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Can 'Avatar' sweep the Oscars? Expect up to nine nominations

December 18, 2009 |  1:47 pm
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"Avatar" has already won over film critics, fan boys and many Hollywood awards, scoring best-picture nominations from the Golden Globes and Critics Choice Movie Awards. But how will "Avatar" fare at the Oscars?

My guess is that "Avatar" can score up to nine Academy Award nominations: best picture, director, art direction, film editing, music score, song, sound editing, sound mixing and visual effects.

Forget screenplay. James Cameron wasn't nominated for "Titanic" when it reigned as king of the Oscars. Forget makeup. Radical facial changes are due to special effects instead of powder, paste, lipstick, eyeliner and hair dye. "Avatar" is also just a long shot for costume design.

Below is a category-per-category breakdown of how it competes in its nine serious contests.

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BEST PICTURE
FRONT-RUNNERS
"Avatar"
"An Education"
"The Hurt Locker"
"Inglourious Basterds"
"Invictus"
"It's Complicated"
"Nine"
"Precious"
"A Serious Man"
"Up"
"Up in the Air"

POSSIBLE
"District 9"
"The Hangover"
"Julie & Julia"
"The Lovely Bones"
"The Road"
"A Single Man"
"Star Trek"

BEST DIRECTOR
FRONT-RUNNERS
Kathryn Bigelow, "The Hurt Locker"
James Cameron, "Avatar"
Lee Daniels, "Precious"
Clint Eastwood, "Invictus"
Jason Reitman, "Up in the Air"
Quentin Tarantino, "Inglourious Basterds"

POSSIBLE
Ethan Coen, Joel Coen, "A Serious Man"
Pete Docter, Bob Peterson, "Up"
Tom Ford, "A Single Man"
Peter Jackson, "The Lovely Bones"
Rob Marshall, "Nine"
Lone Scherfig, "An Education"


BEST ART DIRECTION
FRONT-RUNNERS
"Avatar," Rick Carter, Robert Stromberg
"District 9," Philip Ivey, Guy Potgieter
"Inglourious Basterds," David Wasco, Sandy Reynolds-Wasco
"Nine," John Myhre, Gordon Sim
"Sherlock Holmes," Sarah Greenwood, Katie Spencer
"Young Victoria," Patrice Vermette, Maggie Gray

SPOTLIGHT: John Myhre won this race the last two times he teamed up with director Rob Marshall ("Chicago," "Memoirs of a Geisha"). Now "Nine" -- set in Fellini's Rome of the 1960s -- may be the kind of period picture that's so popular with voters. Another -- "The Last Station" set in czarist Russia – could bring 1984 champ Patrizia von Brandentstein ("Amadeus") her fourth nomination.

POSSIBLE
"Bright Star," Janet Patterson, Charlotte Watts
"Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," Stuart Craig, Stephanie McMillan
"It's Complicated," John Hutman, Beth Rubino
"The Last Station," Patrizia von Brandenstein, Mark Rosinski, Heike Wolf
"The Lovely Bones," Naomi Shohan, George DeTitta Jr., Meg Everist
"Public Enemies," Nathan Crowley, Rosemary Brandeburg
"A Serious Man," Jess Gonchor, Nancy Haigh

SPOTLIGHT:  Voters' love of fantasies could bolster the hopes of three-time champ Stuart Craig, who earned his most recent two of eight nominations for previous installments of the "Harry Potter" franchise.


BEST FILM EDITING
FRONT-RUNNERS
"Avatar," Christopher Boyes, Gwendolyn Yates Whittle, Addison Teague
"The Hurt Locker," Chris Innis, Bob Murawski
"Inglourious Basterds," Sally Menke
"Invictus, " Joel Cox
"Nine," Claire Simpson

SPOTLIGHT: The only past Oscar winners in the running -- Claire Simpson ("Platoon") and Joel Cox ("Unforgiven")" – could contend for best picture nominees that showcase their fast-paced editing of fancy footwork by dancers and rugby players. While the top award usually goes to a picture with at least an editing nomination, nine films have won without one, the most recent being "Ordinary People" in 1980.

