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This article is from the In-Depth Report Science at the Movies

The science of the Oscars

The little gold men are on their way. And Hollywood has science to thank for many of this year's Oscar nominees.

Leading the pack with 13 nominations (including for Best Picture and Actor in a Leading Role for star Brad Pitt), The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, poses a curious question, indeed: Could humans reverse the aging process? As you can see here, ScientificAmerican.com recently explored the science behind this tempting premise.

But, seriously, is a crime-fighting superhero any more realistic? The Dark Knight garnered eight Oscar nominations, including one for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for the late Heath Ledger for his maniacal turn as the Joker (before dying at age 28 a year ago today of an accidental drug overdose). In this sixth installment of the big-screen Batman hits, the big guy (a.k.a. Batman played by actor Christian Bale) single-handedly takes on a parade of opponents. Here's an explanation of why his diligent work is no laughing matter.

On the other hand, a real robotic suit, Iron Man-style, already exists – although it doesn't promise to take to the skies with the press of a button or two. This tech-heavy film, starring Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow snagged two nominations from the Academy for Visual Effects and Sound Editing. 

Robot-loving doomsayers out there will no doubt be pleased to hear that the animated film, Wall-E (about a lonely robot picking up the mess that humans left behind on Earth) was also honored with six nominations, including those for Best Animated Feature Film and Original Screenplay). The tale of the little robot that cleaned has raked in more $500 million worldwide since opening in June 2008. 

Finally, for those obsessed with great frontiers, Encounters at the End of the World was nominated for Best Documentary Feature. In it, director Werner Herzog spotlights scientists and explorers who have ventured into the foreboding climes of Antarctica. Read recent blog dispatches from the cold continent by scientist Robin Bell.

For those who prefer the more technically true science, wait for clips aired during the main ceremony from the Academy's Sci-Tech Awards (handed out February 7th), which have been honoring those (way) behind the scenes since 1931. (Spoiler alert: achievement award winners include Ed Catmull – co-founder of Pixar – and Mark Kimball – a computer scientist who ran Disney's digital production side.) Or wait until this year's Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Prize for "realistic and compelling" science in movies (awarded to Flash of Genius in 2008). But don't hold your breath for the class of screenwriting scientists, backed by the Army Research Office, to come through with a winner, just yet.

Now if only science could explain what possessed Philippe Petit to tightrope walk between the twin towers in 1974 (Man on Wire, up for Best Documentary), we'd be eternally grateful.

Image courtesy of nancycallahan via Flickr

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