The guardians of the motion Picture Academy were embarrassed. The Dark Knight, then the biggest hit of the decade and one of the most broadly acclaimed, had been denied a place as one of the five films nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. Instead of having a recount, the Academy last summer doubled the list of finalists in its most lustrous category. This year is the first since 1944 to boast so many nominees. And the range is indeed wider than usual: a monster movie, a sports weepie and an animated feature join the usual suspects of epics, dramas and touching romances.
Insiders will tell you this changed nothing. The predicted quintet of front runners Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Up in the Air, Inglourious Basterds and Precious are still the top contenders, and each will win at least one important award. But it's really a two-horse race, between the megahit Avatar and the indie war film The Hurt Locker, which would be the lowest-grossing film ever to win Best Picture. Add the tang of ex-spouses James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow as the directors of these two films, and on Mar. 7, Oscar night, you have the prospect of great reality TV: Survivor meets Jim & Kate Plus 8.