By Christa Youngpeter

Come Academy Award Nomination Day (February 2), tongues will certainly be wagging on the heels of “Avatar’s” Golden Globe Best Picture win. Will the introduction of the 10 contender format help or hinder the $400 million Hollywood behemoth nab director James Cameron another little gold man? Naysayers may deride “Avatar” as a bloated blockbuster, but really there isn’t a better time for a “best picture” that’s universally entertaining, visually stunning and allegorically poignant in a troubled world.

But how does “Avatar’s” (spoiler alert!) relatively Disney ending play against “Precious’” incest, abuse and other potential nominees like the Cohen brothers “A Serious Man,” Katheryn Bigelow’s (fun fact: Cameron’s ex-wife) “The Hurt Locker,” George Clooney as George Clooney in corporate America in “Up in the Air” and the Nick Hornby-penned beauty, “An Education?” While “Avatar” was a true box office Goliath swallowing Titanic-like numbers over the past month, it was more than just a CGI eye-buffet.

The acting may not have been worth noting on an individual level, but as a whole, the cast was cohesive as an ensemble, with one “evil” greedy group collective foils of the “good” heroes. This relatively simple formula set the stage for a modern-day Conquistadorian epic with monsters, electric blue natives and the admittedly comic “unobtanium” coveted by earth-based corporate raiders. The climactic battle between machine and the Na’vi is jaw-dropping and emotionally gripping- a rare combination in any special effects venture to say the least.

Worldwide success and critical acclaim, however certainly don’t seal the deal of a coveted Oscar win, especially this ear. What makes 2010 a wide-open race, however, is the reintroduction of the 10-nominee Best Picture category. During Hollywood’s so-called Golden Age, the last time 10 films were up for Best Picture, classics were being churned out at an incomparable rate. Do “Avatar’s” rare accomplishments in a schlock-filled industry merit a Best Picture Oscar?

Going up against nine other contenders this year will create serious buzz for films that in years prior would have been shut out, namely sci-fi standouts such as “District 9” and “Star Trek.” Not exactly Citizen Cane territory, but “Avatar” could lose out to Neil Blomkamp’s dark horse D9, or will the Academy vote along the tired lines of dark and gritty? “Precious” is clearly the year’s emotional favorite, catapulting the career of young star Gabourey Sidibe and cementing M’onique as a credible dramatic actress. Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker” was a welcome rendition to the post-post-modern war drama but ultimately didn’t resonate. And as for “Up” and “Up in the Air,” “Invictus”… well, We’ll know come Oscar night come March, but until then, expect endless entertaining speculation in a wide open field this year.