STEVE EMBER: Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm Steve Ember.
FAITH LAPIDUS: And I'm Faith Lapidus. Next Sunday night, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will present the Academy Awards in Los Angeles, California. Today we tell about the movies nominated for best picture. And we hear about some people's favorites.
STEVE EMBER: The eighty-second Academy Awards ceremony takes place March seventh at the Kodak Theater. Actors, directors, writers, producers and others will gather in Hollywood, the center of the American film industry.
FAITH LAPIDUS: There is a big difference this year. Ten movies have been nominated for best picture instead of the usual five. This was reportedly done to increase the audience for the televised ceremony.
The ten movies seem to provide something for everyone. There is a big budget science-fiction movie about humans on an alien planet. And there is a small budget science-fiction movie about aliens on Earth.
There is a tense movie about the war in Iraq. And a new version of the events of World War Two.
There are also two movies about African-American teenagers and the people who help them improve their lives.
We start with the 3-D science-fiction adventure movie "Avatar." It was nominated for nine Academy Awards, or Oscars.
"Avatar" uses special effects that have never been seen before in a movie. It combines live action with motion-capture, animation and other technologies. The movie tells the story of humans meeting tall blue creatures called Na'vi on a planet called Pandora.
James Cameron was nominated as best director for "Avatar." The film was reported to have cost more than two hundred thirty million dollars to produce. "Avatar" has earned more than two billion dollars around the world, more money than any other movie in history. The record had been held by James Cameron’s earlier film "Titanic."
FAITH LAPIDUS: The other science-fiction movie nominated this year is "District 9." This South African movie tells about the mistreatment of aliens from another planet. The aliens are forced to live in horrible conditions in special areas separate from humans.
STEVE EMBER: The Hurt Locker" is a tense and exciting movie about a group of American soldiers in Iraq. Their job is to find and safely destroy hidden explosive devices. Like "Avatar," "The Hurt Locker" was also nominated for nine Academy Awards.
Kathryn Bigelow directed "The Hurt Locker." She is competing against her former husband, James Cameron, for best director.
FAITH LAPIDUS: "Inglourious Basterds" is another war movie nominated for best picture along with seven other awards. The film is about a group of American soldiers fighting the German Nazis during World War Two. But it tells a different story from what really happened.
Besides best picture, the nominations include Quentin Tarantino for best director and Christoph Waltz for best actor in a supporting role.
STEVE EMBER: For the first time since nineteen ninety-two, the best picture nominees include an animated film. The 3-D movie "Up" tells about an old man and a young boy who have exciting adventures. The old man’s house is carried to South America by millions of balloons. "Up" was also nominated for best animated movie.
FAITH LAPIDUS: "Up in the Air" is another best picture nominee. It is about a man who spends most of his life flying around the country to different cities. His job is to dismiss people from their jobs. This movie hits very close to home.
It includes people who have really lost their jobs during this time of high unemployment in the United States. The film’s star, George Clooney, and director, Jason Reitman, also received Academy Award nominations.
STEVE EMBER: "A Serious Man" was also nominated for best picture. The film is about all the bad things that happen to a common man for no apparent reason. The man in the film is a Jewish professor in Minnesota. But the movie is based on the story of Job in the Bible.
FAITH LAPIDUS: Another nominated film, "An Education," tells the story of a British teenager.
(SOUND: “An Education”)
She has a love affair with an older man who is not what he seems to be.
STEVE EMBER: Another best picture nominee about a teenager is "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire." Precious is an extremely overweight black teenager in the Harlem area of New York City. She suffers sexual and physical abuse from both her parents. But caring teachers and social workers help her improve her life.
Lee Daniels was nominated for directing the movie. He is the first African American to direct a film nominated for best picture.
FAITH LAPIDUS: "The Blind Side" is another nominated film about a black teenager.
Sandra Bullock received a best actress nomination. She plays a wealthy white woman who adopts a young homeless man and helps him become a football star.
(SOUND: “The Blind Side”)
The movie is based on the life of a professional football player, Michael Oher of the Baltimore Ravens.
STEVE EMBER: Meryl Streep is also nominated for best actress, for her role as the famous cooking expert Julia Child in "Julie and Julia." This is her sixteenth Oscar nomination -- more than any other actor in history. She faces strong competition from Helen Mirren, who plays the wife of the Russian writer Leo Tolstoy in "The Last Station."
