By now you know that this year, the Academy is trying something new (or rather, something very very old) and named ten Best Picture nominees. The idea was that by opening up the category, there would be more room for popular movies (rather than the usual serious arty fare) which would lead to more general interest, which would lead to higher ratings for the Oscar broadcast.
Well, we got ten nominees and at least the first part worked. Popular movies were, in fact nominated alongside the serious critics' favorites. Has that led to heightened interest in this year's awards? Not that I can see. Will it lead to higher ratings? Maybe. Probably not.
Anyway, the nominees are Avatar, The Hurt Locker, The Blind Side, District 9, An Education, Inglourious Basterds, Precious, A Serious Man, Up, and Up In the Air.
If there were only the usual five nominees this year, I really don't think that The Blind Side, District 9, Up, Inglourious Basterds, or A Serious Man would have made the cut. The rest are just the kind of thing the Academy likes - one populist pick, a dark horse, a quiet foreign production, and a couple of strong, serious contenders. Normally, there's no room for feel-good fluff, allegoric sci-fi, cartoons, or talky, hard-to-categorize ensemble action spy films. Of course, with this year's weird new voting rules, it really could go to anyone.
Realistically, though, there are two serious contenders: Avatar and The Hurt Locker. Both are big action movies with puzzling titles, but I think voters will gravitate toward The Hurt Locker because it has more genuine soul and pathos. Avatar's electronic blue monkey-cat puppets might be visually dazzling, but no motion-capture performance can ever compare to real-life acting in actual locations. Many hearts will be broken, but I think The Hurt Locker will take the top prize.
In case you're curious: If it were entirely up to me, the Best Picture nominees would be The Hurt Locker, Up, Star Trek, District 9, and Inglourious Basterds. I also found Paranormal Activity extremely effective. And I'd give Inglourious Basterds the trophy.