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It's top-10 time as Oscars reveal expanded lineup

The Associated Press, Monday, February 1, 2010, 9:41pm (PST)

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) -- Academy Awards voters are about to release their first top-10 list in 66 years.

Oscar nominations Tuesday feature 10 best-picture nominees instead of the usual five, the first time since the 1943 awards show that so many films are competing for Hollywood's highest honor.

Academy organizers say they wanted a broader range of titles in the mix, including worthy populist movies that often miss out on best-picture nominations in favor of the smaller dramas Oscar voters typically prefer.

Blockbuster best-picture contenders usually translate to better ratings for the Oscar broadcast, whose TV audience peaked with James Cameron's "Titanic" triumph 12 years ago. Ratings have been so-so ever since, hitting an all-time low two years ago.

Luckily for Oscar overseers, the show this time likely will include the biggest thing since "Titanic," Cameron's own "Avatar." The science-fiction sensation has soared past "Titanic" to become No. 1 on the box-office charts, with $2 billion and climbing worldwide.

From 1931 to 1943, the Oscars featured between eight and 12 best-picture nominees. There were 10 in 1943, when "Casablanca" won best picture, but the show switched to five nominees after that.

Other hits in the running for slots in this season's expanded best-picture race include the sci-fi tales "Star Trek" and "District 9," the World War II saga "Inglourious Basterds," the football drama "The Blind Side," the Julia Child romp "Julie & Julia," and the animated comedy "Up."

Prospects also include critical favorites such as the war-on-terror thriller "The Hurt Locker," the recession tale "Up in the Air," the Nelson Mandela story "Invictus," and the teen dramas "An Education" and "Precious: Based on the Novel `Push' By Sapphire."

The best-picture and director categories could turn into a showdown between ex-spouses. Cameron and ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow, who made "The Hurt Locker," have dominated earlier Hollywood honors.

"Avatar" won best drama and director at the Golden Globes, while Bigelow beat out Cameron at the Directors Guild of America Awards, whose recipient usually goes on to earn the best-director Oscar.

"The Hurt Locker" also beat "Avatar" for the Producers Guild of America top prize and was chosen as last year's best film by many key critics groups.

Among acting contenders, longtime audience darling Sandra Bullock has never been nominated for an Oscar before but is considered the best-actress front-runner for the real-life drama "The Blind Side," in which she plays a wealthy woman who takes in homeless teen Michael Oher, now a star with the Baltimore Ravens.

Another veteran, Jeff Bridges, has been nominated four times previously without winning an Oscar. Bridges is viewed as the man to beat this time as best actor for his role as a boozy country singer trying to clean up his act in "Crazy Heart."

Bullock and Bridges won top acting prizes at the Golden Globes and the Screen Actors Guild Awards, establishing them as Oscar favorites.

Also considered Oscar favorites are the Globe and SAG supporting-acting winners, Mo'Nique as a reprehensible welfare mother in "Precious" and Christoph Waltz as a gleefully garrulous Nazi in "Inglourious Basterds."

Oscar nominees are chosen in most categories by specific branches of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, such as actors, directors and writers. The academy's full membership of about 5,800 was eligible to vote for best-picture nominations and can cast ballots for the winners in all categories at the Oscar ceremony itself.

The 82nd Oscars will be presented March 7 in a ceremony airing on ABC from Hollywood's Kodak Theatre.

This season's program continues last year's effort to liven up the show. Organizers chose song-and-dance Hugh Jackman as host a year ago rather than the usual comedian, and this time, they decided to go with dual hosts, Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin.

Oscar producers Adam Shankman, a choreographer and director whose films include "Hairspray," and Bill Mechanic, former studio boss at 20th Century Fox, are promising to step up the fun quotient at this year's show.

Honorary Oscars, which took up a big chunk of space during past shows, were moved to a separate event last fall, freeing up more time to focus on the expanded best-picture nominees and other categories viewers care most about.

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On the Net:

http://www.oscars.org

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