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Oscar voters, critics bridge the gap

Reviewers favor picks for 10 best pictures

As Variety in a bygone era might have headlined: Crix Click Dix Pix.

That’s to say America’s film reviewers give thumbs-up to the 10 films named to the first expanded roster of best picture nominees since 1943’s “Casablanca” triumphed over nine competitors.

A check of the 0 – 100 ratings at the Metacritic website — whose weighted averages put greatest emphasis on the critical elite — yields a overall 80 for 2009’s nominee slate. That nonweighted average is bookended by two outliers: 94 for awards-season superstar “The Hurt Locker” at the high end, 53 for the less refined (though much more financially successful) “The Blind Side” at the bottom.

Rotten Tomatoes, a popular summary site with a more populist methodology, arrives at the same conclusion. By lumping all crix together in its ratings, RT yields an overall 88 for the anointed 10, with ” The Hurt Locker’s” at 97 just edged out by “Up” at 98, closely paced by “An Education” at 94. “The Blind Side” repeats as the least acclaimed nominee, though its 70 falls considerably above the 60-point threshold separating “fresh” and “rotten.” (Clearly, the Sandra Bul­lock starrer found more love in the boonies than in the rarefied circle Metacritic weights more heavily.)

When it comes to the Academy’s horse race, there’s relief that the contenders aren’t seen as total junk, an outcome some feared when five nominees became 10. When even critic Kenneth Turan, whose downbeat view of James Cameron’s “Titanic” turned into a long-running cause celebre, raves in the Los Angeles Times, “You’ve never experienced anything like (“Avatar”), and neither has anyone else,” that’s a good sign critical acclaim is spiking on the green side of the applause-o-meter.

To give credit to Acad voters where credit is due, over time they’ve tended to bridge the gap between their tastes and critical opinion. Long gone are the days when both “Airport” and “Love Story,” in 1970, were among the five noms.

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