By Jeremy Martin

Looks can be deceiving. And while it may not seem like this year’s nominees for Best Original Screenplay aren’t all that original, rest assured that they are. The nominees are “The Hurt Locker” (written by Mark Boal); “Inglourious Basterds” (written by Quentin Tarantino); “The Messenger” (written by Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman); “A Serious Man” (Written by Joel and Ethan Coen); and “Up” (Screenplay by Bob Peterson and Pete Docter, Story by Bob Peterson, Pete Docter, and Tom McCarthy). Three war films, a cartoon, and the Coen Brothers. Taken individually, though, and there’s more than meets the eye. One’s the odds-on favorite, another is a dark horse, one’s a bit of a surprise, one probably deserves more credit than it’ll get and the other, kind of the opposite.

The films are listed alphabetically (straight from the Academy’s home page) but the order is also a little telling. First up is this year’s probable winner, “The Hurt Locker.” A war film that’s everything a war film should be, but also much more than one might expect. For instance, one could argue that it’s more of a suspense thriller masked as a war film. Though it’s not exactly a dialogue heavy film (especially compared to “Inglourious Basterds” or “A Serious Man”), it’s extremely detailed. And a lot of those suspenseful moments – the cuts from Jeremy Renner in the car, to Anthony Mackie trying to guard him, to the suspicious Iraqi with the cell phone – it’s all in the script. That build up of tension isn’t just editing – it was written first. So which is it? War film? Nail-biter? It’s both and it’s also thought provoking, moving, and at times philosophical on the nature of war, soldiers, and what drives a person in extreme situations. All of which makes for a very original film, even if it’s still a genre film.

Next in the list is “Inglourious Basterds” another quite original take on the WWII film – this one imagining if a renegade band of Jewish-Americans got a shot at taking out Hitler and his top leaders. This one, to me, is a bit of a surprise – I find it interesting that it landed in the Best Original category, given that Tarantino himself has admitted that it’s (very loosely, apparently) based on an obscure Italian film. Like “The Hurt Locker,” and Tarantino’s work in general, it’s a familiar genre done in an, admittedly, original way. Also par for the Tarantino course, the dialogue is entertaining and it will be remembered for a couple of gruesome, cringe-inducing, hands-in-front-of-your-face moments. Oscar worthy, though? I don’t know. My only guess is that it was thrown in there for fun, to prove the Academy’s not as old and stodgy as it seems.

The one that probably deserves more credit than it’ll get is yet another war film, “The Messenger.” Another war film, though in this case it’s more of a war-at-home film, and may be the best war-at-home film since “Coming Home,” which, incidentally, won the Oscar. But “Coming Home” also had seven other nominations, i.e., it had exposure, which this, sadly, does not. I think this is one where voters simply want to recognize great work and hopefully the nomination alone will be enough to get people to check it out and give it the respect it deserves.

On the other hand, “A Serious Man” is getting more credit than it probably deserves (how it snuck in here and Best Picture, while ignoring the one thing about the movie everyone can agree on – Michael Stuhlbarg’s impressive performance – is beyond me). It’s certainly original, I’ll give it that, but in my mind it’s original to a fault. It’s a film made for a very specific audience, the very type of film that has soured the Academy’s reputation with the larger movie loving public. Critics and scholars may have loved it, but a lot of us were left scratching our heads. This was a complaint against the Coens’ last Oscar contender (and winner) “No Country For Old Men,” so I doubt the Academy will make the same mistake twice.

Which leaves us with the dark horse, the one that could (even deservedly so) sneak in there – “Up.” Everyone knows the older you get, the more marginalized you are by Hollywood. Yet here’s a movie – a cartoon even! – whose main character is a senior citizen. And kids loved it. As did almost everyone who saw it. An undeniably original take on the it’s-never-too-late theme and that’s done with humor and heart. It is the rare film that speaks to and entertains audiences young and old. It could be their year, but some may feel that animated films are doomed to suffer the same Oscar fate as comedies. But let’s not forget that Pixar has been nominated in this category for the last three years (“Wall-E” last year, and “Ratatouille” the year before). So if “Up” doesn’t become the upset, it’s only a matter of time…

Road to the Oscars series:

Podcasts – Kit Bowen, Nate Freiberg, Adam Spunberg, and Phil Wallace

February 4: Live Action Short – Kit Bowen

February 5: Animated Short – Kit Bowen

February 8: Documentary Short Subject – Christa Youngpeter

February 9: Documentary Feature – Nate Freiberg

February 10: Foreign Language Film – Paul Popiel

February 12: Animated Film – Nate Freiberg

February 15: Sound Mixing – Jeremy Martin

February 16: Sound Editing – Jeremy Martin

February 17: Original Song – Adam Spunberg and Savanna New

February 18: Visual Effects – Mallory Pickard

February 19: Original Score – Adam Spunberg

February 22: Makeup – Christa Youngpeter

February 23: Costume – Steve Neumann

February 24: Art Direction – Christa Youngpeter

February 25: Film Editing – Steve Neumann

February 26: Cinematography – Paul Popiel

February 27: Original Screenplay – Jeremy Martin

February 28: Adapted Screenplay – Jeremy Martin

March 1: Supporting Actress – Marla Seidell

March 2: Supporting Actor – Phil Wallace

March 3: Actress – Marla Seidell

March 4: Actor – Kit Bowen

March 5: Director – Adam Spunberg

March 5: Picture – Kit Bowen

March 7: The 82nd Annual Academy Awards!