"Avatar," "Hurt Locker" Lead Oscar Noms

Last Updated 12:50 p.m. ET

James Cameron's science-fiction blockbuster "Avatar" and the searing Iraq War drama "The Hurt Locker" lead the Academy Awards with nine nominations each, including Best Picture.

"Hurt Locker"'s Kathryn Bigelow will be competing against her ex-husband Cameron for Best Director. She is only the fourth woman ever to be nominated in the category.

Also vying for the top prize at this year's Oscars - which for the first time in six decades features a field of 10 nominees - are the inspirational football drama "The Blind Side"; "District 9," the science fiction hit of aliens relegated to an apartheid existence in South Africa; Quentin Tarantino's World War II saga "Inglourious Basterds"; the Coen Brothers' meditation on religion and morality, "A Serious Man"; the animated Pixar comedy "Up"; "Up in The Air," a dramedy about a corporate downsizer; and two tales of teenagers in very different circumstances, involving romance ("An Education") and abuse ("Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire").

"Up," a travel adventure about a lonely widower who flies his house off to South America suspended from helium balloons, is only the second animated film ever to earn a Best Picture nomination (following Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" in 1991).

Cameron's "Avatar" won best drama and director at the Golden Globes, while Bigelow's "The Hurt Locker" beat out Cameron at the Directors Guild of America Awards, whose recipient usually goes on to earn the Best Director Oscar.

No woman has ever won the directing Oscar (previous nominees include Sofia Coppola for 2003's "Lost in Translation," Jane Campion for 1993's "The Piano," and Lena Wertmuller for 1975's "Seven Beauties").

Bigelow's previous films include "Point Break" and "Near Dark." She said she was gratified and humbled by the nomination.

"It's a huge, huge compliment to the entire cast and crew," she said. "It was a very difficult shoot of heat and sun and windstorms and sandstorms and they had to unite crew from Lebanon and Israel."

"The Hurt Locker" also beat "Avatar" for the Producers Guild of America top prize and was chosen as last year's best film by many key critics groups.

Also nominated for best director Lee Daniels ("Precious), who became only the second black filmmaker nominated in the category (after John Singleton for 1991's "Boyz N the Hood"); Jason Reitman for "Up in the Air"' and Quentin Tarantino for "Inglourious Basterds."

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There were familiar faces among this year's nominees - Meryl Streep, Jeff Bridges, George Clooney, Wallace and Gromit - and some first -timers.

Sandra Bullock received her first Oscar nomination for playing a wealthy woman who takes in a homeless teen in "The Blind Side," while Streep received her 16th for her portrayal of Julia Child in "Julie & Julia." Also nominated for Best Actress: Helen Mirren as the wife of Leo Tolstoy in "The Last Station"; Carey Mulligan as a British school girl romanced by a much older man in "An Education"; and Gabourey Sidibe, making her film debut as an illiterate, pregnant teenager who moves toward self-discovery amid horrendous domestic circumstances, in "Precious."

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Jeff Bridges received his fifth acting nomination, as a country-western singer in "Crazy Heart." George Clooney, who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for "Syriana," is up for Best Actor for "Up in the Air." Also in the running: Colin Firth as a gay professor grieving over the death of his lover in "A Single Man"; Jeremy Renner as a bomb technician in "The Hurt Locker"; and Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela in Clint Eastwood's "Invictus."

"This is my fifth nomination and I'm more proud of that than all the rest of it I think," Freeman said, also approving of the expansion of the Best Picture category (although it did not include "Invictus," a film whose pre-release anticipation seemed to assure it of a nod).

"I think it's a good call, a good call, some good pictures. We didn't get a Best Picture nomination? Well, that's a big letdown. Well, there you go. That's my problem, I thought we should get a Best Picture nomination. But it's OK."

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Nominated for best supporting actor are Matt Damon as a rugby player in "Invictus"; Woody Harrelson as an officer charged with informing families of loved ones killed in action in "The Messenger"; Christopher Plummer as Leo Tolstoy in "The Last Station"; Stanley Tucci as a serial killer in "The Lovely Bones"; and Christoph Waltz as an SS colonel with more than one agenda in "Inglourious Basterds."

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Walz, who won the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival for his performance, has reaped most every critics' award so far this season, as has Mo'Nique for her startling turn as an abusive mother in "Precious." She is nominated for Best Supporting Actress, along with Penelope Cruz as Daniel Day-Lewis' mistress in "Nine"; Vera Farmiga as a frequent-flyer in "Up in the Air"; Maggie Gyllenhaal in "Crazy Heart"; and Anna Kendrick, who plays George Clooney's human resources protégé in "Up in the Air."

