And the Oscar Nominees Are:

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has just released its list of nominees for the 77th Annual Academy Awards, placing Disney/Pixar’s The Incredibles and DreamWorks’ Shrek 2 and Shark Tale in the running for Best Animated Feature.

Having nabbed numerous critics awards and garnered Golden Globes and Producers Guild nominations, The Incredibles is the odd-on favorite to pick up this year‘s statuette. Box office champ Shrek 2 works arguably better as a comedy, but Academy voters may go more for the complete package that the artists at Pixar have put together. Shark Tale is looking like the dark horse in this race, but one should never count out the contributions of Oscar favorites Robert DeNiro and Martin Scorsese, who lend their voices to the pic.

Unlike last year, when Finding Nemo was the only CG fish in the pool of nominees, this year’s contenders are all of the computer-generated variety. Traditional animation should make a comeback next year with the release of Hayao Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle, Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride and the eagerly awaited Wallace and Gromit movie from DreamWorks and Aardman.

The Incredibles garnered a total of four nominations. Brad Bird got a nod for Best Original Screenplay, facing off against John Logan for The Aviator; Charlie Kaufman, Michel Gondry and Pierre Bismuth for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind; Keir Pearson and Terry George for Hotel Rwanda; and Mike Leigh for Vera Drake. Incredibles is also up for Sound Editing, along with Warner Bros.’ The Polar Express and Sony’s Spider-Man 2. Both The Incredibles and The Polar Express will compete for Best Sound Mixing as well.

Commenting on the various nominations for The Incredibles, Bird issued the following statement: “I am thrilled that Pixar’s creative team is being recognized for their amazing work by the Academy alongside many other talented nominees. The screenplay nomination is particularly gratifying since storytelling is at the heart of what makes Pixar so special and what makes cinema such an amazing artform. I would like to thank the fantastic folks at Disney and Pixar who helped make this happen.”

Animated films also tend to show up in the Best Song category, as the case happens to be with Shrek 2 for “Accidentally In Love” (music and lyrics by Adam Duritz, Dan Vickery, David Immergluck, Matthew Malley and David Bryson) and The Polar Express for Believe (music and lyrics by Glen Ballard and Alan Silvestri).

In the Animated Shorts category, the nominees are Chris Landreth’s Ryan, Sejong Park’s Birthday Boy, Mike Gabriel’s Lorenzo (Disney), Bill Plympton’s Guard Dog and Paul Jeff Fowler’s Gopher Broke (Blur Studios), all of which have been festival favorites around the world in recent months.

Having won the Golden Globe for Best Picture (Drama), director Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator is the frontrunner in the race for Best Picture. But while the Hollywood Foreign Press kudos have been a reliable predictor of Oscar wins, the Howard Hughes biopic has to compete with critically lauded picks Million Dollar Baby from Warner Bros.’, Sideways from Fox Searchlight Pictures, Ray from Universal Pictures and Finding Neverland from Miramax Films.

In his run for Best Director, Scorsese also faces tough competition from Golden Globes winner Clint Eastwood for Million Dollar Baby, Alexander Payne for Sideways, Taylor Hackford for Universal Pictures’ Ray and Mike Leigh for Fine Line Features’ Vera Drake. Both Scorsese and Eastwood were up for the honor last year with Gangs of New York and Mystic River, respectively, but lost ot Peter Jackson for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Eastwood took the directing statuette for 2002’s Unforgiven.

Meanwhile, Sony’s Spider-Man 2, Warner Bros.’s Harry Potter and Prisoner of Azkaban and 20th Century Fox’s I, Robot will be competing for Best Visual Effects. With no Lord of the Rings entry leading the pack, this year’s race is anybody’s game. The nominations were a bit of a surprise, however, as 20th Century Fox’ Day After Tomorrow got no recognition for the monumental task it presented. Comic-book and fantasy effects won over relative realism as Aviator was also snubbed despite its breathtaking aerial re-creations.

The 77th Annual Academy Awards ceremony will be held on Sunday, Feb. 27, at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, and will be televised live on ABC starting at 5 p.m. PST. For a full list of nominees, visit www.oscars.com.

Learn more about each of the animated contenders and vote in our annual Reader’s Oscar Poll at www.animationmagazine.net/oscar_entry_04.html.