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'Blind Side,' 'District 9,' 'Up' make Oscar final cut

In this film publicity image released by Warner Bros., Quint Aaron and Sandra Bullock are shown in a scene from, "The Blind Side." The film was nominated Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2010 for an Oscar for best picture. The 82nd Academy Awards will be presented on March 7. (AP Photo/Warner Bros., Ralph Nelson)

LOS ANGELES -- They are precisely the kinds of movies hardly ever nominated for the best-picture Oscar -- a tear-jerker sports film, a space-alien thriller and an animated feature with a flying house and talking dogs -- but the populist pleasures "The Blind Side," "District 9" and "Up" all made the final cut for the top Academy Award.

Concerned that a steady stream of challenging, often little-seen art movies were dominating the Oscars and deflating television ratings, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences doubled this year's best-picture race to 10 contestants, and the results Tuesday were exactly as intended: the inclusion of movies that have sold a boatload of tickets.

The nominations for the 82nd annual Academy Awards were led by the presumptive best picture favorites -- "Avatar" and "The Hurt Locker," which each scored in nine categories. The two movies represent opposite extremes of audience recognition, as "Avatar" has generated almost 50 times more domestic revenue than "The Hurt Locker."

But to the delight of the March 7 ceremony's producers, four movies besides "Avatar" that have grossed more than $100 million made the best-picture competition: "Up" ($293 million), "The Blind Side" ($237.9 million), "Inglourious Basterds" ($120.5 million) and "District 9" ($115.6 million).

When last year's statuettes were presented, only one of the five best-picture finalists -- "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" -- had grossed more than $100 million.

"The fact that 'The Blind Side' made it in made me happier than anything," said Bullock, who also was nominated for best actress. "The greatest thing the academy could have done is to make it 10 movies."

The last time the academy nominated so many films for best picture was in 1944 ("Casablanca" won), and the return to the expanded list was sparked by declining ratings (about 36 million people watched last year's ceremony, down from 1998's "Titanic" sweep record of 55.2 million) and viewers who were growing older and more concentrated in large cities.

While some of the year's most popular films -- including the beloved bachelor-party comedy "The Hangover" and the popular "Star Trek" reboot -- didn't make the short list, the five other best picture nominations represented a diverse slice of film genres, audience appeal and critical acclaim. In addition to "The Blind Side," "District 9" and "Up," the other best-picture nominees were the coming-of-age movie "An Education" and the quirky, dark comedy "A Serious Man."

"Some of them might be smaller, some might be bigger. In the end, it's probably good for the movie business," said Lawrence Bender, a producer of "Inglourious Basterds."

The acting nominations ranged from bold-faced names in high-profile studio productions (George Clooney in "Up in the Air," Meryl Streep from "Julie & Julia") to lesser-known, up-and-coming performers in smaller, independently financed films (Jeremy Renner for "The Hurt Locker," Carey Mulligan in "An Education").

Since the academy added a separate race for animated movies for the 2002 awards ("Shrek" took the first such prize), no animated feature has been nominated for the best picture honor -- until a movie about a cranky old man, a chubby kid, a bunch of balloons and an unusual pack of canines arrived.

Andrew Kosove and Broderick Johnson of Alcon Entertainment, which financed "The Blind Side," said they were unsure about their hit film's awards chances.

"It's your movie, so, of course, you really love it. Even though audiences enjoy it, it's not necessarily the movie people think about for awards," Johnson said. Added Kosove: "But I'll be honest in saying that I absolutely understood it was a possibility."

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.