Traditionally, Oscar takes the summer off. Sure, you'll get an occasional best picture release such as "Gladiator," "Braveheart" or last year's winner "The Hurt Locker," but most of the contenders don't hit the ground until well past Labor Day.  Well, the 10 nominee system has changed all that.

Last year, four of the best picture nominees were released in the summer: "Up," "Inglourious Basterds," "District 9" and "Locker."  The 83rd Academy Awards probably won't match that total, but there are more summer players than usual for awards season overall.  Just previewing the feature films, there are eight releases that should easily make some noise over the next three months. 

A couple of quick caveats before reviewing the contenders.  Universal's "Despicable Me" didn't make the cut because it's unclear how many nods there will be for best animated feature this go around (it's probably back to only three nods).  With "How to Train Your Dragon" and "Toy Story 3" pretty much locks already, "Me" is likely to be shut out of a relatively crowded field with "Tangled" and "Megamind" on the horizon (see "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" last year). Some critics like the Sundance release "The Killer Inside Me," but it's not going to get director Michael Winterbottom or his cast any awards attention.  And, as fun and great a performance Jim Carrey gives in the long-delayed "I Love You Philip Morris" we're not gonna believe that film is coming out till we see it projected in a theater.

With that in mind...

"Inception"
Opening: July 14
Why: One of the few films generating any real buzz this summer, "Inception" has already blown away those lucky enough to see it.  The reaction you hear is a passion only heard of once or twice a year in this  town.  It "appears" Chris Nolan has done it again.
Categories: Best Picture, Director (Chris Nolan), Actor (Leonardo DiCaprio), Supporting Actress (Marion Cotillard), Screenplay (Chris Nolan), Cinematography (Wally Pfister), Editing (Lee Smith), Art Direction (Guy Dyas), Score (Hans Zimmer), Visual Effects, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing
Best Picture contender: Yes.

"The Kids Are All Right"
Opening: Limited release on July 9
Why: Hands down, the biggest surprise at the Sundance Film Festival, this dramedy has the potential to commercially cross over (in a $25-30 million "500 Days of Summer" way) and should end up as one of the best reviewed films of the year.
Categories: Best Picture, Director (Lisa Cholodenko) Actress (Annette Bening, Julianne Moore), Supporting Actor (Mark Ruffalo), Screenplay (Lisa Cholodenko, Stuart Blumberg)
Best Picture contender: Yes.

"Winter's Bone"
Opening: Limited release on July 11
Why: The Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury prize winner has a passionate fanbase (even if this pundit isn't part of it) that is reminiscent of the long stewing love affair for 2008's "Frozen River" which resulted in two nods in the actress and screenplay categories.
Categories: Actress (Jennifer Lawrence), Screenplay (Debra Granik, Anne Rosellini)
Best Picture contender: No.

"I Am Love"
Opening: June 18 in New York and Los Angeles
Why: Considered a masterpiece by many (including this prognosticator), Tilda Swinton's performance should generate serious buzz and it would be a crime if Pulitzer winning composer John Adams wasn't at least nominated for his breathtaking score.
Categories: Actress (Tilda Swinton), Cinematography (Yorick Le Saux), Score (John Adams)
Best Picture contender: No, though in a perfect world it would be...



"Toy Story 3"
Why: America loves Pixar and boy do they love "Toy Story." So much so, its likely to win the summer box office derby.  Plus, word is it might be just as good as the first two.
Categories: Best Picture, Animated Feature, Screenplay (Michael Arndt), Score (Randy Newman)
Best Picture contender: Yes, but just because the field has expanded to 10 nods.

"Scott Pilgrim vs. The World"
Opening: August 16
Why: Director Edgar Wright is not your average studio director. He's a Brit known to take chances and combining his aesthetic with the original graphic novel makes "PIlgrim" one of the more unexpected adventures moviegoers experience all year.
Categories: Screenplay (Michael Bacall, Edgar Wright), Cinematography (Bill Pope), Art Direction (Marcus Rowland, Nigel Churcher), Visual Effects
Best Picture contender: No.

"Cyrus"
Opening: Limited release on June 18
Why: The Duplass brothers have gone from mumblecore pioneers to the "next big thing" in the industry.  This daring dramedy is the sort of screenplay the Writer's branch loves to reward with a nod and the younger members of the Academy should embrace it.
Categories: Screenplay (Mark Duplass, Jay Duplass)
Best Picture contender: No.

"Get Low"
Opening: July 30 in New York and Los Angeles
Why: Unlike "Cyrus," "Low" is a perfect example of a prestige bait flick for older members of the Academy.  It also has serious supporters in the dwindling critical establishment. More importantly, it's already been five years since "Broken Flowers." Isn't it time for the annual industry award tease for Bill Murray?
Categories: Actor (Robert Duvall), Supporting Actor (Bill Murray)
Best Picture contender: No.

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