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David vs Goliath as Oscars race heats up

All eyes are on the race for best picture, where low budget Iraq war drama The Hurt Locker has emerged as the favorite to thwart James Cameron's science fiction blockbuster Avatar, the most expensive film ever made.

india Updated: Feb 04, 2010 14:00 IST

The race for the Oscars goes into overdrive on Tuesday when nominees for Hollywood's most coveted awards are unveiled, with the best picture battle shaping up as a David and Goliath showdown. The identities of Oscars contenders will be revealed before hundreds of bleary-eyed 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

has emerged 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 - with a reported budget of 500 million dollars - has rewritten the box office record books, earning more than two billion dollars since December to become the highest grossing film in history. 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, indicators that augur well for the March 7 Oscars. As a commercial venture, however, the film has flopped, earning just 16 million dollars worldwide after costing around 15 million dollars.



Yet Bigelow's film about a US Army bomb disposal squad in Iraq has been a critical darling, winning a series of prizes and accolades so far this year. The latest of those came on Saturday when Bigelow pipped Cameron to the Directors Guild of America (DGA) Awards top prize, the first time a woman has ever won the award. In 62 years, only six winners of the DGA 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. "

The Hurt Locker

is definitely the front-runner," said Tom O'Neil, an awards season pundit for

The Los Angeles Times's theenvelope.com

.



"There doesn't seem to be any confusion. There is a clear consensus within the industry, which is strange because '

The Hurt Locker

is a movie without stars, it's made no money. "In recessionary times, voters seem to be turning their back on the most successful film ever made in favor of a money loser."



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. The expansion of nominees could see a number of interesting sub-plots unfold, with Pixar's

Up

likely to be only the second animated film to win a best picture nomination.



There is also the possibility of science-fiction, a genre traditionally ignored at the Oscars, being well represented, with

District 9

and

Star Trek

both outside bets to join

Avatar

on the shortlist. While the best picture race is close, the competition for the coveted acting awards is starting to acquire a look of inevitability.


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

.



"There's still some suspense about the best actress but it looks like Bullock has the momentum," O'Neil said. 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 5:38 am (1338 GMT) local time.