It is probably the most shocking omission from the Best Picture race this decade. But in a strange way, maybe we should have seen it coming.

Since the beginning of this year, “Dreamgirls” had all the hype. Perhaps too much. After a 20 minute clip was screened at Cannes, it was prohibitively declared the favorite to win Best Picture. If you study past years, you’ll realize there is frequently a backlash against heavy favorites. Of course, usually the backlack occurs AFTER the nominations are announced. But every year is different.

Remember, the National Board of Review awards, the first major precursor award of the year? Which film was noticeably absent from their top ten list? Yup, that’s right. “Dreamgirls.” Next go on to the Golden Globe nominations. Sure, most people will remember that “Dreamgirls” walked away with the Best Picture (Musical/Comedy) prize, but there was something else more subtle that didn’t get as much attention. “Dreamgirls” director Bill Condon was passed over in the Best Director’s category. That’s an enormous sign of weakness, especially coming from a prestigious group like the Hollywood Foreign Press.

Finally, something was definitely amiss when the PGA chose “Little Miss Sunshine” over “Dreamgirls.” Previous musicals “Moulin Rouge” and “Chicago” both won the PGA, so why not “Dreamgirls?” Clearly, there was a lack of support for this film among inner circles.

So why didn’t “Dreamgirls” click with Academy voters? It seemed to have everything going for it. Extravagant production. Star-studded cast. Emotional, uplifting story. Here are a few theories.

1. The Oscar balloting system killed it.

In the weighted balloting system, a film with a small, passionate group of supporters fares better than a film that is widely respected, but not loved. It could be argued that all five of the other Best Picture nominees had their strong bases of support. Scorsese and Eastwood admirers obviously exist in great numbers. “Little Miss Sunshine” and “Babel” attract the indie crowd, and “The Queen” lures in older, more conservative Academy members. “Dreamgirls” surely made most people’s top five list, but how many actually put it #1. You would hope this wouldn’t be a factor, but it is historically proven that movies with an all black cast usually draw black audiences. Though the Academy has become more progressive and diversified over the years, there still aren’t an overwheming number of blacks in the membership. You make the connection.

2. Jennifer Hudson’s performance overshadowed the rest of the film

She was just so good that people associate the movie with her, even though there were other excellent characters and performances turned in by Jaime Foxx, Danny Glover, Beyonce, and of course, Eddie Murphy. But with this film becoming recognized as the Jennifer Hudson/American Idol reject comeback story, perhaps voters thought it would be enough to nominate her…and eventually give her the win, in the supporting actress category.

3. People just didn’t care much for musicals this year

With the exception of Chicago, which is based on a very famous, very popular musical, how well have other musicals fared recently? Not well. “Evita” won the Golden Globe back in the late 90s, but like “Dreamgirls,” also wasn’t nominated for Best Picture. “Moulin Rouge” was nominated, but didn’t win any of the big awards. Last year’s “Walk the Line” didn’t make the final five, despite being a solid contender. You know how it is. Many people think musicals are too light, good for entertainment purposes, but not serious enough to be a top quality picture.

This is all too bad. REALLY TOO BAD. “Dreamgirls” is a top-notch film with real emotional depth and a lot of heart. It is a rousing spectacle that makes you want to jump out of your seat and dance. And it’s got a unique and uplifting message. But now, it will join “Almost Famous” and “Cold Mountain” as films released this decade that got screwed by the Academy. Can you imagine this? EIGHT LEADING nominations, but not Best Picture. What were they thinking?

Well, let’s move on. How about Clint Eastwood and “Letters From Iwo Jima?!” We are thrilled to see it crack the top five, even though it comes at the expense of “Dreamgirls.” After getting snubbed by the PGA, DGA, and SAG, virtually every Oscar prognosticator proclaimed it to be toast. But rule number one in Hollywood – never underestimate the power of Eastwood.

Check this out. “Letters From Iwo Jima” is just starting to hit theaters around the country now, much like 2005 winner “Million Dollar Baby.” If word of mouth is good and starts to spread, I think you’re looking at this year’s Best Picture winner. Marty may have to settle for Best Director, which I think is probably perfectly all right for him. But that being said, it’s a long, long race ’til the finish, and since this is a wide open race, the strength of the campaigns will decide everything. One thing’s for sure. This will be close, close, close.

Other interesting observations from today’s nominations…

No Sacha Baron Cohen for Best Actor. Perhaps the Academy wants to maintain its serious reputation. They gave “Borat” a screenplay nomination, but that’s it.

Where’s “Casino Royale?” The guilds had it across many of the technical categories and BAFTA loved it too. But AMPAS doesn’t even give it one nomination. Go figure.

Paul Greengrass for “United 93!” This is well deserved. After winning the PGA, “Little Miss Sunshine” seemed a possibility for Best Picture, but no directing nomination considerably hurts its chances. Only one film in Oscar history has ever won Best Picture without a directing nom (“Driving Miss Daisy”).

For the second year in a row, the technical categories are separating themselves from the top contenders. Usually, the Best Picture films score numerous nominations in the editing, cinematography, art direction, and sound categories. Not so anymore. “Babel” and “The Departed” were recognized for their editing, but that’s it. Is this a trend for the future?

We’re about a month away from the big show. And what a start it’s been. Twenty-four categories are up in the air, waiting to be decided. Let the debates begin!Beethoven’s Big Break move