The biggest surprise of the 2010 Oscar nominations was how few surprises there actually were.
For the first time in recent memory, none of the best-director nominees directed movies that weren't also nominated for best picture. Of course, the fact that the Academy, in its effort to plump up TV ratings (and let us not forget what this is really about), expanded the best-picture category from five nominees to 10, may have had something to do with that. On the other hand, this also means that half the best-picture nominees were by directors who weren't nominated.
But I count it as a victory that A Serious Man was nominated at all (for best picture and original screenplay) and won't quibble about the lack of a directing nod for the Coen brothers. Better Serious Man than Star Trek, the film that was really the focus of that category expansion.
Well, actually, the film that was the motivation for best-picture inflation was The Dark Knight (I hesitate to once more remark on what a bloated, overrated film that was - but not so much that I won't say it). After the controversy last year (when The Dark Knight somehow was overlooked in the best-picture category), the Academy tried to bend over backwards to appease members and advertisers. Those particular interested parties saw the Oscar show (which, again, is about the advertising revenue, not about celebrating the quality of the films) hemorrhaging viewers because the Academy insisted on nominating minimally popular quality films, rather than high-grossing blockbusters.
So this year's best-picture category is a blend of box-office and arthouse: Avatar, Up, The Blind Side, Inglourious Basterds as the commercial hits; The Hurt Locker, A Serious Man, Precious, An Education as the arthouse entries - and Up in the Air and District 9 as the tweeners that were a little of both.