10 best pic noms may mean more helmers get noticed

The great directors who never won a directing Oscar — Alfred Hitchcock, Charles Chaplin, Stanley Kubrick, Howard Hawks — all made the kinds of movies that traditionally get overlooked for best picture. Add them to the helmers who’ve never even gotten a nomination — Fritz Lang, Tim Burton, Brian De Palma, Sam Peckinpah, F.W. Murnau — and one sees an obvious bias against the makers of comedies, Westerns, sci-fi, fantasy. In other words, “filmmakers who might have the top-grossing films of the year,” says “Avatar” helmer James Cameron, “but aren’t necessarily getting any artistic respect.”

The Academy this year broadened the picture category from five to 10 nominees, which is a mixed blessing for genre directors. There will only be five directing nominations, which means that at least five helmers will personally be shut out of Oscar glory, even though their pics are being saluted. On the other hand, the spotlight will shine on films that might otherwise be overlooked — and the directors of those films are guaranteed some attention (and sympathy) from the industry and the public.

Talking Oscars at Oscar time is considered bad form, bad luck, bad juju. Contenders won’t even say the O word. “I don’t think about it,” says Lee Daniels, of “Precious.” “It’s embarrassing to talk about.” Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker”) demurs. Peter Jackson (“The Lovely Bones”) doesn’t even respond to the question.

But Cameron, who already owns a director Oscar for “Titanic” and has “Avatar” coming out Dec. 18, is candid.

“This is the thing that fans of genre films have been kvetching about for 30 years,” he says. “I remember being outraged when ‘Star Wars’ lost to ‘Annie Hall.’ I thought, ‘Well, that’s ridiculous. “Star Wars” changed the face of filmmaking, and “Annie Hall’s” a nice little film.’ I like ‘Annie Hall,’ but I thought that was outrageous.”

But he also realizes “that the Academy had a certain perspective.” It’s a perspective that came under fire last year when B.O. champ and critical fave “The Dark Knight” failed to get a picture nom and helped bring about this year’s changes — and all the consequent speculation.

CONTENDER PROFILES

Rookies

Kathryn Bigelow, “The Hurt Locker”

Jane Campion, “Bright Star”

James Cameron, “Avatar”

Joel and Ethan Coen, “A Serious Man”

Lee Daniels, “Precious”

Clint Eastwood, “Invictus”

Peter Jackson, “The Lovely Bones”

Jason Reitman, “Up in the Air”

Lone Scherfig, “An Education”

Quentin Tarantino, “Inglourious Basterds”

In the Mix

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