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Avatarby 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!

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Imitation may be the highest form of flattery, but we've got to imagine winning an Oscar is a close second. In which case, Nick Park, the creator of the "Wallace and Gromit" films, can now officially consider himself one of the most flattered guys out there: Park, as well as the fellow Oscar-magnet folks at Pixar and some other former animated Oscar nominees and winners, took some loving potshots from "The Simpsons" during a new episode that aired this past Sunday (February 20).

Just days before the 83rd Annual Academy Awards, the writers at "The Simpsons" (perhaps still slightly ticked from their Best Animated Film snub in 2008 for "The Simpsons Movie") skewered the awards ceremony and some of its most celebrated films and stars with a little help from guest voices like Ricky Gervais (who was the butt of some Golden-Globes-hosting-gone-awry jokes), Russell Brand and Best Actress winner Halle Berry.

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OscarsHave you started getting ready for Oscar night? You're running out of time if you want to catch up on all ten Best Picture nominees and the various other films that have been nominated for awards. But thankfully, you're just in time to find out about the most exciting thing the Oscars have in store for you: our official live-stream coverage of the show!

On Sunday night (February 27), we're presenting our exclusive two-hour "2011 Oscars Live" stream on MTV.com! Movies editor and "After Hours" host Josh Horowitz will be interviewing your favorite celebrities on the red carpet from 6:00 – 8:00 PM EST, bringing you exclusive access to everything that's going on behind the scenes at Hollywood's biggest event of the year.

And that's not all – in addition to asking our questions, we'll be presenting your questions to our interviewees as well! Find out how you can participate after the jump!

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BanksyThere's just five days to go until the 83rd Annual Academy Awards, so you'd better start hedging your bets now. And, no, not on whether Annette Bening will pull a Best Actress upset over Natalie Portman, but if Banksy will pull one over on the Oscar producers during the telecast.

It was reported earlier this month that the controversial street artist, who is nominated for Best Documentary for his whip smart, is-it-real-or-not-docu-comedy "Exit Through The Gift Shop," was causing a bit of anxiety for Oscar producers. So much so that Academy president Tom Sherak had allegedly met with "Exit" producer Jaimie D’Cruz to make sure that if the film did win, someone other than Banksy would appear on stage to collect the award.

Sherak and executive director Bruce Davis reportedly feared that Banksy -- who never reveals his face and often hides under a monkey mask -- would take the class right out of the joint if he were to make the Oscar stage his own piece of performance art in his simian get-up. As Davis explained it to Entertainment Weekly, "The fun but disquieting scenario is that if the film wins and five guys in monkey masks come to the stage all saying, ‘I’m Banksy,’ who the hell do we give it to?”

It seems like Davis and Sherak are sticking to their guns, at least according to the UK's Metro. They've reported that Banksy (who may or may not have left his mark on Los Angeles recently with paintings of Charlie Brown smoking a cigarette and pouring a can of gasoline), has had his request to the Academy chiefs to attend in disguise declined.

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James FrancoTo Hollywood, James Franco may be a mystery wrapped in an enigma wrapped in an occasional soap opera actor. But, the multi-tasking star isn't taking Tinseltown standards too seriously, even when it comes to its biggest night of the year.

The Best Actor nominee ("127 Hours") will serve as co-host alongside Anne Hathaway for the 83rd Annual Academy Awards, but he isn't feeling much pressure about the gig. Speaking with Vanity Fair for their "Screening Room" segment, he bluntly explained: "If it's the worst Oscars show ever, who cares? It's like, it's fine. It's one night. It doesn't matter. If I host the worst Oscar show in the history of the Oscars, like, why do I care?"

Franco said he feels that expectations aren't as high for himself and Hathaway as they would be for, say, Billy Crystal or Chris Rock. "They're not asking us because they're expecting that, the show is going to be designed for what we can do."

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Melissa LeoBest Supporting Actress. It's a category that's notorious for being a wild card race and now one of its nominees has become just that -- a wild card.

Melissa Leo, who has all but swept the awards season thus far (including victories at the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild Awards, and the Critics Choice Awards) for her work in "The Fighter," has quite possibly gone from front-runner to question mark with a self-promoted campaign.

