Few surprises in diverse best pic field

No huge shockers despite five more nominees

It’s business as usual in the best picture category.

The same five films that have dominated talk throughout awards season were asked to the party Feb. 2, with the rest of the invite list presenting few surprises and almost no kerfuffles.

Action-adventures “Avatar,” “The Hurt Locker” and “Inglourious Basterds” are in the hunt along with urban drama “Precious” and sophisticated dramedy “Up in the Air.” This quintet has been tied at the hip lately more closely than the Dave Clark Five: They made up the complete lists of Golden Globes best drama and DGA nominees, and all five appeared on the PGA’s 10-pic roster as well.

Oscar’s remaining slots went to representatives of genres that have frequently appeared among past best picture rolls even when there was room for only five. Classy, modestly budgeted seriocomedies have always been welcome contenders — think “Hope and Glory,” “Secrets and Lies” and “Fargo” among dozens of others — especially when they come with the cachet of European atmosphere (Lone Scherfig’s “An Education”) or an auteur’s signature (the Coen Bros.’ “A Serious Man”).

Popular feel-good entertainments are less often named, though “The Blind Side” exudes the same triumphant sports epic vibe as erstwhile nominees “Seabiscuit” and “Rocky” (which won in 1976). And while “Up’s” double-dip accomplishment in being named to best animated feature and best overall feature sets an amazing precedent, it was 1991’s “Beauty and the Beast” that cracked the celluloid ceiling as the first cartoon to join the best picture list.

About the only surprise, albeit a minor one, was the slot allotted to “District 9,” given the Academy’s traditional disdain for anything smacking of sci-fi. (Even Stanley Kubrick, a best director nominee in 1968, couldn’t pull “2001: A Space Odyssey” into the top category.) But Neill Blomkamp brought cinema verite technique, a heightened sensibility and savage social satire to his saga of oppressed aliens in revolt. With all those qualities common to best picture nominees, “District 9” was able to slide onto the PGA’s roster and now Oscar’s as well.

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