Oscar nominees named today

Kathryn Bigelow (SUPPLIED)

A David vs Goliath contest is looming as the battle for the Oscars intensifies with the announcement of nominees for the most coveted awards in Hollywood.

The identities of Oscars contenders will be revealed before hundreds of media shortly after 5.30pm UAE time at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills.

All eyes are on the race for best picture, where low budget Iraq war drama The Hurt Locker is rapidly emerging as the favourite to thwart James Cameron's science fiction blockbuster Avatar – the most expensive film ever made.

The contrast between the two films could not be more stark.

Cameron's film – which cost a reported $500 million (Dh1.83 billion) to make and market – had been an early Oscars favourite and has been a box office sensation, earning more than than $2bn.

Yet it is The Hurt Locker – directed by Cameron's ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow – that has become a surprise contender in the best picture race after winning a series of awards seasons indicators that augur well for the March 7 Oscars.

But as a commercial venture the film has barely broken even, earning just $16m worldwide after costing an estimated $15m.

Yet Bigelow's tense drama about a maverick US Army bomb disposal expert in Iraq has been a critical darling, winning a series of prizes and accolades.

Bigelow pipped Cameron to the Directors Guild of America (DGA) Awards top prize on Saturday, the first woman ever to win the award. In 62 years, only six winners of the DGA award have failed to go on and win the corresponding best director Oscar – and the irecting Oscar often goes to the film that wins best picture.

Bigelow's film also scored a surprise win at the Producers Guild of America Awards in January, another reliable Oscars barometer.

Veteran awards season commentator Tom O'Neil of the Los Angeles Times's theenvelope.com says this year's battle for best picture will be a four-horse race, despite the Academy decision to double the field of nominees from the usual five to 10.

"The bottom line is there are four movies seriously in the running to win best picture, and those are Avatar, The Hurt Locker, Inglorious Basterds, and Up In The Air.

Oscars organisers doubled the number of best picture nominees in a move analysts have said was intended to help boost television ratings for the awards show, which increased by 13 per cent in 2009 after hitting a record low in 2008.

While the best picture race is one of the most wide open in years, the competition for the coveted acting awards are starting to acquire a look of inevitability about them.

Popular Hollywood veteran Jeff Bridges is the heavy favourite in the best actor race having already won a slew of honours for his portrayal of a washed up country singer in the drama Crazy Heart.

Bridges's likely rivals are expected to include George Clooney for Up In the Air, Morgan Freeman for Invictus and Colin Firth for A Single Man.

In the best actress stakes, Sandra Bullock has emerged as a front-runner after winning at the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards.

Bullock's accolades have come for her performance in The Blind Side, where she plays a southern housewife who takes in homeless black teen Michael Oher who goes on to become an American football star.

However, Bullock is expected to face stiff competition from perennial Oscar favourite Meryl Streep, who is tipped to pick up her 16th Academy Award nomination for her performance in Julie & Julia.

Today's nominations announcement takes place at 13.38 GMT.

 

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