Late last week, Leo released two Hollywood trade ads on her own (sources say "The Fighter's" distributors Paramount and Relativity had no idea about the move), one in which she wears a black, sequined gown, in the other a large, white faux-fur coat. Both ads simply read, "Consider..."

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InceptionIt seems like one of the biggest qualms with this year's Oscar nominations was the omission of Christopher Nolan from the Best Director category. Sure, "Inception" landed eight Oscar nominations, but most of them were in the technical categories instead of the acting or directing categories.

That means that the two biggest nominations "Inception" is up for at this year's Oscars are for Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. It might be tough for "Inception" to win Best Picture with "The Social Network" and "The King's Speech" as the continued frontrunners, but now it doesn't seem as big of a long shot for the film to beat out "The Fighter" and "The Kids Are All Right" for Best Original Screenplay.

Over the weekend, the Writer's Guild of America honored Nolan with the Best Original Screenplay prize, which many critics believed to be a minor upset. So far, "Inception" has only won awards for its screenplay in smaller venues like the Online Film Critics Society Awards and regional awards ceremonies. At the Golden Globes, it was beat out of the Best Screenplay race by "The Social Network," who also won the WGA award for Best Adapted Screenplay.

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Gwyneth PaltrowIt's been almost 12 years since Gwyneth Paltrow took to the stage of the Academy Awards as the Best Actress winner for her work in "Shakespeare in Love." Now, Paltrow will return to the Oscar stage once again, only this time, not as a nominee or presenter, rather, as something she's been a lot more of these days — a performer.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Paltrow will perform the Best Original Song nominee "Coming Home" (with music and lyrics by nominees Tom Douglas, Troy Verges and Hillary Lindsey) from her movie "Country Strong" during the 83rd Annual Academy Awards on Sunday, February 27.

Paltrow has already sung songs from the flick elsewhere, including a live performance of "Country Strong" at the Country Music Awards. It will be the second time this month the star will perform during a live awards ceremony, as she and Cee Lo Green will hit the Grammy stage together, to sing his nominated smash "Forget You," which she memorably covered on Glee."

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The King's SpeechWith "The King's Speech" pulling ahead in the Oscar race, Harvey Weinstein may be even more anxious to have the film re-edited to reach a wider audience.

Last week it was reported by the Los Angeles Times that Weinstein, whose Oscar-friendly studio The Weinstein Co. released the film, wanted to find a way to trim an intricate scene of the currently R-rated movie in which King George VI (Colin Firth) lets a string of expletives fly under the instruction of his speech therapist (Geoffrey Rush).

Weinstein argued that the success of the film in Great Britain was due to a lower rating, as he told the LA Times, "The British numbers are huge because the rating lets families see the movie together,” he said, adding, “[Director] Tom (Hooper) and I are trying to find a unique way to do this that keeps his vision of the movie.”

But, it seems Hooper may have no intention of changing his vision after all. Hooper, who bested "The Social Network" director David Fincher in an upset win at the Director's Guild of America Awards on Saturday (January 29), spoke to Entertainment Weekly about the possible re-cut.

"I wouldn’t support cutting the film in any way. I think we looked at whether it’s possible to bleep out the f—s and stuff, but I’m not going to actually cut that part," Hooper said of the scene in contention. Read More...

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Franco and HathawayThey've got Icarus-inspired high-tops and T-shirts that warn, "Oscar Host-in-Training." What they don't seem to have, unfortunately, is a clue. Welcome to the lives of James Franco and Anne Hathaway in the run up to their joint hosting gig of the 83rd Annual Academy Awards (or, at least, their lives as presented in one of two new promos for the award show).

The promo casts Franco and Hathaway as sweetly naive newbies attempting to prepare for the worst possible live-show disasters: a potentially breast-revealing wardrobe malfunction, a mid-dance mishap that leaves Hathaway flying across the stage. Another ad shows them, perhaps less creatively, working on their promotional lines. Are they effective ads? Do the 15-second spots make us want to tune into the proceedings on February 27? Because, for better or worse, it won't just be the quality of the program and its winners that establish the show's legacy but the number of viewers who tune to watch it all unfold. Read More...

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