“Toy Story 3” opens. Let the Best Picture Oscar race begin!

By Sean O’Connell
Hollywoodnews.com: And then there were nine.

Yes, it is grotesquely early to begin the annual Oscar race. Rarely do we see legitimate contenders in June. But one would have to assume that Pixar’s “Toy Story 3,” which opens today, has locked up one of the 10 Best Picture slots for 2011.

Pixar’s presence in the Best Animated Feature Film category is a given. Since the category was created in 2001, Pixar has sent seven features to compete and walked away with five prizes.

But Pete Docter’s “Up” set a precedent earlier his year by scoring both a Best Picture and a Best Animated Feature Film nod, winning the latter (as well as an Oscar for Michael Giacchino’s memorable score). Yes, the nomination field expanded from 5 to 10, making way for “Up” without necessarily giving it a legitimate chance to compete. But at the very least, Pixar got “Up” into the Best Picture conversation.

Why wouldn’t “Toy Story 3” nudge in, as well? Lee Unkrich’s brilliant sequel currently has a pitch-perfect 100% Fresh grade on Rotten Tomatoes, with 108 positive reviews filed in its honor. And even if one spoil sport sullies the record (*cough* *cough* Armond White *cough* *cough*), it won’t diminish the opinion that “Toy Story 3” is one of the year’s best films.

Will the Academy agree? It seems likely. So one of 10 slots appears to be filled. Which films will fill out the rest of Oscar’s ballot?

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