127 Hours

Why It Was Nominated: Danny Boyle’s latest proved that high energy editing, acting, and music can make even a mundane “trapped for five days with a crushed arm” story interesting. Aaron Ralston’s ordeal that resulted in him severing his own arm off in a bid for survival is as fascinating and inspirational as it is terrifying. Boyle captures much of that thanks in large part to James Franco’s charismatic and emotional performance.

Why It Might Win: Boyle took the top prize two years ago with Slumdog Millionaire, so we know the Academy already has an attraction to his energetic style of mixing fast paced visuals with jaunty music. They’re also big fans of his relentlessly positive and poppy themes.

Why It Might Not Win: Once again, this is an example of a film being overshadowed by a single performance within. Franco is a big personality and he seems to garnering most of the notices when people speak of the film.

The Social Network

Why It Was Nominated: David Fincher’s latest proved that a smartly scripted and highly entertaining movie about the world’s biggest social networking site still isn’t enough to convince me to join Facebook.

Critics and audiences fell for this movie in droves and quickly labeled it the film of a generation. It’s actually less about a generation than it is about society in general, but the sentiment remains that it captured something special.

It’s Fincher’s most accessible film helped by a brilliant script, strong performances across the board, and a loose adherence to reality.

Why It Might Win: Fincher’s film has picked up an incredible amount of awards from critics and guild groups around the country.

Why It Might Not Win: The King’s Speech has picked up the more important ones.

Toy Story 3

Why It Was Nominated: Lee Unkrich’s latest proved that even an emotional retread with two fantastic scenes can still pluck viewers’ heartstrings all the way to the bank if it’s stamped with the Pixar name.

The animation kings got their first Best Picture nomination last year with Up, and they earned one again this year through a combination of technical, artistic, and financial achievements. They’ve proven once again that characters don’t have to be flesh and blood to be emotionally affecting.

Why It Might Win: Highest grossing film of the year? Check. Annual release from the untouchable boys club that is Pixar? Check. CGI wow factor combined with string sense of nostalgia? Check. Michael Keaton being awesome (even if it is only in voice form)? Check.

Why It Might Not Win: The inclusion of animated films in the Best Picture category is a nod to the general quality of Pixar releases, but it’s still a stunt only allowed by the ten nominee scenario. Were this a five film race Toy Story 3 wouldn’t even be in discussion. And let’s be honest here… it’s basically Toy Story 2 with a far better and more conclusive ending.

True Grit

Why It Was Nominated: The Coen Brothers’ latest proved that “remake” isn’t a dirty word, that the good ones can sometimes surpass the original in quality and entertainment value, and that Matt Damon is an awkward spanker.

The brothers Coen continue to surprise critics and audiences alike with their ability to move from one genre to the next changing up tone and atmosphere along the way, and by bringing the Western back into the public eye they’ve achieved something only Kevin Costner seemed capable of in the best couple decades.

Why It Might Win: The Coens are an unpredictable pair, and they already pulled off what many consider to be an upset with No Country For Old Men‘s victory over There Will Be Blood in 2007. Plus, the Western is a true American genre and they brought it back in a big way.

Why It Might Not Win: It’s tempting to point to the godawful CGI throughout the film as reason enough for it not to win the top prize, but it’s actually the somewhat casual tone that works against it here. The film is an uneven mix of Western drama and comedy that works better when mining for laughs than when it’s reaching for emotional connection. The ending scene with a grown up Mattie Ross being the perfect example… goodwill for a young teen doesn’t automatically translate to an unrecognizable adult face looking for emotional payoff.

Winter’s Bone

Why It Was Nominated: Debra Granik’s latest proved that even a little-seen indie film can find a seat at the Best Picture table when it’s made with care, grounded with strong performances, and features a hot blond named Winter.

This tale about a young woman in the Ozark mountains struggling against everyone around her in an effort to find her drug dealing father is a moody, dark, and highly immersive feature. It oozes authenticity from beneath every dirty fingernail and pair of overalls.

Why It Might Win: Everyone loves a good David vs Goliath story right?

Why It Might Not Win: This is the lowest grossing film of the ten nominees, and that means this is as close as it’s going to get to the Oscar. As with The Kids Are All Right the honor here is in being nominated, but the Academy is aiming to reward films with a much higher recognition factor. Plus, while Lawrence’s performance drew raves and earned her several follow-up jobs no one seems to be rushing to offer Granik a comic-book film for her resumé.

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Best Supporting Actress

Best Supporting Actor

Best Original Score

Best Animated Feature

Best Lead Actor

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