Now focusing on "The Hurt Locker's" disadvantages in the Best Picture race:
Timing: time was, Best Picture winners never got released before December. The late-year release came to signify award bait. It's not an ironclad rule anymore, because a few early-openers have taken the prize ("Crash"--0ne of the least deserving Best Pictures in Oscar history--springs readily to mind). But the biggest problem with an early release is that a movie's just going to be out of theaters--and voter's minds--for too long.
DVD releases have created a bridge over that cap to a degree. But when it's time to pick movies for an Awards ballot, something that's been off of screens for several months just has an inherent disadvantage against a movie that might still be playing, might still be advertised on TV or billboards or wherever else a voter might see it.
Of course, you'd like to think that quality is the ultimate barometer, and that a great movie is gonna have a shot no matter when it was released. But I've followed the Academy Awards long enough to know that isn't the case.
Box Office Gross - the Academy doesn't seem to fawn on movies that don't make at least a respectable pile. Why? Some might say it's because unpopular movies don't attract viewers to the broadcast, which is a huge ratings warhorse for ABC every year. So that would mean the network is exerting some pressure on the voters to nominate certain films. I'm not nearly naive enough at this point in my life to say that's completely impossible, but it's a little too Machiavellian for me to tackle right now.
So let's just assume that it's a simple matter of popularity. Box office=popularity and attention=buzz=a movie that stays in people's minds after it's over.
I have no doubt that anyone who saw "The Hurt Locker" will remember it long after it's over. It's a powerful, memorable, excellent and impactful movie. But after peaking on less than 600 screens (and now on its way down), and around $10 million in gross domestic box office, it just isn't a big, big picture. Which is a damn shame.
Star Power: There basically is none. There are recognizable faces in the film: Guy Pearce, David Morse, and Ralph Fiennes all show up, but they are all also minor, minor characters -- cameos, really. Kathryn Bigelow has been around for 20 years but hasn't made a ton of movies in that time, and while she's well known in her way, she doesn't have any of the immediately recognizable "oh yeah" factor of a Spielberg or Scorsese or even Peter Jackson or David Fincher. There are a lot of new directors getting nominated for Academy Awards these days, so a name director isn't necessarily a must - but it can help a lot.
Jeremy Renner, the lead, has been in movies, but not enough to be instantly recognizable. He's excellent as Sgt. James, as good a lead acting performance as I've seen in many years, and fully deserves a Best Actor nomination if not the trophy itself - but who is he going to find himself up against at year's end, and are voters going to remember his performance enough to nominate it?