It's early in Oscar season, but there's already some good news and bad news. First, the bad news, which isn't really so bad at all: The acting winners are pretty much cut and dried. Helen Mirren of The Queen is virtually unbeatable in the Best Actress category. She's already won more than a dozen critics' awards, plus the Golden Globe, for her performance as Elizabeth II. She is one of the most brilliant, original actresses in the world, and no matter what she's in, you can't take your eyes off her. You may remember her as Inspector Jane Tennison in the Prime Suspect television series. Even when she's in lightweight films such as Calendar Girls, she is a joy. There is not an actress alive who deserves this recognition more. Mirren's probable triumph is good news for fans of over-40 actresses, since the 61-year-old will be the first woman over 40 to take home the award since Susan Sarandon won in 1995 for Dead Man Walking. Forest Whitaker is also pretty much a shoo-in for Best Actor for his performance as Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland. There is the possibility that the sentimental favorite, Peter O'Toole, may win his first Oscar after being nominated for the eighth time for his performance as the elder half of a May-December romance in Venus. Hollywood loves underdog success stories, and American Idol finalist Jennifer Hudson has gotten back at the judges who scorned her with her much-acclaimed performance in Dreamgirls. She and her Dreamgirls co-star Eddie Murphy, who plays a James Brown-style superstar, look set to take home the Best Supporting Actress and Best Actor honors. The good news, though, is that the Best Picture race is wide open. No one expected Clint Eastwood's Japanese-language Letters from Iwo Jima, a look at World War II from the viewpoint of Japanese soldiers, to be nominated but it was. Eastwood himself, the hardest-working director in Hollywood, conceived Iwo Jima and shot it quickly as a companion piece to Flags of Our Fathers, his WW II drama. Few expected The Queen to be nominated, either but it was. Little Miss Sunshine always had a chance at the spot reserved for clever, funny movies like Sideways, but it wasn't a sure thing. Martin Scorsese's gangster drama The Departed, and the multiplot, multicultural Babel are the kinds of movies Oscar loves, but it can't love them both equally. So there will actually be a little suspense when the often slow telecast moves into its final hour on February 25. Remember, last year Crash, another one of those multicharacter dramas, focused mainly on racial and ethnic conflict in the US, beat frontrunner Brokeback Mountain, the gay cowboy love story, for Best Picture. By the time the awards show rolls around, pretty much all the nominated films will have opened in Israel, including the two Clint Eastwood movies, Dreamgirls and the small-scale British drama Notes on a Scandal. Notes star Judi Dench is nominated for Best Actress for her role as a bitter veteran teacher who becomes enmeshed in the life of her younger colleague, played by Cate Blanchett, who received a Best Supporting Actress nomination. Notes is having its Israeli premiere at the Jerusalem Cinematheque on Saturday at 9:30 p.m. Another intriguing new film that is having its premiere at the Jerusalem Cinematheque is Kazakh/French co-production Nomad, which will be shown on Monday at 9:30 p.m. A historical epic set in 18th-century Kazakhstan about a young man who unites three warring tribes, the movie was co-directed by Czech migr turned Hollywood filmmaker Ivan Passer; Russian-born Sergei Bodrov, director of Prisoner of the Mountains; and Kazakh director Talgat Temenov. Bodrov's Prisoner of the Mountains was a haunting film about a Russian soldier kidnapped and held for ransom by Chechen rebels, and is well worth renting. Several recent Israeli documentaries will be shown throughout the month at the country's cinematheques, and next month the Tel Aviv Cinematheque will host Docaviv, the international documentary festival. This Tuesday, at 9:30 p.m. at the Jerusalem Cinematheque, you can see Ido Haar's 9 Star Hotel, the story of a group of young Palestinian construction workers illegally building Modi'in. On Wednesday at 9:15 p.m. at the Jerusalem Cinematheque there will be a screening of Dalit Kimor's Pickles, about a group of Israeli Arab widows who start a pickle factory.