James Cameron may again be the king of the world – but his ex-wife, Kathryn Bigelow, most certainly is the queen. And their respective movies – Bigelow’s critically acclaimed The Hurt Locker and Cameron’s phenomenally successful Avatar – will be viewed as heavyweight contenders in a David-versus-Goliath match-up during the weeks leading up to next month’s presentation of the 82nd annual Academy Awards.
That’s the scenario most Hollywood insiders and industry observers took away from Tuesday’s early-morning announcement of Oscar nominations. Complicating the plot: This year, for the first time since the 1943 Oscar ceremony, there are 10 Best Picture nominees instead of the usual five. Which means that, in addition to competing against each other for the hearts and minds (and votes) of Academy members, Avatar and The Hurt Locker – leaders of the pack with nine nominations each – will be facing off against The Blind Side, District 9, An Education, Inglourious Basterds (the scourge of proofreaders everywhere), Precious, A Serious Man, Up and Up in the Air.
There is, of course, the possibility of a surprise twist. After all, Academy bigwigs expanded the Best Picture category in the first place to allow for the inclusion of more “populist” nominees, box-office hits that actually have been seen by significant numbers of people – like, say, last year’s conspicuously un-nominated The Dark Knight. With more of those movies in play, it’s assumed, more viewers will be sufficiently interested to tune in and boost ratings for the March 7 Oscarcast. At the same time, it’s also assumed that the suspense quotient will be raised by the possibility, however remote, of an upset by a high-grossing crowd-pleaser like The Blind Side.
It’s a long shot, to be sure. But if you doubt that a true underdog could ever triumph over more heavily hyped competitors in the Best Picture category, go talk to the makers of Reds and On Golden Pond, the “sure things” that split the vote and lost the gold to Chariots of Fire back in 1982.
My early line Oscar predictions:
Actor in a Leading Role
Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart
George Clooney in Up in the Air
Colin Firth in A Single Man
Morgan Freeman in Invictus
Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker
Likely Winner: Bridges. Possible upset: Clooney.
Actor in a Supporting Role
Matt Damon in Invictus
Woody Harrelson in The Messenger
Christopher Plummer in The Last Station
Stanley Tucci in The Lovely Bones
Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds
Mortal lock: Waltz
Actress in a Leading Role
Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side
Helen Mirren in The Last Station
Carey Mulligan in An Education
Gabourey Sidibe in Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire
Meryl Streep in Julie & Julia
Likely winner: Bullock. Possible upset: Streep. (Yeah, I can’t believe I typed that, either. But let’s face it: This is Bullock’s time. And good for her.)
Actress in a Supporting Role
Penelope Cruz in Nine
Vera Farmiga in Up in the Air
Maggie Gyllenhaal in Crazy Heart
Anna Kendrick in Up in the Air
Mo’Nique in Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire
Mortal lock: Mo’Nique
District 9, Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell
An Education, Nick Hornby
In the Loop, Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, Tony Roche
Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire, Geoffrey Fletcher
Up in the Air, Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner
Likely winner: Up in the Air. (Think of it as a consolation prize.) Possible upset: In the Loop.
The Hurt Locker, Mark Boal
Inglourious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino
The Messenger, Alessandro Camon & Oren Moverman
A Serious Man, Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
Up, Bob Peterson, Pete Docter, Story by Pete Docter, Bob Peterson, Tom McCarthy
Likely winner: Inglourious Basterds. Possible upset: The Hurt Locker. (Especially if there’s need for another consolation prize.) Conspicuous by its absence: Avatar.
Avatar, James Cameron
The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow
Inglourious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino
Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire, Lee Daniels
Up in the Air, Jason Reitman
Likely winner: Bigelow. (When enough voters fall in love with the idea of making history, history is made. Just ask Barack Obama.) Possible upset: Cameron.
And Best Picture? Well, it’s good to be the king. But even better to be the top moneymaker in the world.