Geoffrey Macnab: Who else will stand in Cameron's way?

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The Independent Online

There has not been much paranormal activity at the Academy this year. In the major categories, the Oscar nominations are largely predictable. The tussle between former husband and wife James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow will be as fierce as expected, with both Cameron's Avatar and Bigelow's The Hurt Locker securing nine nominations. No low-budget horror pics have crept into the running to startle us.

The Academy often seems stuck on the horns of a dilemma, torn between art and commerce. Success is regarded as one of the key indicators of quality. But critical respectability matters too. If enough reviewers and festivals talk up movies, Academy members' heads can sometimes be turned. This tension is reflected in the pitting of Avatar, the event movie, against The Hurt Locker, the critics' favourite. One is a full-blown epic, the other a chamber piece (if, at least, you can refer to an explosive Iraq war drama in that way).

But there is a long list trailing behind those two favourites in the running for Best Picture, and the decision to expand the nominees for that award to 10 films does not seem wise. Among the many titles vying for the most prestigious gong of all are animated fare from Pixar (Up), a lowish-budget Brit indie (An Education), Lee Daniels' Precious, about an obese black teenager, sci-fi (District 9) and the latest from the Coens (A Serious Man). It's a diverse selection, but one can't help but fret that the Academy has turned the award into a grab-bag with a bit of everything thrown in.

In the Foreign Language Film stakes, Germany and Austria will be very relieved that The White Ribbon has made the cut . But even there, tension between commercial success and artistry can be felt: even though Michael Haneke's movie has already won a Palme d'Or and a Golden Globe, there had been some fretting that the Academy (known for its conservatism when it comes to foreign-language movies) might balk at its narrative complexity.

The Brits have done as well out of the nominations as they could have expected. Few could have foreseen that Armando Iannucci's In the Loop, a spin-off from TV's The Thick of It, was going to pick up a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. And the haul of nominations for Lone Scherfig's more fancied An Education will still be seen as a welcome boost.

But that is very much on the undercard. When the Oscars are held on 7 March, it's very likely that Avatar will cap off its Godzilla-like assault on the international box office by carrying off a hefty hoard of Oscars too. Cameron's ex-wife Bigelow still looks like the only film-maker who can stand in Big Jim's way.

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