Will “Up” soar to Best Picture heights?

Today’s announcement of the Director’s Guild of America’s nominations virtually shores up five of the Academy’s soon-to-be-announced 10 Best Picture slots. The DGA’s recognition of Kathryn Bigelow, James Cameron, Lee Daniels, Jason Reitman and Quentin Tarantino probably means “The Hurt Locker,” “Avatar,” “Precious,” “Up in the Air” and “Inglourious Basterds” will represent in the top category come Oscar night.

I’m more concerned with the next five slots and, more specifically, if Pete Docter’s beloved “Up” can really grab a seat at the Best Picture table. No animated film has managed to nab a Best Picture nomination since the Academy created a separate category for Best Animated Feature in 2001. And prior to that, only Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” captured enough votes to make the Top 5 cut (though “Waltz with Bashir” competed in the Foreign Language category in 2008).

As we get closer to the Feb. 2 announcement of the Oscar nominations, I become less and less convinced “Up” will make the cut. It has plenty going for it, from positive critical response (98 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) to a hefty box-office take ($293 million domestic and $683 million worldwide). But then again, so do all of Pixar’s masterpieces, and they’re routinely relegated to the animation ghetto. Last year’s contender from Pixar’s dream studio, “WALL-E,” felt like it had a legitimate chance, and if there were 10 slots in 2009, it very likely could have competed alongside Chris Nolan’s “The Dark Knight.” But so far, history hasn’t been in Pixar’s favor. The expansion of the Best Picture field helps “Up’s” chances, but I don’t think inclusion is a guarantee.

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