Jeff Bridges is nominated for best actor for his role as an aging, alcoholic country music singer in "Crazy Heart."
Colin Firth plays a college professor who is mourning the death of his partner in "A Single Man."
And Morgan Freeman is nominated for his role as former South African president Nelson Mandela in the film "Invictus."
FAITH LAPIDUS: This year there is also a new way of voting for best picture. In the past, the six thousand members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences voted for the one film they liked best. This year, the members are required to list the nominated films in the order of the ones they like best.
STEVE EMBER: Who will win the Oscars this year? Millions of television viewers around the world will find out on Sunday.
We asked a few people on the VOA Studio Tour for their predictions. Tamme and Leslie are friends from Virginia. We begin with Tamme.
TAMME: "I saw 'The Blind Side' with Sandra Bullock."
REPORTER: "And what did you think of it?"
TAMME: "I loved the movie. Of course, being a true story made me more interested. But seeing the hardships of Michael Oher and what he went through to get where he is today was just awesome."
LESLIE: "I've seen 'Avatar,' 'The Blind Side' and 'Up in the Air.' And by far 'The Blind Side' was my favorite. I loved the compassion. I think our society is so focused on being quick these days that we don't really take the time to show that compassion that she showed to him in the movie, and really take the time to really build and lift someone else up when you see potential."
FAITH LAPIDUS: Next we ask Swetha who lives in Washington and is originally from India. She has seen two of the ten nominees for best picture, "Avatar" and "Up." And her prediction?
SWETHA: "I think 'Avatar.' I just saw it twice in three weeks and I loved it, and I really don't know too many of the other movies here, so I can't say how good they are, but 'Up' was very good as well. But I really think 'Avatar' did really well."
REPORTER: "What did you like about 'Avatar'?"
SWETHA: "There was a theme of community. There was a theme of love. There was a theme for the environment. So I just felt like it really hit different notes to really cross different countries and nationalities. So I feel like it's going to have a good chance."
But another of our "critics," Stephanie from Washington, saw things differently in "Avatar."
STEPHANIE: "To me it's too artificial and it's also the same story that you've seen before with indigenous groups and the white colonial forces coming to destroy them or something like that."
REPORTER: "And ultimately saved, though, by -- "
STEPHANIE: "And ultimately saved, of course, by the white, I don't know, soldier."
STEPHANIE: "Mercenary, exactly."
That was her friend Brian.
Stephanie and Brian
STEPHANIE: "Well, we saw 'Precious' together."
BRIAN: "And I've seen 'Up in the Air.' And what else have I seen? I've seen 'Crazy Heart,' but that's not one of the best picture nominees. But I think 'Avatar' is going to win, although I think it's Jeff Bridges' year for the best actor. He was great in 'Crazy Heart.'"
REPORTER: "What did you like about 'Crazy Heart'?"
BRIAN: "I think his character was -- I mean, the movie was really good. It's a simple story of redemption and the power of the human spirit, so how can you go wrong with that."
FAITH LAPIDUS: Brian knows a thing or two about the power of the human spirit.
BRIAN: "Even though I'm blind I love to go see movies. Some theaters have these transmitters that you can check out at the front desk where you buy your tickets, and there is an audio track that provides description for the movies.
"As you watch the film you get in your ear a description of 'He is now hitting somebody with a stick,' or whatever the case may be. But most movies don't have that. But I still enjoy it. You can get a lot out of a movie just from the dialog. And then if you have a good friend like Stephanie, sometimes they'll describe things for you if you're very nice. If you buy them popcorn, they'll describe things for you."
REPORTER: "You whisper the description?"
STEPHANIE: "Yes, I do. I do whisper the description to him sometimes, though you can see people around don't understand and they're watching us like 'What the ... ?'"
BRIAN: "'Tell that woman to shut up!' [Laughter]"
STEPHANIE: "I'm always afraid I'll be yelled at."
STEVE EMBER: Our program was written by Shelley Gollust, and the interviewer at the end was Avi Arditti. Caty Weaver was our producer. I'm Steve Ember.
FAITH LAPIDUS: And I'm Faith Lapidus. Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.