Oscar Themes, Present and Past

By all accounts, "Slumdog Millionaire," with its 10 nominations, is set to sweep the Oscars this year. In fact, it's the front-runner to win best picture, which would make it the first film with a significant foreign language component to take the title.

"This year definitely has a more global, more international flavor," Entertainment Weekly Oscar expert Dave Karger said. "But it's also a very upbeat film. Both those elements are sort of a sign of the times, I think, with the ushering in of the Obama regime and people hoping to maintain an optimism because of the change he hopes to bring with him."

"It's interesting to note that the first award 'Slumdog' won was the audience award at the Toronto film festival. That's not a critics prize -- that was a regular folks audience award," Karger said. "It's a magical, upbeat movie, a real crowd-pleaser."

Do Oscar trends really reflect the mood of the nation? UCLA professor Richard Walter said he doesn't see pattern in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' picks.

"There are no trends," said Walter. "These are just things that happened in an arbitrary sequence with no rhyme or reason. We project upon the circumstances some sort of order because it's what we crave, but it simply doesn't apply. We can find some sort of 'meaning' in all of this, but it's an illusion."

But Karger, who's been studying the academy's annual decision-making for more than a decade, said he disagrees.

"Whether it's intentional or not, the best picture nominees oftentimes do reflect the mood of the country," Karger said. "In the last two years, with 'The Departed' and 'No Country for Old Men' winning, you really were noticing these films that were meditations on violence. So it's no coincidence that we were in a time where people were very frustrated with the wars we were fighting."

"This year, I don't think it's pushing it to say that you are seeing a glimmer of hope," he said. "'Slumdog Millionaire' and 'Milk' have that underlying upbeat thing happening at the end -- upswings of hope. I don't think it's a coincidence."

Below, read up on the trend dominating this year's ceremony, and ones that reigned in years past.

2009: The Year of the Director

Every film nominated for best picture this year is also nominated for best director.

"This is only the fifth time ever that has happened," said Karger, who writes the OscarWatch blog for EW.com. "I do think in the last couple of years, the Oscars have been about the directors. Two years ago, it was all about Martin Scorsese; last year it was all about the Coen Brothers. This year it's the Danny Boyle year. And assuming 'Slumdog Millionaire' wins best picture -- which it will -- the last three years' winners were really director-oriented movies."

Karger also points out that this year the category expanded to include some directors who had never been acknowledged by the academy -- including "Slumdog" helmer Boyle and David Fincher, who's nominated for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button."

"So as much as it seems that the academy is locked in its ways," Karger said, "they are being a bit more open to talent they've neglected in the past."

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