With 10 films competing for best picture, last year’s Oscar might have gone to …

By Christy Lemire, AP
Wednesday, June 24, 2009

And the Oscar might have gone to …

LOS ANGELES — So the best-picture race will be twice as crowded at next year’s Academy Awards, with the ceremony’s organizers announcing Wednesday that they’re expanding the field of nominees from five to 10.

It’s a move they said was intended to give even more worthy films a shot at recognition, and hopefully to increase ratings in the process. But what if they had made this decision for this year’s extravaganza of backslapping?

Here’s a look at the movies from 2008 that should have been up for the top prize if the field had included 10 nominees:

— “The Dark Knight”: The most obvious snub of all. A blockbuster that wowed critics and audiences alike to become the second-highest grossing film ever, behind “Titanic.” It would have been very easy to imagine this ambitious Batman epic in the best-picture category alongside more traditional picks like “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and “The Reader.”

— “The Wrestler”: This stripped-down look at an athlete grasping at one last chance for glory made a lot of critics’ top-10 lists. It earned Mickey Rourke a Golden Globe win for best actor in a drama and an Academy Award nomination, but “The Wrestler” is more than just a great performance.

— “WALL-E”: Like “The Dark Knight,” this beautiful, touching story about the last robot on Earth would have fit in nicely among the best-picture nominees. Probably the greatest film yet from the masters at Pixar, it won the Academy Award for best animated feature, but its themes, complexity and emotional impact transcend its aesthetic medium.

— “Happy-Go-Lucky”: A small charmer with an irresistible performance from Sally Hawkins as a cheery British schoolteacher who never lets the absurdity of the world get her down. The Academy has acknowledged that it should be open to more comedies when handing out its top prizes, and films like this are a great place to start.

— “Frozen River”: A small downer — but an indelible one — about two women desperate for money who smuggle immigrants across the border from Canada into the United States. Melissa Leo earned a Spirit Award, the Oscars of independent film, as well as an Academy Award nomination for her turn as a desperate single mom, but everything about writer-director Courtney Hunt’s debut was powerful.

And some movies that are sort of out-there, but are the kind that might have a shot from now on:

— “Synecdoche, New York”: People either loved this movie and thought it was moving and profound, or they hated it and thought it was pretentious and incomprehensible. But Charlie Kaufman’s dreamy tale of a mopey theater director staging a never-ending production of his own life definitely left its mark.

— “Man on Wire”: It won the Academy Award for best documentary feature this year, and deservedly so. The story of Philippe Petit, the diminutive daredevil who walked a tightrope between the World Trade Center towers in 1974, played more like a breathtaking heist flick and earned 100 percent positive reviews on the Rotten Tomatoes Web site.

— “Vicky Cristina Barcelona”: Another comedy, and it’s Woody Allen’s best in a long time. This romp involving a pair of beautiful Americans (Scarlett Johansson and Rebecca Hall) and a seductive Spaniard (Javier Bardem) is playful, witty, and sexy. Despite a seriously wild turn from Penelope Cruz, who earned a supporting-actress Oscar as Bardem’s jealous ex-girlfriend, it never takes itself seriously.

— “Waltz With Bashir”: It was nominated this year as Israel’s entry in the foreign-language category, but it also could have competed as an animated film or a documentary. Why not as best picture? Writer-director Ari Folman inventively revisits hazy memories of his time as a young soldier at war in 1980s Lebanon; the results look like a graphic novel brought brilliantly to life.

— “Iron Man”: If we’re going to talk about best-picture chances for “The Dark Knight,” we may as well throw “Iron Man” into the debate. As comic-book inspired summer blockbusters go, it’s arguably as good if not better in some ways, with its mixture of brains, heart, thrilling action and a magnetic performance from Robert Downey Jr.

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