Check out the full list of nominees at Oscar.comLock It In
This is a "lock" year for the supporting performance categories, with Christoph Walz (Inglorious Basterds) and Mo'Nique (Precious) picking up every possible supporting actor and actress award thus far.
I'm tempted to call Jeff Bridges a lock for his turn in Crazy Heart, what with him also scooping up every award in sight, but Jeremy Renner's nomination is something of a surprise, so if Oscar night becomes Hurt Locker night, it's possible he could upset.
Spread the Wealth
The Academy spread the acting nominations across a wide field of films. Up in the Air is the film with the most acting nominations: three.
Five of a Kind
It was a strong year for animated films, and accordingly, the Best Animated Feature category contains five nominees for the first time since its inception.
Up, Up and Away
Thanks to the expansion of the Best Picture category to ten nominees, Up became only the second animated feature to be nominated Best Picture. Beauty and the Beast was the other one, but it did it in 1991 when only five films were nominated for Best Picture.
Of course, the big Oscar story right now is the expansion of Best Picture category from five nominations to ten. If I had to guess, based on the distribution of other awards and nominations amongst the ten Best Picture nominees, I'd say that Blindside, Up, A Serious Man, An Education and District 9 were the benefactors of the expansion, with Avatar, Precious, Up in the Air, The Hurt Locker and Inglorious Basterds the likely nominees had the field remained at five (for further proof, see the Best Director nominations relative to the Best Picture nominees).
Speaking of Blindside, with the expansion of the category, many insiders felt that one of two critically acclaimed sports movies would earn a nom, either Blindside or Invictus (though it's debatable how much of a sports movie Invictus really is). While Sandra Bullock continues to gain Oscar momentum for her role in Blindside, her film, lacking any guild nominations or critics' prizes, taking the perceived "Sports Movie" spot from Invictus is a surprise upset.
Similarily, insiders felt that in addition to Avatar, a Best Picture nom would go to one of two popular and well-received sci fi pics: District 9 or Star Trek. District 9 ended up taking the top spot, while Star Trek had to settle for four nominations in the technical categories.
Meryl Streep had another Best Actress Oscar all but on her mantle when Julie and Julia preimered last summer, but since then she's been splitting awards and accolades with Sandra Bullock's turn in Blindside. With Blindside garnering a Best Picture nom and Julie and Julia quiet except for Streep's nomination, Bullock is poised as the favorite. But you can never fully count Streep out of an Oscar race.
Lost 500 Days
Indie favorite 500 Days of Summer was an odds-on favorite for a Best Original Screenplay nomination (and possibly a Best Picture nom, in the Little Miss Sunshine tradition) but it was snubbed from both categories. Not that it had much chance in the tightly-contested original screenplay category against Hurt Locker and Basterds.
It's All About the Ratings
The generally accepted reason for the Best Picture expansion was that the academy was hoping to add more popular films (and, if we want to be charitable, bring more attention to smaller, less well known films such as An Education) in an attempt to boost the ratings of the awards ceremony (Call it the Dark Knight Expansion: had the popular and nomination-worthy Dark Knight been nominated last year, as some expected, then more people would have watched the show; basically, they wanted to make room for popular blockbusters as well as indie darlings). To that end, the expansion worked, giving nominations to the high-grossing and critically well-received Blindside and Up, as well as the sleeper hit and sci fi favorite District 9, while also nominating the little known and acclaimed A Serious Man and An Education (other popular favorites considered potential nominees, such as Star Trek and the Globe-winning The Hangover were still snubbed).
It remains to be seen if the ratings will be up this year, but assuming they are, this is a tricky year to use as a gauge of whether or not the Best Picture expansion worked in bumping those ratings. Poised to overtake Titanic as the highest grossing film of all time in the US this weekend, hands down the most popular film of the year (and thus the one most likely to pull in the most non-Cineophile, non-regular Awards show viewers), Avatar is considered by most insiders to have been guaranteed a nomination whether the field was open to five or ten. Thus, should the ratings be higher, the Academy will have no real way of knowinf if that's because more popular films were nominated, or if it just worked out that the highest grossing movie of the year was worthy of consideration regardless (as was the case with Return of the King and Titanic, the benchmarks for Oscar ratings success).
Battle of the Exes
It's a story you'll likely to be sick of by the time Oscar night roles around, but this year's awards are shaping up into a battle between ex spouses James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow's respective films (Avatar and Hurt Locker). Both are nominated for Best Director. Should Bigelow win, she'll become the first female director to win a Best Director Oscar, while Cameron is nominated for the first time since his Titanic win, for the first film he made since Titanic.
While much of the pre-awards season buzz was building up an Avatar/Up in the Air showdown, now it seems the battle will come down to Avatar and Hurt Locker. Both are tied for the most total nominations (nine) and it's often said that the film with the most nominations wins best picture. Avatar won the Golden Globe, while The Hurt Locker picked up Directors Guild and Producers Guild awards, two awards that are considered accurate Oscar forecasters (however, in 2005, Brokeback Mountain won both those awards only to lose the Oscar to the more LA-centric and broadly-appealling Crash, so Avatar could cause a similar break from tradition). If I had to pick right now, I'd go with Bigelow for the director win and Avatar for best pic. But that could very well change by Oscar night. Either way, it seems we have an actual race on our hands, with the outcome up in the air (as opposed to Up in the Air).