Three months ago, it would have been hard to believe that Rob Marshall's star-studded movie musical "Nine" would be opening on the cusp of being an Oscar pretender and that James Cameron's much maligned "Avatar" would be soaring to critical acclaim and, perhaps, Oscar gold. And yet, as both films prepare to debut in theaters that's exactly what's happened.  Perhaps some examples will help explain each film's critical fate.

Can you figure out which New York Times review quote matches the reviews for "Nine" or "Avatar"?

"The best that can be said about [movie title] is that its affections are sincere, though you could say the same about its hero, who has the misfortune of being in a movie that’s an even worse mess than he is."
- A.O. Scott


"Few films return us to the lost world of our first cinematic experiences, to that magical moment when movies really were bigger than life (instead of iPhone size), if only because we were children. Movies rarely carry us away, few even try. They entertain and instruct and sometimes enlighten. Some attempt to overwhelm us, but their efforts are usually a matter of volume. What’s often missing is awe, something [filmmaker] has, after an absence from Hollywood, returned to the screen with a vengeance."
- Manohla Dargis


Or, perhaps you'd like to guess from the views of the nation's second prestigious entertainment section, the Los Angeles Times?

"Whatever way you choose to look at it, [movie title] shock and awe demand to be seen. You've never experienced anything like it, and neither has anyone else."
- Kenneth Turran

"[movie title] is one of those films that couldn't look better on paper -- so many Oscar, Tony and Grammy winners involved that the production should have literally glittered with all that gold. But in the end, nothing adds up. Perhaps "Zero" would have been a better name."
- Betsy Sharky


OK, well perhaps it wasn't that hard to guess.  Or, maybe you took a gander at the ratings at Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic as of 6 PM, Thursday evening.

Rotten Tomatoes:

"Avatar": 82% fresh (96% fresh with Top Critics)
"Nine": 34% fresh (36% fresh with Top Critics)

Metacritic:

"Avatar": 84 out of 100
"Nine": 51 out of 100

And with that sobering response it's the best and worst of times for The Weinstein Company for "Nine."  The musical has a Golden Globe nomination for Best Picture - Comedy/Musical and landed a Best Ensemble nod from SAG this morning.  However, year-end top ten placements will be few and far between.  Even with ten nominations, is it possible "Nine" doesn't make the cut?  It may have to be a major box office hit to stay a contender...maybe.

As for "Avatar," it also received a Best Picture honor from the HFPA in the Dramatic category, but didn't factor into SAG because the studio wanted to ensure the membership saw it on the big screen instead of screener which was limited by the time the picture was finished.  And, obviously, it's year-end critical reception will be much, much stronger.  So, Cameron's latest, which many scoffed at as a true contender (including this pundit) is not just "in," it will be vying to win it all.

Who knew?

In other Oscar news...

- Critics darling "The Hurt Locker" is expanding in theaters after becoming a major Oscar contender over the past few weeks. Kathryn Bigelow's fantastic thriller is expanding to 124 theaters and you can find it in the following markets:

Albany, Buffalo, New Haven, NYC, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Washington DC, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Des Moines, Detroit, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Omaha, Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, Austin, El Paso, San Antonio, San Diego, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Maui, Miami, Tallahassee, Tulsa, Denver, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Portland, Salt Lake City, San Fran, Sacramento, Seattle, and St. Louis

If you haven't had a chance to see it on the big screen, its well worth the experience.

- Martin Scorsese is the recipient of this year's Cecil B. DeMille Award from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and the organization announced today that two of the auteurs most frequent collaborators will be on hand.  Both Robert De Niro, who starred in Scorsese's "Mean Streets," "Casino," "Cape Fear," "Goodfellas," "Raging Bull," New York, New York," "Taxi Driver" and "The King of Comedy," as well as Leonardo DiCaprio, who appeared in the filmmaker's "The Aviator," "The Departed," "Gangs of New York" and the upcoming "Shutter Island," will be on hand to present the statue in person at this year's Golden Globes ceremony.  Should be a nice and classy moment for the HFPA.