Best-picture winner: Anyone’s guess

A workers sets up tents as a precaution against rain as preparations for the 79th annual Academy Awards continue at the Kodak Theatre, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2007, in Los Angeles. The Associated Press

AP

A workers sets up tents as a precaution against rain as preparations for the 79th annual Academy Awards continue at the Kodak Theatre, Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2007, in Los Angeles. The Associated Press

By The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) – The Academy Awards usually are like one of those high school popularity contests where all the other contenders show up, but there’s that one girl everybody just knows is going to be crowned prom queen.

This year, for the first time in longer than anyone can remember, the best-picture category is so wide open that any of the five films could come away with the big prize.

The main trophy for the 79th annual Oscars this Sunday is up for grabs among the far-flung ensemble drama “Babel,” the crime epic “The Departed,” the war story “Letters From Iwo Jima,”the road comedy “Little Miss Sunshine” and the British-royalty tale “The Queen.”

A final look at the five nominees going into the homestretch:

“BABEL”

A shot fired in the African desert wounds an American tourist and holds stinging repercussions for families in North America and Japan.

Anchored by great performances from Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett, “Babel” leads the field with seven nominations. It’s a heavy drama the academy has historically anointed as best picture.

“THE DEPARTED”

After going oh-for-five on past nominations, Martime Scorsese looks like a lock to win best director. With its ferocious action and macabre humor, “The Departed” may win best-picture.

Critics welcomed the film, but the sense among awards watchers is that “The Departed” falls a few notches below Scorsese’s other films.

“LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA”

The results of his career are in: Clint Eastwood can do anything.

His far-flung World War II saga “Flags of Our Father” was greeted with solid critical acclaim but relative indifference from audiences, who were not all that interested in the ambitious account of the raising of the U.S. flag at Iwo Jima.

“LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE”

This film holds many parallels to “Crash,” the surprise best-picture winner last year.

Both are low-budget ensemble flicks, “Crash” following a broad range of intersecting characters over a tumultuous day in Los Angeles, “Sunshine” focusing on a feuding family on the road trip from hell.

“THE QUEEN”

Director Stephen Frears delivers a movie about a British dame of a certain age.

Helen Mirren stars as the uppermost of the upper crust in the fiercely intelligent drama about Elizabeth II’s worst week, the aftermath of Princess Diana’s death and the criticism that the royal family bungled the period of national mourning.