Mendes film debut `American Beauty' and Kevin Spacey top Golden Globe nominees

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AMERICAN BEAUTY, the startling film debut of wunderkind British theatre director Sam Mendes, topped the list of nominees for the Golden Globe movie awards yesterday, earning six mentions including best dramatic film, best director, best screenplay, best actor (Kevin Spacey) and best actress (Annette Bening).

The film, a dark exploration of life and family relations in the American suburbs, which is yet to be released in Britain, has attracted almost unanimously enthusiastic reviews since its release in the United States in September. It has also featured prominently in critics' end-of-year lists.

It was closely followed in the Golden Globe nominations list by two other highly acclaimed dramas. They are The Insider (five nominations), Michael Mann's gripping account of how a former tobacco-industry executive was induced to blow the whistle on his company on the CBS news magazine Sixty Minutes only to be betrayed by the corporate and legal interests behind the programme, and The Talented Mr Ripley (four), British writer-director Anthony Minghella's adaptation of the Patricia Highsmith novel about a charming sociopath wheedling his way into expat high society.

The Insider was nominated for best dramatic film, best director, best screenplay and best actor for Russell Crowe, the Australian leading man who plays the whistle-blower, Jeffrey Wigand.

The Talented Mr Ripley, which is being released in the United States next week, was nominated for best film, best director and best actor for Matt Damon, who plays Ripley. It is Mr Minghella's first project since sweeping the Oscars three years ago for his adaptation of Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient.

The Golden Globes receive widespread attention because the awards ceremony on 23 January, which precedes the Oscars, is generally lavish and broadcast live on US network television. They are, however, the preserve of the so-called Hollywood Foreign Press Association, an 80-strong clique of freelance journalists and their friends whose credentials have been increasingly questioned in recent years.

While the main nominated titles generally went with the flow of the critical tide, some of the secondary choices were likely to raise eyebrows. Old favourites of the group such as Jim Carrey (who appears in Milos Forman's Man on the Moon) and Sharon Stone (The Muse) received nominations in the comic acting categories. The British comedy Notting Hill was nominated for best comedy, best comic actor (Hugh Grant) and best comic actress (Julia Roberts) - a degree of adulation that puts the Foreign Press Association out on something of a limb, even if it is a flattering tribute to the British film industry.

Other British-flavoured nominations included best dramatic film for The End of the Affair, Neil Jordan's adaptation of Graham Greene's story, starring Ralph Fiennes and Julianne Moore. Jordan, who is Irish, was also nominated best director and Ms Moore best dramatic actress.

The fifth title in the best dramatic film category was Hurricane, Norman Jewison's telling of the true story of Rubin Carter, the would-be boxing champion wrongly imprisoned for murder in New Jersey. Previously the subject of a Bob Dylan song, it stars Denzel Washington, who received a best acting nod. The film has yet to be released.