Release date: Aug. 14

Distrib: Sony

If the Academy expanded its best picture race to answer last year’s “Dark Knight” snub, then the Peter Jackson-produced “District 9″ is precisely the type of film intended to benefit: a big-studio hit that scored with both critics and audiences. But it’s also completely different.

While “The Dark Knight” was the sixth installment in the popular Batman franchise, loaded with stars and made in a polished, classical style, “District 9″ is an original work with an unfamiliar lead (Sharlto Copley) delivered in a daring pseudo-documentary format. As director, newcomer Neill Blomkamp blends simulated surveillance camera footage with the jittery handheld style of the Bourne sequels.

Though an action movie at heart, “District 9″ gains added resonance from its South African setting, where, instead of learning from apartheid, the government has decided to extend the policy to an unwelcome alien species. Insider reports suggest a strong Academy affinity for the project, which could buoy Blomkamp and co-writer Terri Tatchell to noms.

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