On CBS' "The Early Show" this morning, Mo'Nique said .

"I'm very honored and grateful they recognized the performance, but we didn't do the project with the feeling of, 'This is going to get us an award.' We did the project with the feeling of 'Oh my God, this will change lives,'" she said.

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Actress Anne Hathaway and Tom Sherak, president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, announced the nominees for the 82nd Academy Awards at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater.

Oscar nominees are chosen in most categories by specific branches of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, such as actors, directors and writers. The academy's full membership of about 5,800 was eligible to vote for Best Picture nominations, and can cast ballots for the winners in all categories.

The awards presentation will be broadcast March 7 at 8 p.m. ET from the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, hosted by Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin.

Oscar producers Adam Shankman, a choreographer and director whose films include "Hairspray," and Bill Mechanic, former studio boss at 20th Century Fox, are promising to step up the fun quotient at this year's show.

Honorary Oscars, which took up a big chunk of space during past shows, were moved to a separate event last fall, freeing up more time to focus on the expanded Best Picture nominees and other categories.

(Weinstein Company)
Last summer the Academy decided to boost the number of Best Picture nominees to ten (for the first time since 1943, when "Casablanca" topped them all) to provide room for more crowd-pleasing entries that might boost ratings. The move came after heavy criticism that neither "The Dark Knight" nor "Wall-E" - two blockbusters that were also critically acclaimed - did not make the final five.

This year's roster certainly doesn't lack for fan favorites. In addition to "Up" ($293 million), there are "The Blind Side" ($237 million), "Inglorious Basterds" (left) ($120 million), "District 9" ($115 million) and "Up in the Air" ($73 million).

Yet these are all overshadowed by "Avatar," whose domestic gross of approximately $600 million (and more than $1.8 billion worldwide) may lead it to becoming the first science fiction film ever to win a Best Picture Oscar.


Scribes

It is rare that a film would be nominated for Best Picture, let alone win, without also receiving a nomination in a screenplay category. (But it has happened, as witness "Titanic.") Cameron missed on an original screenplay nomination for "Avatar"; "The Blind Side" was also left off the list.

Otherwise entires in the Best Original and Adapted Screenplay categories mirror the Best Picture nominations, with the additions of "The Messenger" and "In the Loop."


(AP Photo/Disney/Pixar)
Animation

In an unusually rich year for animated features films, five films were nominated: two stop-motion animations adapted from acclaimed books, "Coraline" (based on the Neil Gaiman gothic) and "Fantastic Mr. Fox" (from Roald Dahl's classic).

Also up is, well, "Up" (left), one of Pixar's most critically-acclaimed films; the Disney hand-drawn animated musical "The Princess and the Frog"; and "The Secret of Kells," whose imagery is inspired by medieval manuscript illustrations.

Wallace and Gromit, the most famous English lovers of cheese and mysteries, are back with a nomination in the Best Animated Short category, with "A Matter of Loaf and Death." Their creator, Nick Park, has previously won three Oscars for their adventures (the shorts "The Wrong Trousers" and "A Close Shave," and the feature-length "Curse of the Were-Rabbit"); for Wallace and Gromit's first nominated outing Park lost . . . to himself (for his "Creature Comforts").


(CBS)
Music

The movie version of "Nine" failed to click in the major categories, but it did catch a nomination in the Best Original Song category for "Take It All."

The Disney animated musical "The Princess and the Frog" (left) did it one better, with two of Randy Newman's songs nominated: "Almost There" and "Down in New Orleans."

Also up: "Loin de Paname" from "Paris 36"; and "The Weary Kind (Theme from Crazy Heart)" by Ryan Bingham and T Bone Burnett.

Two other animated films - "Fantastic Mr. Fox" and "Up" - are competing in the Best Original Score category, against "The Hurt Locker," "Sherlock Holmes," and "Avatar" (whose composer, James Horner, previously won for scoring Cameron's "Titanic").


(Summit Entertainment)
Tech Noms

Suspense of very different kinds fill the ranks of the film editing category: "District 9" melds varying tones of action, humor and terror, told from different viewpoints, while "Hurt Locker" is an excruciatingly tense character study.

"Inglourious Basterds" weaves two separate stories of wartime into an epic of revenge, as language jockeys with bloodshed to propel the story forward.

