Photo Credit: Lionsgate, Disney, Fox, Paramount
In less than two weeks, nominees for the 82nd Academy Awards will be announced -- and no category is drawing as much speculation as Best Picture, which will have 10 nominees instead of the usual five. With such a wide field, who will the Academy nominate? Will they fill their quota with critically acclaimed indies like Crazy Heart and An Education, or runaway favorites like The Hangover and Paranormal Activity? While everyone is busy guessing, here are the 10 films from 2009 we hope will score a Best Picture nod on Feb. 2:
Thanks to this beautiful (and profitable) sci-fi epic from James Cameron (Titanic), 3D moviegoing went legit, morphing from a stale fad into the wave of the future. For all of its technological achievement, Avatar is old-fashioned filmmaking at its finest: you can take your grandmother, your kids, your date -- you'll all find something to enjoy.
2. The Hurt Locker
An unforgettable, agonizingly suspenseful film about a bomb squad in Iraq, this was the best-reviewed movie of the year. (We're also rooting for director Kathryn Bigelow to beat out Avatar's Cameron for Best Director -- a female director has never won the award, and this one truly deserves to be the first.)
Pixar is long overdue for a Best Picture nomination, if you ask us. Their "family" films (including 2001's Monsters Inc., 2004's The Incredibles and 2008's WALL-E) are smarter, funnier and more thoughtful than most multiplex fare aimed at grown-ups. So what if Up, like its Pixar predecessors, is a cartoon? It's a work of genius, and confining it to the Animated category, where the Shrek films have been honored in the past, is a crime.
4. Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire
This drama from director Lee Daniels (with producer credits shared by Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry, among others) was designed to shake audiences to the core -- and boy, does it ever. Knockout performances by newcomer Gabourey Sidibe and Golden Globe winner Mo'Nique make the fictional story of an abused urban teenager unbearably real.
5. District 9
This South African import is more than a metaphor for apartheid -- it's an inventive modern fable about an alien race that lands on Earth, only to have their culture ravaged by greed, bigotry, and bureaucracy. It's also one of the year's most original and memorable films, made on a tiny fraction of the normal Hollywood budget.
6. The Princess and the Frog
Disney made a new classic this year, and its hand-drawn experiment raised the bar for future animated musicals. Beauty and the Beast was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar in 1991 -- isn't it time The Mouse was recognized again?
7. Julie & Julia
Part biopic, part modern self-discovery tale, Nora Ephron's movie based on Julie Powell's 2005 memoir captured the female psyche -- with all the meals, meltdowns, and blog entries that entails -- better than any other this year. We're also predicting an Oscar win for Meryl Streep, for her delicious portrayal of Julia Child.
8. Star Trek
In terms of sheer entertainment value, 2009's most satisfying movie was the J.J. Abrams reboot of Star Trek, starring Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto. We lost ourselves in the multi-faceted characters, compelling story and fantasy effects.
9. Inglourious Basterds
World War II as rewritten (and misspelled) by Quentin Tarantino, this movie (featuring an edgy performance by Brad Pitt) was a bold, crazy, terribly outrageous idea -- yet it's loads of fun, with an impressive balance of brains and gore.
10. Up in the Air
With big, flashy hits like Avatar in the running, it's easy to overlook subtle, character-driven films like this gem from director Jason Reitman (Juno). This is not a movie with a good guys vs. bad guys plot -- only people (portrayed by George Clooney, Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga) who struggle with real dilemmas -- and they matter just as much as giant blue space aliens.
Honorable mention: Duplicity
This terrifically smart, romantic guessing-game of a thriller (starring Julia Roberts and Clive Owen) bombed at the box office, was quickly forgotten, and is unlikely to be nominated. But we loved it, so we're happy to champion it as an underdog!
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What Oscar-worthy film do you hope makes the cut on the list of Best Picture nominees? Chime in below!