At first glance, helmer Robert Altman’s entertaining drawing-room mystery “Gosford Park” may seem like one of those glossy Anglophile affairs catered by the Merchant-Ivory team. However, Julian Fellowes’ smart, witty script, Altman’s keen eye and an Oscar-ready ensemble cast have created a new hybrid altogether — a social-realist essay on the British class warfare disguised as a manor mystery.

The film’s blending of genres, its 137-minute running time, and Altman’s method of mixing and matching characters without clean intros may prove daunting for the more stodgy Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences voters. Nevertheless, “Gosford Park” is one of the hopefuls this year.

The “Upstairs, Downstairs” period setting and lead characters that seem to have popped out of Evelyn Waugh novels and Noel Coward plays should win a few points with discerning viewers. Films such as “Room With a View,” “Howards End” and “Sense and Sensibility” explored similar turf, and were rewarded handsomely by the Academy.

The film’s biggest trump card is director Robert Altman, who brings a very American, democratic sensibility to the project. Strangely enough, the well-respected auteur has never won an Oscar, although he has been nominated four times for “MASH,” “Nashville,” “The Player” and “Short Cuts.” This gives Academy voters a good chance to give Bob a pat on the back.

Although the cast is uniformly excellent, the shoo-in for a supporting nom is Maggie Smith. Her role is one of the flashier parts in the film, and she has the strongest pedigree (three noms, two wins). Among the rest of the cast, Kristin Scott Thomas, Emily Watson, Alan Bates and Helen Mirren have all received nominations. Relative newcomer Clive Owen (“Croupier”) also makes a strong impression and may end up with a supporting actor nomination.

Composer Patrick Doyle’s effective score also could score some points. Doyle received noms in the past for his work on “Hamlet” and “Sense and Sensibility.” Editor Tim Squyres got a mention last year for “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” and costume designer Jenny Beavan has been nominated twice for “Sense and the Sensibility” and “Anna and the King.” And Fellowes’ script should get several huzzahs for originality since it builds suspense despite nobody really caring whether the butler has done it or not.

NOMS WATCH

  • Picture: producers Robert Altman, David Levy

  • Director: Robert Altman

  • Screenplay: Julian Fellowes

  • Supporting actress: Maggie Smith

  • Supporting actor: Clive Owen

  • Music: Patrick Doyle

  • Cinematography: Andrew Dunn

  • Costume design: Jenny Beavan

  • Editing: Tim Squyres

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