And then there are two films at polar opposites: the claustrophobic "Precious," in which a teenager feels trapped in an urban hell, and the 3-D "Avatar," one of the most expansive action films ever made.

Most of "Avatar"'s nominations are on the technical side - it received no nominations for screenplay or acting - and is a frontrunner in many of them.

(Sony Pictures Classics)
But it has competition from other bang-up Hollywood blockbusters (such as "Star Trek"), Victoriana period pieces and World War II films.

In addition to a nomination for Best Visual Effects (alongside "Star Trek" and "District 9"), "Avatar"'s most striking nominations are for Art Direction and Cinematography, two categories which are traditionally less open to films dominated by computer-generated or -enhanced imagery.

"Avatar"'s production design will be up against the Terry Gilliam fantasy "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus" (left), the period pieces "Sherlock Holmes" and "The Young Victoria," and the musical "Nine."

Two-time Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Richardson was nominated for "Inglourious Basterds," alongside "Avatar," "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," "The Hurt Locker" and Germany's "The White Ribbon" - the first black-and-white film to be nominated for cinematography since 2005's "Good Night, and Good Luck."

(Weinstein Company)
And those blue people's loin cloths were no match for Chanel's hats or Penelope Cruz's corset.

Costume nods were given to the 19th century romance "Bright Star," "Coco Before Chanel," "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus," "Nine" and "The Young Victoria."

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Documentaries

The field competing in Best Feature Documentary is a particularly potent collection of political and activist films.

"Burma VJ" from director Anders Østergaard, was compiled from video footage illicitly shot during the government of Myanmar's crackdown on protesting monks, and then smuggled out of the country.

(Magnolia Pictures)
"The Cove" is Louie Psihoyos' suspenseful expose of a Japanese fishing village's rapacious slaughter of dolphins.

"Food, Inc." (left), Robert Kenner's unflinching look at the mechanized, corporatized food industry.

Also, "The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers" by Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith tells the story of the Pentagon official whose leaking of classified documents to The New York Times helped turn the tide of public opinion on the Vietnam War.

Rebecca Cammisa's "Which Way Home," which follows the journey of child migrants from Mexico trying to reach their parents in the United States.


Foreign Language

Germany's "The White Ribbon" by director Michael Haneke ("Cache," "The Piano Teacher"), which won the top prize at Cannes last year, will compete for Best Foreign Language Film.

(Sony Pictures Classics)
Set in pre-World War I Germany, the stark morality tale examines communal guilt, distrust and punishment among the residents of a small German town. Its searing black-and-white cinematography also received an Oscar nomination.

The film's producer, Stefan Arndt, called Tuesday's nomination "smashingly awesome."

Also up for the foreign film prize: French director Jacques Audiard's prison drama "Un Prophet" ("A Prophet"), a gritty prison drama which placed second at Cannes. The film chronicles the rise of an illiterate inmate who educates himself and becomes a player in drug and smuggling circles while serving a six-year sentence. Tense, brutal and sometimes tender, the film shows the central character's education on the rules of prison life, which turn out to be not so different from those outside.

Audiard won international acclaim for his last feature, 2005's "The Beat That My Heart Skipped," the story of a young man torn between following in his father's footsteps in a life of thuggish petty crime and pursuing his love for classical music.

From Peru is director Claudia Llosa's "Milk of Sorrow," which won the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. It addresses the lingering problems of women abused during the Peruvian government's decades-long war against leftist guerrillas.

Another South American feature, "El Secreto de Sus Ojos" ("The Secret in their Eyes") by Argentine director Juan Jose Campanella, is the story of a detective who plunges into a cold murder case.

Campanella, whose "Son of the Bride" was nominated for an Oscar in 2002, told Argentine cable channel Todo Noticias he was stunned by Tuesday's news.

"I cannot believe it," he told the channel in Spanish. "You go through the process with so much anxiety that when it happens the news is a relief."

Newcomers Scandar Copti and Yaron Shani's "Ajami" depicts the brutal life of drugs, violence and poverty in a mixed, Jewish-Arab neighborhood in the Mediterranean city of Jaffa.

Copti said he was overjoyed about the nomination and said he hoped the film would help spread awareness about Israel's Arab minority, which makes up about one-fifth of Israel's population of 7 million.

"Maybe with the nomination, people will have a chance to understand what a Palestinian living in Israel is," Copti told The AP in a phone interview from Dubai. "It will put us on the map."
  • David Morgan

    David Morgan is a senior editor at CBSNews.com and cbssundaymorning.com.

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