Hollywood is gearing up for the Oscars. The annual honors, officially known as the Academy Awards, will be presented on Sunday evening [3/7/10] in Los Angeles. This year's Oscar race has an expanded competition in a key category - 10 films are in the running for best picture.
Every year, the awards from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences honor the best in movie-making. Academy president Tom Sherak says that Oscar voters - including top actors, directors and others in the business - are considering films of many genres this year for best picture.
"The fact that our 5,777 voting members gave us 10 such wonderful, diversified movies, we have almost something for everybody," he said.
Since 1943, best picture nominees have been limited to five films. But this year, the Academy expanded the roster, in part to generate interest and raise ratings for the awards television show. The Oscar presentation is seen around the world by hundreds of millions of viewers, but the U.S. audience had been sinking until last year.
One leading contender for best picture this year is the science fiction tale Avatar from director James Cameron. The film, which is being shown in some theaters in a three-dimensional version, has smashed box office records. It is set on a fictional planet called Pandora.
"You're not in Kansas anymore. You're on Pandora. Out there beyond that fence, every living thing that crawls, flies or squats in the mud wants to kill you and eat your eyes for Jujubes [a gummy candy].
Another contender for best picture is The Blind Side - a story about a teenage football player with a troubled background who is helped by a woman and her family. The film's female lead, Sandra Bullock, is a best actress nominee.
District 9, another best picture nominee, is a science fiction film with a social message, set in South Africa.
"There's a lot of secrets in District 9. I just want everyone watching right now to learn what has happened."
Another best picture nominee is a coming-of-age film set in 1960s London, called An Education. Carrie Mulligan, who stars in the film, has been nominated for best actress.
The Iraq war tale The Hurt Locker is also a top contender.
"If everything looks okay when I get down there, I'm just going to give these people something to think about. I want them to know, if they're going to leave a bomb on the side of the road, first we're just going to blow up their little road."
Filmmaker Kathryn Bigelow is a nominee for best director for The Hurt Locker, and its star, Jeremy Renner, is a nominee for best actor.
A World War II film from Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds, is another top contender for best picture. Tarantino is a nominee for best director, and Christoph Waltz is considered a front-runner for his supporting role as a suave, but sinister Nazi colonel.
"A German soldier conducts a search of a house suspected of hiding Jews. He looks in the barn; he looks in the attic; he looks in the cellar. He looks everywhere he would hide. However, the reason the Fuhrer has brought me off my ass in Austria and placed me in French cow country today is because I'm aware of what tremendous feats human beings are capable of one they abandon dignity."
A film about a troubled African-American teenager, Precious, is another best picture nominee, and it earned acting nominations for star Babourey Sidibe and supporting actress Mo'Nique. Filmmaker Lee Daniels is a nominee for best director.
A Serious Man, a dark comedy from filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen, is also a nominee for best picture.
So s the animated feature Up, which is about an elderly man and an uninvited young guest who set off an airborne journey.
The final best picture nominee, Up in the Air, is about a traveling corporate consultant who has trouble connecting with people. The film earned Oscar nominations for director Jason Reitman, lead actor George Clooney and two supporting actresses, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick.
Academy president Tom Sherak, a veteran studio executive, says the expanded competition, with 10 films instead of five, is good for the award show.
"Of all the years I've been involved in this, I don't remember so much conversation about movies, whether it's people who think this is a mistake or people who think this is a great idea, they're talking about movies," Sherak said.
Academy voters cast only one ballot in most categories. But this year, the Best Picture category uses a preferential voting system, with voters ranking their favorites from one to 10. The rules are complicated, but a film with many second- and third-place votes could beat a film selected by more voters for the top spot.