December 28, 2009 at 10:08 PM EST

I’ve never been a believer in the theory that Oscar voters have “slots” that they look to fill in the Best Picture race each year — the indie film, the blockbuster, the biopic, etc. That would imply that the entire voting body somehow decides on these things together, which obviously isn’t the case. But I do think the argument can be made that Avatar‘s newly-cemented status as a Best Picture frontrunner along the lines of The Hurt Locker and Up in the Air does have ramifications for other contenders that push similar buttons. For instance, Avatar‘s popularity among Academy members is likely the death knell for Star Trek and District 9‘s Best Picture hopes, since there probably won’t be room for two sci-fi films in the list of 10. Likewise, other box-office smashes like The Hangover and The Blind Side now seem quite pale by comparison to James Cameron’s visionary work.

The question everyone is now asking: Can Avatar win? Gregory Ellwood over at is raking me over the coals for still having Up in the Air as my No. 1 contender on Movie City News’ Gurus o’ Gold chart. One thing’s for sure, though: With a bona fide blockbuster squarely in the hunt for the biggest Oscar of all, you can guarantee the telecast’s producers are doing cartwheels right now.

Image credit: WETA

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