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Academy Award nominations: Kudos, gripes, observations

"Game called on account of Oscar!”

Invoking one of my favorite lines from “The Oscar” (1966), the best and worst movie ever made about the Academy Awards, doesn’t give me much edge for figuring what the nominations mean.

Announced on Tuesday morning, most beautifully by Anne Hathaway “at the Academy” (to quote another “Oscar” line from Tony Bennett), the noms leave me earnestly mulling the tribal thinking of Oscar’s 5,777 voters.

In an outsider way let us call the game and account for something. Not too much, since we have five weeks of media blather until the show. Oscar’s 82nd big night pops the big answers on March 7. Hosts Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin will be less beautiful than Anne Hathaway.

It sounds more credible, or at least puts me in a brilliantly ninth-grade frame of mind, to use numbers:

1. The Big Standoff (every contest needs one) is clearly between “Avatar” and “The Hurt Locker,” the leaders with nine bids each. Both are stories of violent war in strange lands. Neither has big stars (though Jeremy Renner copped a top actor bid as the war-crazy bomb defuser in “Hurt Locker”). Will the voters opt for an ecologically symbolic war on a distant, tropical moon, or an all-too-earthly war in sandy, unhappy Iraq? Will that really depend on how they feel about “king of the world” James Cameron vs. “decider” George W. Bush?

1a. Imperative footnote to remarks right above: “Avatar” cost around $300 million and is closing in on $2 trillion (oops, billion) income, a global record. “Hurt Locker” cost about 11 mill and hovers around 15 mill (so far) in receipts. Try to guess which the industry prizes more. But that could blow either way on the night of nights. Almost certain not to win: Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds.”

2. Oscar’s best movie of 1995, “Braveheart,” had blue-painted warriors. Does this portend an edge for blue-crittered “Avatar”? Would a blue Anne Hathaway improve the show? How about Hathaway in 3-D?

3. Dept. of Weeps: I never cry for the Oscars, but I will shed a tiny blue tear for San Diego director Destin Cretton, whose very fine “Short Term 12″ did not make it onto the short film list, despite many festival awards. Do not feel blue, Destin, your time will come, perhaps even with Anne Hathaway.

4. This year, as rather retro innovation, there are 10 Best Picture nominees, which sounds so very 1930. Since much of America is feeling so very 1930, with all the blue news economically, does that open the door for “Up in the Air”? After all, it is at least aware of the Great Recession, in a snarky way (oh that George Clooney!). If “Avatar” grabs all the box-office-is-damn-sure-important voters, and “The Hurt Locker” locks up the love-great-war-movies voters, that could open the door for “Up in the Air.” Or any of the others, even “Up” (which is also up for best animated feature).

5. The Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild prizes really may portend something. “Avatar” won the top GG, so did actor Jeff Bridges (”Crazy Heart”), Sandra Bullock (”The Blind Side”) and supporting players Christoph Waltz (”Inglourious Basterds”) and Mo’Nique (”Precious”), who also got SAGs. But the Oscar voters tend to be snooty about those “lesser” prizes, so prophets beware.

6. What does it mean that “The Hurt Locker” gets a top nomination, along with actor Jeremy Renner and director Kathryn Bigelow, but the best Iraq War homefront movie, “The Messenger,” has to settle for a supporting nod for Woody Harrelson? It means that hot war still sells better than home war, that funny/gonzo Harrelson is still not entirely “taken seriously” by Oscar snobs, and that “Hurt Locker’ won more critics’ prizes.

7. “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire” got a Top Pic nomination, also bids for director Lee Daniels and actors Gabourney Sidibe and Mo’Nique and the writers, but one senses that its tide is receding. Martin & Baldwin, in a Martin & Lewis mood, might do the show a big time favor by shortening the title to “Precious Sapphire.”

8. Precious thoughts, colored blue, on the supporting actor nominees: Does anyone take Matt Damon seriously for beefing up to look good in rugby wear in “Invictus”? Answer: the voters did (jeez, they even gave a top slot to Morgan Freeman for his regal snooze as Nelson Mandela). How does Christopher Plummer, 80 and never given an Oscar, feel now that his lead role as Leo Tolstoy in “The Last Station” has landed him among the supporting fellas? Why the heck isn’t Woody Harrelson also in the leading category? Stanley Tucci, a great talent, played the creep in “The Lovely Bones” as if hissing “I am a villain”; he should have been nominated instead for his sly, elegant work as Julia Childs’ well-fed husband in “Julie and Julia.”

8a. Footnote to above: Christoph Waltz has that race locked up, having won all previous prizes except for the Triumph of the Will Über-Heil at the Berlin Sportspalast. Maybe there is some distaste for honoring the actor (Austrian, just like you know who) for playing a Nazi devil with such wit. Or maybe Waltz will profit from lingering Academy guilt about ignoring Conrad Veidt in “Casablanca.”

9. Hollywood is full of diet fanatics, so it is hard to say how much food guilt will factor into Meryl Streep getting (or not) her third Oscar after umpteen nominations. I say: give the award to newcomer Carey Mulligan of “An Education.” It could make a swell, Audrey Hepburn moment. Or give it to Anne Hathaway, just for getting up so early this Tuesday.

10. The top fun of Oscar season will be the robustly schizoid Web coverage. Within minutes of the nominations announcement someone named ChristianH zapped into view with this un-Christian remark: “If Avatar or the F—– Blind Side so much as touch Oscar gold, I will sacrifice a virgin to the gods of war (and virgins) to see it that the streets run red with the blood of Academy voters and film producers.” He was answered two minutes later by the meekly named ThunderSacTriumph: “Actually, I’m pretty content with this list.” The topper soon came from Admin: “I think I can speak for everyone when I say, Hooray for blue nipples.”

David Elliott is the SDNN movie critic.