POSSIBLE
"District 9," Julian Clark
"This Is It," Don Brochu, Brandon Key, Tim Patterson, Kevin Stitt
"The Lovely Bones," Jabez Olssen
"Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire," Joe Klotz
"A Serious Man," Roderick Jaynes
"Sherlock Holmes," James Herbert
"Star Trek," Maryann Brandon, Mary Jo Markey
"Up in the Air," Dana E. Glauberman

BEST MUSICAL SCORE
FRONT-RUNNERS
"Avatar," James Horner
"Coco Before Chanel," Alexandre Desplat
"Fantastic Mr. Fox," Alexandre Desplat
"The Informant!" Marvin Hamlisch
"It's Complicated," Hans Zimmer
"The Princess and the Frog," Randy Newman
"Star Trek," Michael Giacchino
"Up," Michael Giacchino

SPOTLIGHT:
While Desplat and Giacchino could pull off double nominations, Hamlisch -- who won this category in 1973 ("The Way We Were") -- could be back in this race for the first time since 1982.

POSSIBLE
"Broken Embraces," Alberto Iglesias
"Brothers," Thomas Newman
"A Christmas Carol," Alan Silvestri
"Coraline," Bruno Coulais
"Fantastic Mr. Fox," Alexandre Desplat
"Invictus," Kyle Eastwood, Michael Stevens
"Julie & Julia," Alexandre Desplat
"The Last Station," Sergei Yevtushenko
"Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire," Mario Grigorov
"A Serious Man," Carter Burwell
"Sherlock Holmes," Hans Zimmer
"Up in the Air," Rolfe Kent
"Where the Wild Things Are," Carter Burwell, Karen O


BEST SONG
Check out the full list of 63 tunes in contention -- here. Below, the leading players.

FRONT-RUNNERS
"Almost There" ("The Princess and the Frog"), written by Randy Newman, performed by Anika Noni Rose

"Cinema Italiano" ("Nine"), written by Maury Yeston, performed by Kate Hudson

"Down in New Orleans" ("The Princess and the Frog"), written by Randy Newman, performed by Dr. John

"I See You" ("Avatar") written by James Horner and Simon Frangle, performed by Leona Lewis

"Take It All" ("Nine"), written by Maury Yeston, performed by Marion Cotillard

"Trust Me" ("The Informant!"), written by by Marvin Hamlisch and Alan and Marilyn Bergman, performed by Steve Tyrell

"The Weary Kind" ("Crazy Heart"), written by T Bone Burnett and Ryan Bingham, performed by Ryan Bingham


SPOTLIGHT: When stage musicals are adapted to the screen, old songs aren't eligible, thus "Evita" added a new tune ("You Must Love Me" won) and "Dreamgirls" tacked on three (all got nominated). "Nine" showcases two splashy songs performed by Kate Hudson ("Cinema Italiano") and Marion Cotillard ("Take It All").


POSSIBLE
"All Is Love" ("Where the Wild Things Are"), written by by Karen O and Nick Zinner, performed by Karen O and the Kids

"Invictus 9,000 Days" ("Invictus"), written by Clint Eastwood, Michael Stevens, Dina Ruiz Eastwood and Emile Welman, performed by Overtone with Yollandi Nortjie

"Colorblind" ("Invictus"), written by by Daniel Po, performed by Overtone

"Only You" ("The Young Victoria"), written by Ilan Eshkeri, Nikki Hassman and Pam Sheyne; performed by Sinead O'Connor

"Never Knew I Needed" ("The Princess and the Frog"), written and performed by Ne-Yo

“Hideaway” ("Where the Wild Things Are"), written by Karen O and Imaad Wasif, performed by Karen O and the Kids

"New Divide" ("Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen"), written and performed by Linkin Park

“(I Want to) Come Home" ("Everybody's Fine"), written and performed by Paul McCartney

"God Bless Us Everyone" ("A Christmas Carol"), written by Glen Ballard and Alan Silvestri, performed by Andrea Bocelli

