"American Beauty," "The Insider" and "The Talented Mr. Ripley" shared top film honors at the Golden Globe nominations today, putting the trio at the forefront of the race for the movie industry's most coveted honors, the Oscars.

"American Beauty," about a dysfunctional suburban family, received six nominations, the most of any movie. Among them were nominations in three top categories--best motion picture drama, best actor in a drama for Kevin Spacey, and best actress in a drama for Annette Bening.

The film also won nods for Alan Ball for best screenplay, Sam Mendes as best director in his feature film debut, and for best original score.

"The Insider," starring Russell Crowe as a tobacco industry whistle-blower, pulled down five nominations including best motion picture drama, and best actor in a drama for Crowe.

Also garnering five nominations was "The Talented Mr. Ripley," a tale of a reluctant murderer. Among its nominations were best motion picture drama, best actor for Matt Damon and best director for Anthony Minghella, who won an earlier best director Oscar for "The English Patient."

"I don't remember ever having a year that offered so many different and unusual films," said Helmut Voss, head of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which awards the Golden Globes. "We are not critics, and we are not members of the movie industry, so we definitely have a different perspective."

Other films nominated for best movie drama included the Second World War romance "The End of the Affair" and "The Hurricane," which also got a best actor nomination for Denzel Washington for his portrayal of Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, a middleweight boxer jailed for 19 years for three murders he did not commit.

Also nominated in the best actor category was veteran actor Richard Farnsworth for "The Straight Story," the real-life tale of 73-year-old Alvin Straight, who drove his lawn mower from Iowa to Wisconsin to visit his ailing brother.

In the best actress drama category, Bening was joined by Hilary Swank for "Boys Don't Cry," Meryl Streep for "Music of the Heart," Sigourney Weaver for "A Map of the World" and Julianne Moore for "The End of the Affair."

Reached at home in New York, Moore told Reuters the nomination caught her by surprise, and sent her scrambling to get ready for dozens of TV talk shows seeking interviews.

"Everybody knows they are coming, but you just don't expect it," she said. "I expected to be in my bathrobe, running around . . . wrapping gifts." Moore also was nominated as best actress in a comedy movie for "An Ideal Husband."

Best motion picture comedy nominees were led by the offbeat comedy "Being John Malkovich" and "Man on the Moon," starring Jim Carrey. Also nominated were "Notting Hill," "Analyze This" and the computer-animated blockbuster "Toy Story 2."

Unlike the Oscars, which go only to films, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association also honors some of the year's best television shows and performances.

Newcomers "The West Wing" (NBC) and "Once and Again" (ABC) joined "The Sopranos" (HBO), "ER" (NBC) and "The Practice" (ABC) on the list of best TV drama nominees.

The "West Wing," about the inner workings of the White House, picked up two best-actor-in-a-television-drama nods, for Martin Sheen and Rob Lowe.

Also nominated in the best actor TV drama category were Billy Campbell for "Once and Again," James Gandolfini for "The Sopranos" and Dylan McDermott for "The Practice."

Best TV series musical or comedy nominees included "Ally McBeal" (Fox), "Dharma & Greg" (ABC), "Sex and the City" (HBO), "Spin City" (ABC) and "Will & Grace" (NBC).

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association has roughly 90 voting members. The Golden Globes will be awarded Jan. 23.

CAPTION: Kevin Spacey and Annette Bening, Golden Globe nominees for actor and actress in a drama in "American Beauty"; and Martin Sheen, nominated as best actor for TV's White House drama "West Wing."