by Sterling Wong
Two years have passed since the Academy Awards expanded the number of Best Picture nominees from five to ten, and thanks to the enlarged field, blockbuster Hollywood productions stand a greater chance than ever at scoring a prestigious nomination.
In 2009, "Avatar" pushed "The Hurt Locker" all the way in a close race before eventually losing out on the Oscar, and this year, Christopher Nolan scored one with his thinking man’s thriller, "Inception." In fact, one could argue that Nolan contributed to the Academy’s decision to expand the Best Picture category after the backlash of "The Dark Knight," which transcended its comic book roots to become a box office and cultural phenomenon, missing out on a nomination in 2008.
If the 2009 and 2010 nominations are any indication, a big-budget production will get a shot at the coveted Best Picture award in 2011. The question is, which one? We're weighing in with some possible contenders past the jump!
"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2"
Over the years, the Potter films, which are always positively received by critics, have consistently scored tech nods, even if it’s never made it in the major categories. But the eighth and concluding film of the franchise might finally buck that trend: as the conflict between Harry and Voldemort comes to a close, "Deathly Hallows Part 2" has all the ingredients necessary to cast its spell on voters. Plus, think back to "Return of the King" -- that we’re-rewarding-you-for-all-of-your-cumulative-good-work factor could certainly come into play.
The world finally got its first good look at J.J. Abrams’ super-secret "Super 8" with the 30-second Super Bowl teaser. And sure, there were plenty of explosions, but the look and feel of the trailer gave off a very strong early '80s Spielberg action/adventure vibe -- indeed, it's co-produced by Spielberg -- and that is always a good thing. The plot involves aliens, a small town, and a young protagonist, so start thinking "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" meets "E.T." If the movie is anywhere near the quality of those two, consider it a lock for an Oscar nod.
"The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn"
Speaking of Spielberg, the maestro finally returns to the director’s chair after 2008’s "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull." Hoping to be the successful launch of a new franchise, the film will tell the story of Tintin’s (Jamie Bell) first swashbuckling adventure with Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis). A Steven Spielberg film is always worth a second look, and given the strength of the source material, there is no reason to think this won’t be a blast.
"Cowboys and Aliens"
On the surface, "Cowboys and Aliens," fronted by the übermacho duo of Daniel Craig and Harrison Ford, seems like straightforward escapist summer fare. But the film's initial trailers reveal a darker and grittier tone than expected, which is a nice surprise. It boasts an unconventional setup, but so did the Oscar-nominated "District 9." If its script is as sharp as Neill Blomkamp's sci-fi tale, "Cowboys and Aliens" just might rope in a nomination.
"Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon"
Don't laugh; just read Michael Bay's words from a recent interview with MTV News: "We did not want the third one to suck. We worked extra hard ... it's kind of like 'Black Hawk Down' with our small group of heroes in a city." Them’s fighting words from the man known for his pretty explosions! We know the movie will earn a gazillion billion dollars, but those "Black Hawk Down" comparisons... look, we're not sure about its Best Picture prospects, but you can certainly color us intrigued for "Dark of the Moon."
Which 2012 big-budget blockbuster do you think will score a Best Picture Oscar nomination? Tell us what you think in the comments section and on Twitter!