Writers rally around best picture favorites

Predicting likely noms and winners — always a risky business — is even trickier as many of the potential heavyweight contenders — “The Lovely Bones,” “Avatar,” “Nine” — aren’t scheduled for release until year’s end. But an even bigger mystery looms: By expanding the field from five to 10 nominees for best picture, will the Academy now give Oscar recognition to films that normally might not receive that kind of attention?

Despite all this, some critical consensus is emerging, with “Up in the Air” being widely praised. Peter Travers, Rolling Stone’s movie critic, calls it “my kind of studio picture — it’s smart, timely and a movie you take home with you.”

The Los Angeles Times’ Kenneth Turan also sees it as Oscar-worthy, as does “Entertainment Tonight’s” Leonard Maltin, who calls it “entertaining, timely and provocative — everything a movie should be.”

USA Today’s Claudia Puig says, “The ensemble cast is topnotch. George Clooney gives one of his best performances ever, and the film, perhaps more than any other this year, perfectly captures the mood and tenor of our times right now. Its look at corporate downsizing is funny, touching, disturbing and thoroughly entertaining.”

Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” is also receiving a lot of plaudits. Says Neil Rosen, movie critic at NY1, “It’s his best work in years and a great fantasy revenge film.” “Nothing’s come close,” says Los Angeles Daily News’ Bob Strauss. “It’s what Tarantino’s always done best — use language and reference his vast and eclectic cinematic knowledge, and all taken to amazing new heights.”

Puig calls it “one of the year’s most audacious, gory and glorious movies. Its tense and jangly pace grabs you from the first frame and doesn’t let go. Brash and nimbly acted, it is anchored by the mesmerizing performance of Christoph Waltz as a startlingly erudite and despicable Nazi.”

The little-seen but critically acclaimed “The Hurt Locker” is also a favorite. “It would be a huge oversight if ‘Locker’ were not a best-picture nominee,” Puig says. “This is the first great film about the Iraq War and manages to be an enthralling psychological portrait of one of the highest-stress jobs a soldier could have, a probing examination of the distinction between bravery and bravado and an explosively exciting action film.”

Travers also champions “The Hurt Locker” (“a shot to the heart”) and “Precious” (“It hit me like a ton of bricks, and Mo’Nique should win every award there is for that performance”).

KNBC’s Jeffrey Lyons agrees, adding that Gabourey Sidibe “gave one of the great debuting performances in movie history.”

Lyons also singles out “Crazy Heart” and star Jeff Bridges (“It’s this year’s Mickey Rourke performance and he’s long overdue”), “Invictus” (“Clint made one of the year’s most inspiring movies, and Morgan Freeman gives a portrayal akin to Ben Kingsley’s Gandhi) and “Broken Embraces” (“another brilliant portrayal from Penelope Cruz, the Sophia Loren of our time”).

The quirky romantic comedy “500 Days of Summer” has also gained traction. Rosen calls it “this year’s ‘Juno’ meets ‘Sideways,’ a small movie, but very innovative and fresh.” Puig says, “In the way ‘Annie Hall’ defined relationships in the 70s, it captures and distills the contemporary romantic sensibility. At once innovative, heartfelt and breezy, it happily invigorates the traditional boy-meets-girl story.”

And Turan and Rosen both loved “Up” — “It deserves a best picture nomination,” says Rosen.

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