LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - With the Vancouver Olympics near an end on Sunday, Hollywood began charting its own path to glory at the Oscars, and though the film honors feature shoo-in contenders in several key races, industry watchers still expect some excitement.
War film “The Hurt Locker” and action adventure “Avatar,” which each earned nine nominations for the world’s top film honors, are frontrunners among 10 best motion picture nominees, but which of the two films will win remains anybody’s guess.
The awards telecast, which airs on Sunday March 7, annually is seen by hundreds of millions of viewers worldwide, and Oscar organizers at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences made the unusual move of hiring two hosts -- Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin -- to bring laughter and a fast pace to the show.
And what would the Oscars be without controversy? Last week reports surfaced that “Hurt Locker” producer Nicolas Chartier sent an e-mail to Academy members asking them to vote for the film, a violation of rules for which he has apologized.
What will be his punishment? It could be as simple as the Academy yanking his tickets to the coveted ceremony, but a spokeswoman said no decision will be made until after all the final Oscar ballots have been collected this Tuesday.
“It really doesn’t seem like there’s much suspense, but I will say this, there will be tension until the last minute when best film is announced,” said Dave Karger, movie writer for Entertainment Weekly magazine.
In an effort to widen the pool of movies up for best film, the Academy for the first time since 1943 has put 10 movies in nomination, instead of five, but even so, most industry pundits have said the best film is a two-horse race and given “Hurt Locker” the edge.
That movie, about soldiers who defuse bombs in Iraq, has won awards from key guilds of producers, directors and writers, which should give it an edge because many of those groups’ members also are among the Academy’s roughly 5,800 Oscar voters.
Yet “Avatar,” because of its performance-capture and 3-D technology, is expected to win technical awards, and its designation as the biggest box office hit of all time -- $2.5 billion worldwide and counting -- is hard to ignore.
Further complicating the race is preferential balloting that could see “Hurt Locker” and “Avatar” split the vote and make way for World War Two fantasy “Inglourious Basterds,” urban drama “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” or any of the 10 nominees to win the best film Oscar.
Other key races seem locked, however. Jeff Bridges, playing a country singer in “Crazy Heart,” has collected many trophies this year and is expected to earn the best actor Oscar.
The best actress race appears to be between Meryl Streep as chef Julia Child in comedy “Julie & Julia” and Sandra Bullock as a wealthy woman who transforms a homeless teen into a football star in “The Blind Side.” Like Bridges, Bullock has won numerous awards this year and is the Oscar favorite.
Comedian Mo‘Nique’s dramatic turn as an abusive mother in “Precious” and Austrian actor Christoph Waltz’s role of a Nazi officer in “Basterds” have made them frontrunners for supporting actress and actor, respectively.
Finally, in the best director race, Kathryn Bigelow and “Hurt Locker” go against her ex-husband James Cameron with “Avatar.” If Bigelow wins, as expected, she will be the first woman to claim best director -- an historic event in Hollywood and one, no doubt, that will cause a lot of excitement.
Editing by Sandra Maler