Wednesday, February 03, 2010

And The Nominees Are

With television ratings always playing a consideration into its annual telecast, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences made the decision that its field of contenders for Best Picture would expand from five to 10 for the 2010 Academy Awards. This marks the first time since 1943 that so many contenders will vie for the top prize at the award show, set for March 7 on ABC.

Academy President Sid Ganis said last summer when the decision was made that expanding the field would allow Academy voters to recognize great movies that get nominated in other categories, but get squeezed out of the most prestigious category. But don’t think for a second that TV ratings weren’t on the Academy’s mind, as well.

The Oscars have seen relatively meager ratings for a number of years – hitting a record-low in 2008 – that getting more popular films competing for Best Picture seemed an easy decision. After all, “The Dark Knight” was shut out of the race last year, but would have certainly garnered a nomination if 10 candidates were allowed. As a huge box-office hit, its inclusion likely would have led to more viewers.

It’s a situation that the Academy won’t have to worry about this year, as it would appear to be in a similar position as it was heading into the 1998 Oscar telecast. In that one, “Titanic,” directed by James Cameron, had already become the highest-grossing film in history, and received an armful of nominations (14). That translated to record-high ratings (57 million people), with viewers witnessing the film take 11 Oscars home.

This year, “Avatar,” also directed by Cameron, has already surpassed “Titanic” as the highest-grossing movie ever, and received nine Oscar nominations, tying it for the most with “The Hurt Locker.” Ratings should be huge, and could possibly surpass 1998’s numbers, with the expanded field of Best Picture nominees including the hit films, “Up” and “The Blind Side.”

The following is a roundup of some of the major categories and a peek at the prospects for some of the nominees when the awards are announced March 7.

Best Picture
• “A Serious Man”
• “An Education”
• “Avatar”
• “The Blind Side”
• “District 9”
• “The Hurt Locker”
• “Inglourious Basterds”
• “Precious”
• “Up”
• “Up in the Air”
With so many nominees, it would seem possible that a dark horse might be lurking, but “Avatar” and “The Hurt Locker” are generally considered the top possibilities.

Best Director
• Kathryn Bigelow, “The Hurt Locker”
• James Cameron, “Avatar”
• Lee Daniels, “Precious”
• Jason Reitman, “Up in the Air”
• Quentin Tarantino, “Inglourious Basterds”
Cameron has won in this category before (“Titanic”), but Bigelow has had a lot of film critics and people within the movie industry rooting for her. She could make history here as the first female winner.

Best Actress
• Sandra Bullock, “The Blind Side”
• Helen Mirren, “The Last Station”
• Carey Mulligan, “An Education”
• Gabourey Sidibe, “Precious”
• Meryl Streep, “Julie & Julia”
An Oscar would cap off the best year of Bullock’s career, but she’s got some stiff competition, most notably from Streep (with her truly impressive 16th Oscar nomination).

Best Actor
• Jeff Bridges, “Crazy Heart”
• George Clooney, “Up in the Air”
• Colin Firth, “A Single Man”
• Morgan Freeman, “Invictus”
• Jeremy Renner, “The Hurt Locker”
With a career that has spanned four decades, Bridges has been pulling in a lot of awards leading up to the Oscars for his performance as a down-on-his-luck country singer. But, like in the Best Actress category, the competition is strong.

Best Supporting Actress
• Penelope Cruz, “Nine”
• Vera Farmiga, “Up in the Air”
• Maggie Gyllenhaal, “Crazy Heart”
• Anna Kendrick, “Up in the Air”
• Mo’Nique, “Precious”
Portraying a bitter, abusive mother of a pregnant teen in “Precious,” Mo’Nique has been cleaning up at pretty much every award show. This might be the best shot for the drama to pick up an Oscar in a major category.

Best Supporting Actor

• Matt Damon, “Invictus”
• Woody Harrelson, “The Messenger”
• Christopher Plummer, “The Last Station”
• Stanley Tucci, “The Lovely Bones”
• Christoph Waltz, “Inglourious Basterds”
Like Mo’Nique, Waltz has been getting a lot of awards for his supporting work in the World War II film, making him the odds-on favorite. Anybody else getting the award in this category might serve as the biggest upset of the night.

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