Oscars arrive, predictability out of picture

LOS ANGELES -- Too predictable. That's the persistent complaint about the Academy Awards, whose drama generally is sapped by a glut of earlier award shows that spell out what films will win at the Oscars before the show starts.

Not this time -- at least for today's top prize.

With the best-picture lineup expanded to 10 films instead of the usual five, the science-fiction spectacle and box-office behemoth ''Avatar'' is head-to-head with the low-budgeted, low-grossing Iraq War story ''The Hurt Locker.''

The acting prizes look as predictable as ever, with Oscars expected to go to Sandra Bullock as best actress for ''The Blind Side,'' Jeff Bridges as best actor for ''Crazy Heart,'' Mo'Nique as supporting actress for ''Precious'' and Christoph Waltz as supporting actor for ''Inglourious Basterds.''

''Avatar'' won best drama at the Golden Globes, traditionally a good gauge for how the Oscars might play out. But the Globes were nearly two months ago, the first major ceremony in the long buildup to the Oscars. A lot has happened since.

''The Hurt Locker'' dominated honors from Hollywood trade groups, including guilds representing directors, writers and producers. It also won best-picture and five other prizes at the British Academy Film Awards.

The films bring some behind-the-scenes drama. ''Avatar'' director James Cameron and ''The Hurt Locker'' director Kathryn Bigelow were married from 1989-91, making this the first time ex-spouses have competed for the directing Oscar.

Bigelow would be the first woman ever to win best director, a prize Cameron earned with 1997's ''Titanic.''

And one of Bigelow's fellow producers on ''The Hurt Locker,'' Nicolas Chartier, has been barred from attending the Oscars after he ran afoul of the awards rules by sending e-mails to academy voters urging them to support his film over ''Avatar.''

Overseers at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences took some heat after doubling the field to 10 films last summer. Many actors, filmmakers and others in Hollywood wondered if the Oscars had lowered their standards by letting so many films into the best-picture race.