In news that will come to sweet relief to Pixar, Walt Disney Studios, Sony Pictures Animation, Fox Searchlight and Focus Features, the Best Animated Feature race officially has over the 16 entry minimum needed to require a five nominee field. Surprisingly, that doesn't end the stress for a number of potential contenders.

Awards Campaign's buddy and animation beat extraordinaire reporter Peter Debruge broke the news in Variety today that two indies, "The Secret of Kells" and "The Missing Lynx" were the films that pushed the category over the edge.  However, while those films chances at being nominated are slim, it now means one of the following features is going to be left out in the cold.  Here's a run down at the six flicks who have a shot at being nominated this year.



"Up"
The frontrunner on so many levels, it's in no matter what.  Really.

"Coraline"
Director Henry Selick is beloved by the Academy and the independently produced 3-D flick made a ton of money.  Hard to see it not getting in.

"Fantastic Mr. Fox"
The one other true stop-motion contender is one of the most original and - so far- critically acclaimed films of the year. It's got a very strong shot.

"Ponyo"
The legendary Hayao Miyazaki is even more beloved than Selick by the Academy's animation branch and "Ponyo" should provide him with his third straight Oscar nomination (he won in 2003 for "Spirited Away").

"Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs"
Those in the industry that love Sony Animation's big hit really love it.  Whether it can sneak in to the final five is still debatable.

"The Princess and the Frog"
 Disney is heralding this new fairy tale as a return to their 90s renaissance of hand drawn animation. The questions are whether it can hold up to that scrutiny and in a field where members often vote in blocks based on their primary employers, can Disney really get three nominees in?

For those wondering where DreamWorks "Monsters vs. Aliens" is on this list, it's just not gonna happen.  The March release one of the company's least embraced flicks since "Over the Hedge" and hardly has moviegoers clamoring for a sequel.  So, all in all, after you review the ten Best Picture nominees on Oscar nod morning, skim over to the animation race.  It may actually hold more real surprises.

In other awards season news...

- The annual January awards season stop known as the Palm Springs Film Festival has announced that Morgan Freeman will receive the organization's Career Achievement Award for Acting at its kick off gala on Jan. 5.  Freeman appears in Clint Eastwood's "Invictus" next month and is considered a strong candidate for a Best Actor nomination.  The Palm Springs Festival runs through Jan. 18 and features numerous panels with potential nominees willing to endure Q&A's with the city's large number of retired Academy members. 

- Los Angeles Film Festival gets a major boost as highly-respected former Newsweek critic David Ansen has been made Artistic Director for the 2010 edition of the fest.  The LAFF has been a showcase for many of Hollywood's summer films over the past few years with premieres for flicks such as "Public Enemies" last year, but it hasn't broken much ground in terms of original debuts.  Considering where it falls in the festival calendar, in between Cannes and Toronto, you'd think it could make more of a splash just like SXSW has carved a niche out for itself after Sundance.  Ansen may not solve that problem, but his appointment is a step in the right direction. The 2010 LAFF will run June 17-27.

- Studio chiefs Robert Iger and Barry Meyer have been named recipients of the Director's Guild of America Honorary Life Member Award. Iger, who runs Disney, and Meyer, who has turned Warner Bros. into a money-making machine,  are being honored for "outstanding creative achievement, leadership in the industry, contribution to the DGA or to the profession of directing." What the duo is really being recognize for was their willingness to negotiate during the Writer's Strike to make a deal with the DGA (whose contract was also up) when their fellow moguls were less than eager to budget on terms.  Both men will be honored at the 62nd Annual DGA Awards on Jan. 30.

- Warren Beatty got good news today on two fronts. First, a Delaware Bankruptcy judge said the icon's suite against the Tribune Co. over the TV and movie rights to the Dick Tracy character can continue.  Second, Beatty is set to receive the Outstanding Contribution to Cinematic Imagery Award from the Art Directors Guild.  Some of Beatty's noteworthy design achievements include "Reds," "Dick Tracy" and "Bullworth."  The honor will be bestowed at the 2010 Art Directors Guild Awards on Feb. 13.
 

For constant updates on awards season and entertainment news follow Gregory Ellwood on Twitter at Twitter.com/HitFixGregory