Never mind its handicapping by many gurus of gold as an odds-on Oscar front-runner heading into Sunday evening. The downsizing drama "Up in the Air" was completely excluded in all six categories for which it was nominated, including nods for George Clooney (best actor) and director Jason Reitman.

And "Up in the Air" was hardly the only multiple nominee to fall into a veritable hurt locker of Oscar indifference.

In director James Cameron's trailblazing sci-fi epic "Avatar," its 10-foot-tall alien characters utter the phrase "I see you" to one another as a kind of outer-space affirmation, signifying: "I understand and accept you. I validate your existence."

But on Sunday, academy voters apparently looked in another direction, handing the $310-million 3-D thriller only three of the nine Oscars for which the film had been nominated -- for visual effects, cinematography and art direction -- in an unexpected snub.

As far back as December, writer-director Quentin Tarantino began laying bare his naked pursuit of Oscar gold by publicly musing how "awesome" it would be to claim an Academy Award "for every decade" he's been in the business, referring to his best screenplay win in 1995 for "Pulp Fiction."

Tarantino's spaghetti western-cum-World War II thriller "Inglourious Basterds" arrived as one of the films to beat this year, with eight nominations in such marquee categories as best picture, best director and best original screenplay.

But "Basterds" went home without much to show for Tarantino's award season efforts, losing out in all but one category -- Christoph Waltz's all-but-preordained best supporting actor award.

And in a year that has seen the best picture category double in size, academy voters displayed a pronounced reluctance toward spreading their love equally among the 10 nominees. In addition to "Up in the Air," "A Serious Man," "District 9" and "An Education" were completely shut out of the Oscar tally.

There were other surprises as well. In the best animated short category, the French-produced anti-consumerist cartoon sendup "Logorama" scored a surprise upset over the heavy favorite, "Wallace & Gromit" creator and four-time Oscar winner Nick Park's "A Matter of Loaf and Death," which took 2009's Annie Award for best animated short subject.

chris.lee@latimes.com