With 10 best-picture contenders, this is the first time since 1943 that so many films are competing for Hollywood's highest honor. From 1931 to 1943, the Oscars featured between eight and 12 best-picture nominees. There were 10 in 1943, when "Casablanca" won best picture, but the show switched to five nominees after that.

Last summer, academy organizers decided to go back to 10, saying they wanted a broader range of titles in the mix, including worthy populist movies that often miss out on best-picture nominations in favor of the smaller dramas Oscar voters typically prefer.

Freeman got the news of his nomination while in Rome.

"This is my fifth nomination and I'm more proud of that than all the rest of it I think," he said, also approving of the expansion of the best picture category although it did not include "Invictus."

"I think it's a good call, a good call, some good pictures. We didn't get a best picture nomination? Well that's a big letdown. Well there you go. That's my problem, I thought we should get a best picture nomination. But it's OK."

Blockbuster best-picture contenders usually translate to better ratings for the Oscar broadcast, whose TV audience peaked with Cameron's "Titanic" triumph 12 years ago. Ratings have been so-so ever since, hitting an all-time low two years ago.

Luckily for Oscar overseers, the show this time includes the biggest thing since "Titanic." Cameron's "Avatar" has soared past "Titanic" to become No. 1 on the box-office charts, with $2 billion and climbing worldwide.

"Up," a travel adventure about a lonely widower who flies his house off to South America suspended from helium balloons, is only the second animated film ever to earn a best-picture nomination, following "Beauty and the Beast" in 1991, when the category had only five contenders.

Along with best picture, "Up" was nominated for animated feature, along with "Coraline," "Fantastic Mr. Fox," "The Princess and the Frog" and "The Secret of Kells." Pixar Animation, which made "Up," has produced four of the eight winners since the animated-feature category was added in 2001, including "Finding Nemo" and "WALL-E."

Along with "Avatar" and "District 9," a third sci-fi hit, "Star Trek," had been considered a likely best-picture nominee, but it missed out, scoring only technical nominations, including visual effects and makeup.

Best-picture nominee "The Blind Side" was a huge hit but generally viewed as a longshot for a nomination in the top Oscar category.

Actors snubbed for acclaimed performances included Emily Blunt for "The Young Victoria," Julianne Moore for "A Single Man" and Diane Kruger for "Inglourious Basterds."

Oscar nominees are chosen in most categories by specific branches of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, such as actors, directors and writers. The academy's full membership of about 5,800 was eligible to vote for best-picture nominations and can cast ballots for the winners in all categories at the Oscar ceremony itself.

The 82nd Oscars will be presented March 7 in a ceremony airing on ABC from Hollywood's Kodak Theatre.

This season's ceremony continues last year's effort to liven up the show. Organizers chose song-and-dance Hugh Jackman as host a year ago rather than the usual comedian, and this time, they decided to go with dual hosts, Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin.

Oscar producers Adam Shankman, a choreographer and director whose films include "Hairspray," and Bill Mechanic, former studio boss at 20th Century Fox, are promising to step up the fun quotient at this year's show.

Honorary Oscars, which took up a big chunk of space during past shows, were moved to a separate event last fall, freeing up more time to focus on the expanded best-picture nominees and other categories viewers care most about.


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