David vs Goliath as Oscars race heats up

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The Independent Culture

A David vs Goliath contest is looming as the battle for the Oscars intensifies here Tuesday 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 5:30 am (1330 GMT) 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 favorite to thwart James Cameron's science fiction blockbuster "Avatar", the most expensive film ever made.

The contrast between the two films couldn't be more stark.

Cameron's film - which cost a reported 500 million dollars to make and market - had been an early Oscars favorite and has been a box office sensation, earning more than than two billion dollars.

Yet it is "The Hurt Locker" - directed by Cameron's ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow - which 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 16 million dollars worldwide after costing an estimated 15 million dollars.

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 D1GA award have failed to go on and win the corresponding best director Oscar - and the directing Oscar often goes to the film which 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 of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences decision to double the field of nominees from the usual five to 10.

"There's a real drama in this Oscar race," O'Neil told AFP. "The indicators are all pointing in different directions.

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

Oscars organizers 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 percent 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 favorite in the best actor race after already winning a slew of honors 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 favorite Meryl Streep, who is tipped to pick up her 16th Academy Award nomination for her performance in "Julie & Julia."

In the supporting acting categories, "Inglourious Basterds" star Christoph Waltz and Mo'Nique of the drama "Precious" are favorites.

Tuesday's nominations announcement takes place at 5.38am (1338 GMT) local time.