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Doing the new Oscar math

Films that were long shots for best picture glory now might make the Academy Awards cut.

June 25, 2009|Ben Fritz

Doubling the number of best picture nominees completely changes the calculus for predicting which movies will have a shot at the top Oscar.

It's tough to say how academy members will think about their expanded voting opportunities. Will they select more of the oh-so-serious adult dramas that have dominated the Oscars for the past few years, or will they expand their horizons to include more celebrated indies, mainstream tent poles and even -- dare we say it -- comedies?

We know it's too early to make predictions, but with that in mind, here are five films that have just seen their chances at a best picture nomination go from "good" to "great," five independent or quirky films whose odds just got better and five crowd-friendly movies that might have a shot now:

Leading contenders

"The Informant" Steven Soderbergh directs Matt Damon in a movie that has echoes of previous nominees "Michael Clayton" and "The Insider."

"Invictus" The only thing academy members love more than director Clint Eastwood is an inspirational biopic, in this case about Nelson Mandela.

"The Lovely Bones" Peter Jackson, best known for his "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, takes a more traditionally academy-friendly turn with this adaptation of Alice Sebold's huge bestseller.

"Nine" Daniel Day-Lewis, Judi Dench, Nicole Kidman, producer Harvey Weinstein and "Chicago" director Rob Marshall -- Oscar pedigrees all around.

"Shutter Island" Martin Scorsese re-teams with "Departed" star Leonardo DiCaprio. Need we say more?

Rising stars

"Amelia" Two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank stars as Amelia Earhart -- feminist/fashion icon! -- in this biopic from "Monsoon Wedding" director Mira Nair.

"Brothers" "My Left Foot" director Jim Sheridan leads Jake Gyllenhaal, Tobey Maguire and Natalie Portman in a modern war story.

"Broken Embraces" Writer-director Pedro Almodovar has lots of fans in Hollywood but hasn't yet gotten a best picture nod. His latest starring Penelope Cruz may finally make the cut.

"Precious" Winner of three major awards at Sundance, including the Grand Jury Prize, this grim drama has earned overwhelming critical acclaim.

"Up in the Air" Director Jason Reitman, who got an Oscar nod for "Juno," is back with another offbeat comedy, this one starring academy favorite George Clooney.

Outside the box

"Avatar" It's the exception rather than the rule that blockbusters like "Titanic" and "The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King" get Oscar love. But James Cameron's pioneering 3-D film will now be even harder to ignore.

"Julie & Julia" Romantic comedies from Nora Ephron aren't usually Oscar's cup of tea, but stars Meryl Streep and Amy Adams are, and the early buzz is strong.

Untitled Michael Moore documentary The fiery left-wing documentarian, already beloved in Hollywood, now trains his sights on the economic collapse -- Oscar voters might like that kind of ambition.

"Star Trek" About as far from Oscar's traditional wheelhouse as you can get, but there's no ignoring the overwhelming vote from critics and audiences.

"Up" Pixar films always seem to just miss out on a best picture nomination. This year the academy will have a tougher time rejecting another stellar effort from the celebrated animation studio.

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ben.fritz@latimes.com

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