At this year's Oscars, James Cameron's mega-budget fantasy adventure Avatar tied with Kathryn Bigelow's low-budget Iraq War drama The Hurt Locker. Each film received nine Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director. That makes Avatar one of the two top contenders for the Best Picture Oscar, right?
Well, think again.
Yes, Avatar received a total of nine nominations – but not for best screenplay. Whether due to karma or just poor writing skills, Cameron was also bypassed for his Titanic screenplay 11 years ago. (Must be karma, considering the kind of stuff that gets nominated in the Academy's writing categories.) Something else about Avatar's Oscar prospects: the film was also ignored in the four acting categories.
The only two acting-less, writing-less Best Picture winners* to date are William A. Wellman's Wings and Edmund Goulding's Grand Hotel. Wings was a silent movie. Grand Hotel was a 1932 release. The Oscars weren't even known as “the Oscars” back then.
Among this year's ten Best Picture nominees, the only other film that failed to get a writing nomination was The Blind Side.
But Avatar fans shouldn't lose hope. After all, Kathryn Bigelow will probably become the first woman director to win an Oscar. So, why can't Avatar become the second talkie to win for Best Picture without any acting or writing nominations?
Just make sure to think twice before betting any money on it.
* There were no official nominations in the Academy Awards' second year, the year the musical The Broadway Melody won as Best Picture. However, one of that film's stars, Bessie Love, was one of those “unofficially considered” for the best actress award.
In the Academy Awards' second and third year, there was only one writing category. There were three writing categories from 1940 to 1956 (except for 1948, when there were only two). There was also some overlapping, as a number of movies were nominated in two different categories.
The best supporting actor/actress categories were instituted in 1936. Prior to that, most years had fewer than five nominees in the best actor or best actress categories.
What a difference a day makes. Sandra Bullock went from a Razzie nod to an Oscar nod in less than 24 hours. Bullock is up for a Razzie for the year's Worst Actress for All About Steve (top photo, with Bradley Cooper). She's up for an Oscar for the year's best actress for The Blind Side (above, lower photo). Her performance in The Proposal earned her a Golden Globe nomination.
Claudia Llosa's The Milk of Sorrow is Peru's first best foreign language film nomination, while Lee Daniels' Precious is the first Best Picture nominee directed by a black person. Daniels is only the second black person to be nominated in the best director category. John Singleton came first, for Boyz n the Hood (1991).
Lee Daniels also happens to be openly gay. So are Rob Marshall and Pedro Almodóvar, who were nominated in 2002 for, respectively, Chicago (2002) and Talk to Her. So, Daniels may be the third openly gay man to be nominated for best director as well. But that's a hard one to track down.
According to reports, prior to Avatar and District 9 only two other sci-fi (or at least sci-fiish) movies were nominated for the Best Picture Oscar: George Lucas' Star Wars (1977) and Steven Spielberg's E.T. (1982).
Photos: The Blind Side (Ralph Nelson / Warner Bros.); All About Steve (Suzanne Tenner / 20th Century Fox)
To shore up the Oscar ceremony's dwindling television audience, the Academy wanted bigger fare at the 2010 Oscars. So, they expanded the Best Picture category to include ten films, hoping that some blockbuster or other would get a nomination.
Indeed, it's true that several of the most commercially successful Oscar contenders listed below – Up, The Blind Side, District 9 – would probably not have made the cut had the Academy kept the Best Picture field restricted to five films. Avatar, of course, would have been shortlisted even if there had been only three slots available.
Last year, Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight was a huge box office hit that received much critical praise. It was up for both the Producers Guild and the Directors Guild awards. But Academy voters preferred the much smaller ex-Nazi drama The Reader.
Below is a list of this year's Best Picture Oscar nominees and their box office grosses, in descending order:
- Avatar, d: James Cameron, with Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Laz Alonso. 20th Century Fox, nine nominations, $598 million, released Dec. 18.
- Up, d: Pete Docter. Pixar / Disney, five nominations, $293 million, released May 29.
- The Blind Side, d: John Lee Hancock, with Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw, Quinton Aaron. Warner Bros., two nominations, $238 million, released Nov. 20.
- Inglourious Basterds, d: Quentin Tarantino, with Mélanie Laurent, Brad Pitt, Diane Kruger, Eli Roth, Christoph Waltz. The Weinstein Co., eight nominations, $121 million, released Aug. 21.
- District 9, d: Neill Blomkamp, with Sharlto Copley. Sony, four nominations, $116 million, released Aug. 14.
- Up in the Air, d: Jason Reitman, with George Clooney, Vera Farmiga, Anna Kendrick. Paramount, six nominations, $73 million, released Dec. 4.
- Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire, d: Lee Daniels, with Gabourey Sidibe, Mo'Nique, Paula Patton, Mariah Carey. Lionsgate, six nominations, $45 million, released Nov. 6.
- The Hurt Locker, d: Kathryn Bigelow, with Jeremy Renner, Christian Camargo, Brian Geraghty, Anthony Mackie. Summit Entertainment, nine nominations, $12.7 million, released June 26.
- A Serious Man, d: Joel and Ethan Coen, with Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind. Focus, two nominations, $9.2 million released Oct. 2.
- An Education, d: Lone Scherfig, with Carey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Emma Thompson, Alfred Molina. Sony Pictures Classics, three nominations, $9 million, released Oct. 9.
Photos: Avatar (WETA / 20th Century Fox); The Blind Side (Ralph Nelson / Warner Bros.); An Education (Kerry Brown / Sony Pictures Classics)