It may be hard to believe, but there are actually a few Academy Award categories this year that don't have anything to do with the expected battle between "Avatar" and "The Hurt Locker."  Here's a rundown of three of the more prestigious Oscar races that have received little attention so far this season.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE FILM

At the beginning of this award season there was some speculation that "Coraline" could compete with "Up," but that seems to have been wishful thinking by fans of the Henry Selick stop-motion hit.  Not only has "Up" dominated the animation awards it became the first film since "Beauty and the Beast" to receive a premier Best Picture nomination.  The Pixar blockbuster won't surprise for the top award, but there is no way the Academy won't reward it among its peers.

The nominees:

“Coraline” Henry Selick
“Fantastic Mr. Fox” Wes Anderson
“The Princess and the Frog” John Musker and Ron Clements
“The Secret of Kells” Tomm Moore
 “Up” Pete Docter

Who Will Win: "Up"
Who Should Win: "Up"
Upset Contender: "Coraline," but this is one of the biggest long-shots of the night.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE

There are no doubt Academy members who are afraid to watch the powerful documentary about dolphin hunting, "The Cove," but that hasn't stopped word from getting around how moving the film is.  The industry has no qualms about making a political statement with supporting an activist feature like "Cove" and after months of accolades, it would be a surprise if first time filmmaker Louie Psihoyos didn't get his chance to please his case from the Kodak stage.

The nominees are:

“Burma VJ”
"The Cove”
“Food, Inc.”
“The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers”
“Which Way Home”

Who Will Win: "The Cove"
Who Should Win: "The Cove"
Upset Contender: "The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers" or "Food Inc," but neither of the filmmakers behind those docs are spending too much time on possible acceptance speeches.


BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM

This is where the show gets interesting and the first real upset could occur.  It's still something of a darkhorse, but longtime frontrunner "The White Ribbon" from Germany faces some stiff competition from Argentina's "The Secret In Their Eyes (El Secreto de Sus Ojos)."  Most of the media haven't heart of "Secret," but it's the sort of classy thriller that could win over the hearts of Academy members.  Because only members who have seen all five nominees can vote, it tends to be a much smaller pool than the overall 5,000 plus membership and they tend to be older members with much more time on their hands.  It's one of the reasons Japan's "Departures" stunned by defeating "The Class" and "Waltz with Bashir" last year and little known (or heard since) "Tsotsi" defeated "Paradise Now" in 2006 and "Nowhere in Africa" surprised Zang Yimou's "Hero" in 2003.  If it happens again this year, the Academy will consider it a major embarrassment and there will be a major drumbeat to change the rules to allow all or more members to vote.

The nominees are:

“Ajami” Israel
“The Secret in their Eyes (El Secreto de Sus Ojos)” Argentina
“The Milk of Sorrow” Peru
A Prophet (Un Prophète)” France
“The White Ribbon” Germany

Who Will Win: "The White Ribbon"
Who Should Win: "A Prophet"
Upset Contender: "The Secret in their Eyes" could pull an upset.  It's a very commercial film with some fine performances.  It's fiftysomething "heroes" appeal to the Academy demographic (sad, but true), but it's nowhere near the achievement of "Ribbon" or "Prophet." 


Look for more stone cold lock Academy Award predictions as the Academy Awards draw near. 

Best Original Score, Best Original Song

Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Screenplay

Supporting Actor

Supporting Actress

Best Director

Best Editing

Live Action, Animated and Documentary Shorts
*Upcoming

Cinematography, Production Design, Costumes and Make Up
Wednesday, March 3

Actor
Thursday, March 4

Actress
Thursday, March 4

Picture, Sound
Friday, March 5

For a list of all the 82nd Academy Award nominees, click here.

 

For the latest Oscar and Entertainment news, follow Gregory Ellwood on Twitter @HitFixGregory.