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2010 Oscar Nominations Announced

Nominations for the 82nd annual Academy Awards were announced this morning at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles, and though there were few surprises in the major categories – one notable exception being The Blind Side, a surprise contender for Best Picture in this year's expanded category – the races should be tighter and less predictable than in years past. The following is a list of the nominees, with the presumed favorite denoted by an asterisk. Conventional wisdom can change in a hurry, though – just ask Brokeback Mountain director Ang Lee, whose movie was erroneously considered a shoo-in for the top prize that went to Crash in 2006 – before the ceremony's official telecast on Sunday, March 7.

Jason Reitman Contemplates an Alternative Lifestyle with ‘Up in the Air’

If there remains any doubt that Jason Reitman has arrived as one of Hollywood’s most gifted young directors, Up in the Air, his incisive new comedy about a corporate hatchet man who flies the friendly skies from one soul-crushing gig to the next, should put it to rest.

Reitman, 32, was determined early on to follow in the footsteps of his father Ivan, who directed hit ’80s comedies including Stripes and Ghostbusters. He was equally determined not to hitch a ride on dad’s coattails.

So by the time he got to college he’d made a difficult choice.

Looking Back: The Best (and Worst) Films of 2009

This has been heralded as the year of the animated movie, and with good reason: Fantastic Mr. Fox, Coraline and Up, among others, proved as engaging for adults as for children, validating a genre unfairly dismissed as kiddie fare by some critics and too many Oscar voters.

To me, 2009 was most memorable for its documentaries. Tyson, Capitalism: A Love Story, The Beaches of Agnes and The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers entertained as well as informed, and all remain worthy candidates for end-of-the-year accolades. Consider them (as well as Spike Jonze's Where the Wild Things Are) runners-up to my list of the year’s best films.

The Best

‘Up in the Air’ Propels George Clooney to New Heights

Ryan Bingham is suave and effortlessly self-assured, a masterful manipulator of even the messiest situations. It would be tempting to dismiss him as a soulless corporate mercenary, but there is real human feeling behind his veil of calm. That he can divorce himself from it to excel at his job – he’s a hatchet man, charged with handing out pink slips and preconditioning his victims for unemployment – is his gift and his curse.

Wes Anderson Rebounds with the Fantastic 'Mr. Fox'

Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox is hardly the groundbreaking spectacle we’ve come to expect as Hollywood animation studios race to push the genre to dizzying heights of digital wizardry.

The stop-motion creations here are brilliantly colorful but crude – deliberately so, I suspect, as if Anderson is rejecting the idea that storytelling need follow the lead of technology. What he offers instead is a delightfully exhilarating comedy, filled with fully realized characters and faithful, at least in spirit, to Roald Dahl’s popular children’s book.

Paranormal Activity of a Different Variety Scores Big Laughs in 'The Men Who Stare at Goats'

I’m not sure how much of The Men Who Stare at Goats is true. It’s inspired by Jon Ronson’s book, which documents a time when the U.S. military encouraged a select few in its ranks to hone their psychic abilities, believing, however inaccurately, that the Russians were doing the same. But what transpires in the movie, directed by Grant Heslov (HBO’s Unscripted) and starring George Clooney, is so flagrantly over-the-top it seems like a lunatic riff on the facts.

Mill Valley Roundup: 7 Movies to See at the Film Festival

After an open weekend highlighted by the regional premieres of Lone Scherfig’s An Education and Katherine Dieckmann’s Motherhood, which helped earn star Uma Thurman a festival award, Mill Valley’s annual celebration of cinema from all corners of the globe continues through next weekend. (Tickets for individual screenings are available, and can be purchased here.) The highlights include:

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