.

Roberts' onscreen legal mentor, Albert Finney, received a Supporting Actor nomination. He'll face Phoenix, who plays the underhanded Roman Emperor Commodus in Gladiator.

Also in the running are Jeff Bridges, the Clintonesque president in The Contender; Benicio Del Toro, the Mexican narcotics officer in Traffic; and Willem Dafoe in Shadow of the Vampire.

Double Support for Almost Famous

Director Cameron Crowe's Golden Globe-winning Almost Famous failed to get a Best Picture nomination. But the film received two Best Supporting Actress nominations, for Frances McDormand and Kate Hudson.

McDormand plays a domineering mother who reluctantly lets her teenage son follow a hard-driving 1970s rock band around the country to pursue his dream of becoming a Rolling Stone journalist. Hudson portrays the groupie who becomes his companion.

The two actresses faced off in the Golden Globe competition a few weeks ago, with Hudson walking away with the acting prize.

Other supporting actress nominees: Marcia Gay Harden, as the painter's wife in Pollock; Julie Walters, the inspirational ballet teacher in Billy Elliot; and Judi Dench for her work in Chocolat.

Hollywood's Super Bowl

The show considered the Super Bowl of awards shows will be seen around the world with presenters including Anthony Hopkins, Jennifer Lopez, Kevin Spacey, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Nicolas Cage.

The Song of the Year category is packed with some big names. Among the nominees are veterans Bob Dylan, Sting and Icelandic pop singer Björk, each enjoying their first Oscar nominations. Viewers can only hope that at least some of these music legends will agree to perform at the ceremony.

Steve Martin will host the festivities, replacing longtime leader Billy Crystal, who said he was too busy to prepare for the job this year. Martin has appeared in more than two dozen films — including Father of the Bride and The Jerk — yet has never been nominated by the academy.

"If you can't win 'em, join 'em," Martin said in a statement in December announcing his selection as Academy Awards emcee.

Last year, American Beauty swept the majority of the most closely watched prizes at the 72nd Academy Awards, winning Oscars for Best Actor, Director and Picture.

No matter who wins, the Oscar organizers are hoping for a smoother nominating process this time around. Last year, 55 Oscars were stolen and later found in a Dumpster. Organizers also had to send out 4,200 duplicate ballots after a first batch of ballots was lost in the mail.

In Chicago, the company that makes the statuettes is ahead of schedule. The R.S. Owens Company, which has been manufacturing the Oscars for 18 years, has crafted 55 brand new statues.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awards Oscars in 23 categories. All of the 5,300 academy members vote for the Best Picture nominees. Special committees are called on to decide the nominees in some categories, such as documentaries and foreign-language films.

For the awards themselves, the full Academy also is eligible to vote.