Although an Oscar nomination is not necessarily a surefire indicator of a good film, the annual Academy Awards generally do highlight a variety of films each year that are worthy of our attention. The films in each category are nominated by members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences who are also professionals in the field related to the award, and it is this same group of peers who vote for the final winners that are announced at the Academy Awards ceremony.

This year's ceremony will take place at 5 p.m. on Feb. 22, and will be televised nationally on ABC. Here is a rundown of the major contenders this year.

This year, all five films that are nominated for Best Motion Picture of the Year are also nominated in the directing and writing categories, a curiously strong showing for so many films.

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” is a tale of star-crossed lovers revolving around a man who was born with the physical characteristics of an elderly person and proceeds to age backwards. David Fincher is the nominated director, who is best known for directing “Seven” and “Fight Club.” Brad Pitt earned a nomination for the lead role along with Taraji P. Henson, who plays his adoptive mother. The screenplay, adapted from a story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, is also nominated and the remainder of the film's 13 nominations cover just about every aspect of the filmmaking process.

“Frost/Nixon” documents the post-Watergate television interviews of Richard Nixon by British journalist David Frost. Director Ron Howard, whose works include “A Beautiful Mind” and “Apollo 13,” is honored with a nomination. Frank Langella, who is no stranger to films about politics, having also acted in “Good Night, and Good Luck” and “Dave,” received a nomination for his portrayal of Nixon. The film's screenwriter, Peter Morgan, is nominated for adapting the film from his own stage play.

“Milk” brings us the true story of Harvey Milk, America's first openly gay politician who stirred up controversy in the 1970s for his strong advocacy of gay rights. The director, Gus Van Sant, who previously won an Oscar for directing “Good Will Hunting,” is up for the same award this year. Sean Penn is nominated for the title role and Josh Brolin is nominated for best supporting actor for portraying his conservative arch-nemesis. The film also has four other nominations, including one for its screenplay.

“The Reader” is about a young man in postwar Germany who develops an intimate friendship with an older woman. Over the course of their relationship, he spends hours reading to her until one day she disappears. Years later he becomes a lawyer and lands a job prosecuting war criminals, where she turns up again as a defendant. Stephen Daldry, who was nominated in years past for “Billy Elliot” and “The Hours,” is up for his third directing nomination. Kate Winslet is nominated for her leading performance. The nominated screenplay is based on the acclaimed German-language book by Bernhard Schlink.

“Slumdog Millionaire” tells the story of how a young man from the slums of Mumbai with very little formal education is able to answer so many questions correctly on the Indian version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” Nominated director Danny Boyle has also directed “Trainspotting” and “Millions.” The nominated screenplay is based on the novel “Q and A” by Vikas Swarup. Two of the three songs nominated for Oscars this year come from this film. The cast, who collectively won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast this year, failed to garner a single Oscar nomination.

Three other films received multiple significant nominations.

“WALL-E” is nominated for Best Animated Film and for its original screenplay, in addition to four others for its music and sound design. “The Dark Knight” earned Heath Ledger a posthumous nomination for his portrayal of Batman's foe, the Joker, and its other six nominations cover a wide range of artistic achievements. “Doubt,” a film about a priest losing faith, earned acting nominations for Philip Seymour Hoffman, Meryl Streep and Amy Adams, plus a nod for the screenplay, which was based on a play by the same writer.

With so many strong films in the running, many people will try to get out and see the movies before the winners are announced on Feb. 22 at the awards ceremony. But there are a limited number of movie theaters in and around Bellingham. When and where can you see the nominated films?

Let's start with those that are still playing in theaters. There are not a lot of venues in Bellingham, but some of the films can be seen if you don't mind a bit of a drive. For those of you with passports, we've included some theaters just on the other side of the Canada-U.S. border. Four of the five nominees for Best Motion Picture of the Year are playing this week (“Milk” is unfortunately in that limbo between theaters and DVD release). Here is a list of where you can see Oscar nominees through Thursday, Feb. 5:

Hollywood 3 Cinema, Surrey, B.C.

“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”
Regal Sehome 3 Cinemas, Bellingham
Anacortes Cinemas, Anacortes
Famous Players Colossus, Langley, B.C.

“The Dark Knight: The IMAX Experience”
Famous Players Colossus, Langley, B.C.

Regal Sunset Square Cinema, Bellingham

Regal Sunset Square Cinema 6, Bellingham
Clova Cinema, Surrey, B.C.

“The Reader”
Famous Players Colossus, Langley, B.C.

“Revolutionary Road”
Regal Sehome 3 Cinemas, Bellingham

“Slumdog Millionaire”
Pickford Cinema, Bellingham
Famous Players Colossus, Langley, B.C.

“The Wrestler”
Famous Players Colossus, Langley, B.C.

Finally, new technology provides us with access to some of the short films we might otherwise never have had the opportunity to see. For the last three years, Magnolia Films has released DVD collections of many of the nominated short films under the title “A Collection of Academy Award Nominated Short Films.” The following nominees in the animated short film category are freely and legally available on YouTube in their entirety:

“Lavatory Lovestory”



Local Theater Listings:

Pickford Cinema
1416 Cornwall Ave., Bellingham

Regal Sehome 3 Cinemas
3300 Fielding Ave., Bellingham

Regal Sunset Square Cinema 6
1135 E. Sunset Dr., Bellingham

Anacortes Cinemas
415 O Ave., Anacortes

Clova Cinema
5732 176th Street, Surrey, B.C.

Hollywood 3 Cinema
7125 138th Street, Surrey, B.C.

Famous Players Colossus
20090 91A Ave., Langley, B.C.