Best Picture award is least predictable of tonight's gongs

Could this be the year for boldly going where no Oscar has gone before? On a night of potential firsts, James Cameron's
Avatar has a shot at breaking one of Hollywood's longest-standing taboos and becoming the first science-fiction film to win Best Picture.

The 3D blockbuster, which, with box-office receipts of $2.5bn (£1.7bn), is easily the most lucrative film ever made, is gaining late ground on The Hurt Locker, and is now 11/8 second favourite to walk away with tonight's biggest prize. That would represent a victory for a genre which has for years been one of Hollywood's most reliable cash cows but has been prevented, perhaps for reasons of artistic snobbery, from winning a fair share of awards.

Only three sci-fi movies have even been nominated for Best Picture – ET, Star Wars and A Clockwork Orange – and all were pipped by unfancied rivals. But attitudes could be changing: The Lord of the Rings chalked up victory for the "fantasy" genre in 2004, while this year's shortlist also includes the alien invasion satire District 9. "It's a watershed year for science fiction," noted Cameron at this week's Visual Effects Society awards. "We've got two up for Best Picture. That's never happened before. It would be a real milestone if it did win because Star Wars was nominated but lost to a small film. ET, even though it was actually a small film, was nominated and didn't win either."

Whatever happens, Hollywood expects tonight's Oscars show, hosted by Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin, to be remembered for a selection of groundbreaking firsts. Kathryn Bigelow, the film-maker behind The Hurt Locker, is odds-on to become the first female Best Director over her fellow nominee and ex-husband Cameron. Also in the Best Director race, Lee Daniels is vying to become the first black winner.

In theory, the existence of heavy favourites in all the major acting categories makes this one of the most predictable Oscars of modern times. Jaws will hit the floor if anyone but Sandra Bullock, Jeff Bridges, Christoph Waltz and Mo'Nique collect the night's prizes.

However, a degree of uncertainty still revolves around changes to the event's format. For the first time in modern history, ten, rather than the usual five, films are up for Best Picture. A new preferential voting system is also being trialled for Best Picture. Instead of simply voting for their single favourite film, the Academy's 5,777 members have been asked to rank the 10 titles in order of preference. Some pundits believe this could see supporters of Avatar and The Hurt Locker deliberately ranking their rival at the bottom of the list, allowing an unfancied outsider such as Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds to sneak away with the award.

Confusion about voting rules is perhaps behind the fact that an unusually large number of Academy members – roughly 600 – waited until Tuesday, the final day of voting, to cast their ballot. That's also bad news for The Hurt Locker since last weekend it was involved in a scandal which resulted in one of its producers, Nicolas Chartier, being banned from the ceremony.

The final unusual element to this year's Oscars (by modern standards, at least) is that it is likely to be an underwhelming night for Britain. An Education is the least fancied of all the Best Picture contenders, with its writer Nick Hornby and star Carey Mulligan outsiders in their categories. Helen Mirren and Armando Iannucci, the UK's other high-profile nominees, are also considered long shots.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
    Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

    Front National family feud?

    Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
    Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

    Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

    Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century