Page last updated at 09:18 GMT, Monday, 30 November 2009

Oscars 2010: expect an open field

By Neil Smith
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

With three months to go before the Academy Awards are held in Los Angeles, early indications suggest it will be one of the most open races in years.

Alec Baldwin
Actor Alec Baldwin will co-host next year's Oscar ceremony

Indeed, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences seems to have anticipated this by opening the best picture category up to 10 movies, as opposed to the usual five.

That is not the only change either. In order not to coincide with the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, the 2010 Oscars will take place a fortnight later than this year's were.

It will also boast not one but two hosts, the comedian Steve Martin sharing the presenting duties with actor Alec Baldwin.

The 2010 Oscar nominations will not be announced until 2 February. Already, though, industry pundits are identifying potential runners, riders and also-rans.

Here, then, is a rundown of some of the stars, films and film-makers we may be hearing more of in the weeks and months ahead.

BEST PICTURE

You have to go all the way back to 1944 for the last time 10 movies were shortlisted for the best picture Oscar.

On that occasion Casablanca won the prize, picking up additional awards for its director and three screenwriters.

Viggo Mortensen with Kodi Smit-McPhee (l) in The Road
Mortensen (r) plays a father trying to keep his son alive in The Road

However, the decision to expand the field again is less to do with recognising more movies than with appealing to a wider audience.

The general perception is the Academy celebrates niche pictures aimed at an art-house crowd - a notion it hopes to challenge by adding more populist nominees to next year's line-up.

It is expected, for instance, that JJ Abrams's well-regarded Star Trek film will find a berth among this year's hopefuls.

James Cameron's ambitious 3D blockbuster Avatar may also feature, with some tipping District 9 - a science-fiction adventure about bug-like aliens who become refugees on Earth - as an outside bet.

Take away the District and you have another potential contender - Nine, the big-screen version of the Broadway musical inspired by Federico Fellini's 1963 Oscar-winner 8 1/2.

Director Rob Marshall has some previous in this department, having steered Chicago - another stage to screen transfer - to its best picture Oscar in 2003.

Clint Eastwood has become a regular fixture on Oscar night and is sure to be in contention again with the sport-based Invictus.

The drama - like District 9 - is set in South Africa and tells of how president Nelson Mandela united the country behind its World Cup-winning rugby team in 1995.

The Hurt Locker, Kathryn Bigelow's drama about three bomb disposal experts stationed in Iraq, is generating a lot of positive buzz.

Gabourey Sidibe and Mo'Nique in Precious
Precious tells of an abused teenager (l) facing an uncertain future

Some optimistic pundits are also tipping another, rather different war movie as a best picture contender - Inglourious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino's flamboyant epic about commandos in Nazi-occupied France.

A safer bet might be Precious, the hard-hitting tale of a high school student coping with obesity, illiteracy, illegitimate pregnancy and sexual abuse.

No less gruelling is The Road, an adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's post-apocalyptic novel that could muscle into the final 10.

McCarthy, you may recall, also penned No Country for Old Men, the book Joel and Ethan Coen adapted into an Oscar-winning hit.

The Coens are back this year with A Serious Man, a comedy drama based on their childhoods in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The Lovely Bones, Peter Jackson's adaptation of Alice Sebold's novel about a murdered child, is another book-inspired work that may make the shortlist.

And with Pixar's Up heavily tipped to win the best animated feature Oscar, some are expecting it to be in with a shout in the best picture category as well.

BEST ACTOR

For many years, Morgan Freeman battled to turn Nelson Mandela's autobiography, Long Walk To Freedom, into a film.

The fact he finally gets to play the South African icon in Invictus might therefore win him some consideration from the Academy's famously sentimental members.

Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela in Invictus
Morgan Freeman is reunited with director Clint Eastwood in Invictus

George Clooney missed out on a best actor Oscar last year when Daniel Day-Lewis beat him to the coveted prize.

Their respective performances in romantic comedy Up in the Air and the aforementioned Nine opens up the possibility of a rematch.

Strangely enough, Viggo Mortensen was also nominated that year and may be so again for The Road.

Homegrown interest, meanwhile, is sure to focus on Colin Firth, considered a strong contender for his role as a grief-stricken gay academic in A Single Man.

Other possible nominees include Matt Damon, whose performances as an FBI whistle-blower in The Informant! and as South African rugby captain Francois Pienaar could conceivably see him cited in both the best actor and best supporting actor categories.

There is a chance Jeff Bridges might also make the cut for his role as a hard-drinking country music singer in Crazy Heart.

BEST ACTRESS

Last February Kate Winslet received this award for her portrayal as a former concentration camp guard in The Reader.

And early indications suggest Britain's best chances of Oscar success in 2010 will also be found in this hotly contested category.

Carey Mulligan in An Education
Mulligan plays a schoolgirl on the cusp of adulthood in An Education

Dame Helen Mirren, who received this award in 2007 for The Queen, is tipped to feature again for her role as Tolstoy's mercurial wife in The Last Station.

The smart money, though, is on newcomer Carey Mulligan, whose performance as a precocious 1960s schoolgirl in An Education has been tipped for glory on both sides of the Atlantic.

Australia's Abbie Cornish may also land a nomination for her role as John Keats's neighbour in the period drama Bright Star.

The endearingly full-figured Gabourey Sidibe, star of Precious, is another fresh talent who could be recognised.

Serial Oscar nominee Meryl Streep, meanwhile, will surely be up for an award for which she has been nominated a remarkable 12 times.

Will her next nod be for her portrayal of eccentric cookery guru Julia Child in Julie and Julia, however, or for her upcoming turn opposite Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin - yes, them again - in romantic comedy It's Complicated?



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