It's hard to believe that at one time during this extended awards season "Nine" was the frontrunner for Best Picture (especially after everyone finally saw it).  And then it was a seemingly invincible run for Jason Reitman's "Up in the Air," but even that bubble burst before had barely started.  And now?  The 82nd Academy Awards will feature a long night of back and forth wins as "Avatar" and "The Hurt Locker" line up for an epic David vs. Goliath showdown for Best Picture.  

Even before the bizarre events of "Lockergate" broke last week, casual inquiries among Oscar voters found the guild-favorite "Hurt Locker" being pushed aside by the pop culture momentum of "Avatar."  Kathryn Bigelow's thriller had swept the Director's Guild, Producer's Guild, Editor's Guild Awards and even won the British Academy Award for Best Picture, but most Academy members would react with a blunt "Well, of course I'm voting for 'Avatar'" when asked about their top choice.  And the passionate "Locker" supporters? Much harder to find.  

Complicating matters, according to Awards Campaign's sources, usually only a quarter of voters submit their ballots during the first week.  Most of the time, a boatload of ballots arrive at the last minute meaning a majority of the Academy take their time contemplating who to vote for.  That may be the nail in the coffin for "Locker" during this extended season with the "Avatar" train hardly slowing down.

So, will the critic's favorite survive the recent controversy for an improbable Academy triumph or will James Cameron's $2.4 billion phenomenon cap off a spectacular three months at the box office with the director's second Best Picture in row?

Quite simply, the game changer takes it all.


BEST PICTURE


“Avatar”
“The Blind Side”
“District 9”
“An Education”
“The Hurt Locker”
“Inglourious Basterds”
“Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire”
“A Serious Man”
“Up”
“Up in the Air”

Who Will Win: "Avatar"
Who Should Win: "Avatar," "The Hurt Locker," "Precious"
Upset Contender: "The Hurt Locker" wouldn't necessarily be an upset winner, but "Inglourious Basterds" certainly would.  Harvey Weinstein is hoping to split the vote between "Avatar" and "Locker" to sneak Tarantino's big hit through for the win, but it's wishful thinking on the longtime Oscar player's part.

Two of these pundit's least favorite categories are Sound Editing and Sound Mixing.  The entire Academy membership can vote for them and a majority of the time their votes have nothing to do with the actual sound quality of the work.  They really are pick em's between "Avatar" and "Hurt Locker," but for the record...


BEST SOUND EDITING


The nominees:

“Avatar” Christopher Boyes and Gwendolyn Yates Whittle
“The Hurt Locker” Paul N.J. Ottosson
“Inglourious Basterds” Wylie Stateman
“Star Trek” Mark Stoeckinger and Alan Rankin
“Up” Michael Silvers and Tom Myers

Who Will Win: "Avatar"
Who Should Win: "Avatar" or "The Hurt Locker"
Upset Contender: "Locker" could easily win here too, but it seems a given Oscar voters will just check this off for Cameron's immersive achievement.


BEST SOUND MIXING

The nominees:

“Avatar” Christopher Boyes, Gary Summers, Andy Nelson and Tony Johnson
“The Hurt Locker” Paul N.J. Ottosson and Ray Beckett
“Inglourious Basterds” Michael Minkler, Tony Lamberti and Mark Ulano
“Star Trek” Anna Behlmer, Andy Nelson and Peter J. Devlin
“Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers and Geoffrey Patterson

Who Will Win: "Avatar"
Who Should Win: Strangely, probably "Transformers"
Upset Contender: Again, "Locker" could also win here but it's almost a crapshoot. If "Avatar" doesn't win it, it's gonna be "Locker."

For a complete rundown of all of this year's Oscar nominees,
click here.  Or, visit the individual rundown posts below.

Best Original Score, Best Original Song

Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Screenplay

Supporting Actor

Supporting Actress

Best Director

Best Editing

Best Animated Feature, Best Foreign Language Film, Best Documentary Feature

Best Cinematography, Best Make Up, Best Costumes and Best Art Direction

Best Actor

Best Actress

Best Animated Short, Best Documentary Short, Best Live Action Short

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.