"Winter" ("Brothers"), written by Bono and the Edge, performed by U2

"Raining Sunshine" ("Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs"), written by Matthew Gerrard, Jay Landers, Charlie Midnight, performed by Miranda Cosgrove

"Petey's Song" ("Fantastic Mr. Fox"), written by Jarvis Cocker, Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach; performed by Jarvis Cocker

"Smoke Without Fire" ("An Education"), written by Duffy and Bernard Butler; performed by Duffy


BEST SOUND EDITING
FRONT-RUNNERS
"Avatar," Christopher Boyes
"District 9," Brent Burge, Chris Ward
"The Hurt Locker," Paul Ottosson
"Inglourious Basterds," Wylie Stateman
"Star Trek," Ben Burtt, Alan Rankin, Mark Stoeckinger
"Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," Erik Aadahl, Ethan Van der Ryn, Mike Hopkins
"Up," Tom Myers, Michael Silvers

SPOTLIGHT: Two-time champ Ethan Van der Ryn lost his only Oscar race for the first "Transformers" while "Avatar" sound man Christopher Boyes won the first of his two Oscars in this category (he has another pair for sound mixing) working with director James Cameron on "Titanic."

POSSIBLE
"A Christmas Carol," Randy Thom, Dennis Leonard
"The Lovely Bones,"  Brent Burge, Chris Ward
"Nine," Wylie Stateman, Renee Tondelli
"The Princess and the Frog," Odin Benitez
"2012," Paul N. Ottosson
"This Is It," Tricia Linklater


BEST SOUND MIXING
FRONT-RUNNERS
"Avatar," Christopher Boyes, Gary Summers, Andy Nelson, Tony Johnson
"District 9," Ken Saville, Michael Hedges, Gilbert Lake
"The Hurt Locker," Ray Beckett, Paul N.J. Ottosson
"Inglourious Basterds," Mike Minkler
"Nine," Jim Greenhorn, Roberto Fernandez, Mike Prestwood Smith, Richard Pryke
"The Princess and the Frog," David E. Fluhr, Dean Zupancic, Doc Kane
"Star Trek," Anna Behlmer, Peter J. Devlin, David Giammarco, Andy Nelson, Paul Massey
"This Is It," Paul Massey, David Giammarco
"Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," Geoffrey Patterson, Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers

SPOTLIGHT: While musicals have made a comeback in a category they once dominated with recent wins for "Chicago," "Ray" and "Dreamgirls" and war pictures like "Saving Private Ryan" and "Black Hawk Down" continue marching to victory, the juggernaut that was the "Transformers" sequel could finally win Greg P. Russell an Oscar on a lucky 13th nomination.

POSSIBLE
"2012," Jeffrey J. Haboush, Michael Keller, Rick Kline, Michael McGee
"Up," Michael Semanick, Tom Myers, Doc Kane
"Where the Wild Things Are," Gary Wilkins, Mark Weingarten, Michael Semanick, Juan Peralta, Ren Klyce

SPOTLIGHT: Oscar's biggest loser, Kevin O'Connell ("Public Enemies"), returns after 20 previous defeats. Rick Kline ("2012") has struck out 11 times. Pixar returns with "Up" after previous losses for "The Incredibles," "Rataouille" and "Wall-E."

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS
FRONT-RUNNERS
"Avatar"
"A Christmas Carol"
"Coraline"
"District 9"
"Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince"
"2012"
"Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen"
"Star Trek"
"Watchmen"
"Where the Wild Things Are"

SPOTLIGHT: Perhaps producer Peter Jackson's magic touch -- three consecutive wins for the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy -- can boost "District 9" into the final three. However, the innovations of "Avatar," the pedigree of "Star Trek" (the original contended 30 years ago) and the success of the "Transformers" sequel could prove overwhelming.

POSSIBLE
"G-Force"
"G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra"
"Sherlock Holmes"
"Terminator Salvation"

NOTE: An earlier version of this article incorrectly listed "Precious" song "i Can See in Color" as an Oscar contender.

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