At last, Oscar gold comes within aliens’ grasp …

avatarToday the nominations for the Oscars were announced, and it was the first time in nearly 70 years that 10 movies were nominated for best picture, instead of the more recent custom of just five contenders. And, as was intended, this has opened up the field to more popular blockbusters and — gasp! — genre films.

district9Avatar, James Cameron’s 3-D sci-fi epic, tied a more traditional nominee, the terrorism tale The Hurt Locker, with nine total nominations. Also nominated for best picture: District 9, a sci-fi thriller about first contact and alien apartheid produced by Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson; the animated comedy Up; the World War II saga Inglourious Basterds; the football drama The Blind Side; the recession tale Up in The Air; the 1960s drama A Serious Man; and the teen tales An Education and Precious.

Here’s a little background: Last year, the board of governors of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences decided there were more than five films that deserved best-picture consideration These included The Dark Knight and WALL-E, which were snubbed when it came to best picture nominations despite being among the most talked-about films in years.

But just because the nominee field was expanded, does that mean genre films actually have a chance of attaining the big prize: best picture?

District 9 boasts an intelligent message about race relations in addition to the slick visual effects and action. Avatar is truly groundbreaking in technical terms and will take 3-D moviemaking — and, eventually, home entertainment — to the next level. But its story, for all the environmental subtext, is little more than Pocahontas or Dances With Wolves in space. Both films were hyped to the extreme, but if anything that is likely to work against them.

Noticeably absent from the best-picture nominations, but surprising to no one: Star Trek, J.J. Abrams’ flashy reboot of the classic sci-fi saga. That would have been a touch too popular and would have opened the Oscar field to the dreaded precedent of honoring anything so unseemly as a franchise beloved by millions.

It’s the same old story: Star Trek scored nominations in technical categories — visual effects and makeup — but it wasn’t even honored in the best original score category, although its composer, Michael Giacchino, was nominated for Up, the Disney-Pixar tale of a grumpy old man who soars away on a house lifted by balloons with a young stowaway.

One thing is for sure — we’ll find out soon how serious the Academy is about embracing popcorn films as art. The Academy Awards will be televised March 7.

(The Associated Press contributed information in this article.)

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