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Two war films, worlds apart: 'Avatar,' 'Hurt Locker' lead Oscar noms

Kathryn Bigelow and James Cameron: Who gets the Oscar in the settlement?

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The Perfect Storm of this year's Oscars nominations was upgraded to category 5 early Tuesday with the 9-9 tie between "The Hurt Locker" and "Avatar." One of the least costly nominees and the most expensive film of all time were directed by once-married Kathryn Bigelow and James Cameron, and although they say they wish each other well, there's little doubt who Movie City has the crush on.

The Best Picture category, expanded to 10 titles, held a concealed surprise: No nomination for "Invictus," the rugby-and-Mandela film by Oscar favorite Clint Eastwood. We've always wanted to know the vote totals. Well, at least now we know the picture didn't place in the top ten. That explains no Eastwood in the directing category.

Another film shot in South Africa, the indie sci-fi drama "District 9," possibly grabbed a top 10 spot away from "Invictus." An animated film, "Up," became the first since "Beauty and the Beast" to make the Best Picture list. And although everyone "knew" Sandra Bullock would be nominated a best actress, the best pic nomination for "The Blind Side" was probably another beneficiary of the expanded category.

If you want to know the five "real" nominees, match them up with the five Best Director nominations. That gives you "Avatar," "Hurt Locker," "Inglourious Basterds," "Precious" and "Up in the Air."

Following the 9-9 tie, Quentin Tarantino's "Basterds" won eight nominations, and Jason Reitman's "Up in the Air" and Lee Daniels' "Precious" both got six. The stats add up: Those are the five "real" nominees, and the Best Picture winner will come from among them.

There were no big surprises in the best actor category:

Best actor: Jeff Bridges, “Crazy Heart;” George Clooney, “Up in the Air;” Colin Firth, “A Single Man;” Morgan Freeman, “Invictus;” and Jeremy Renner, “The Hurt Locker.” Bridges seems to be in the lead.

A slight surprise in Best Actress was Helen Mirren, for "The Last Station," as the wife of Christopher Plummer's Leo Tolstoy (nominated as Supporting Actor). The other nominees were predicted: Sandra Bullock, “The Blind Side,” Carey Mulligan, “An Education,” Gabourey Sidibe, “Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push' by Sapphire,” and Meryl Streep, “Julie & Julia.” It was Streep's 16th nomination. Sidibe's nomination takes on a special resonance because her poor and abused character daydreamed of just such a thing.

For Best Supporting Actor: Matt Damon, “Invictus,” Woody Harrelson, “The Messenger,” Christopher Plummer, “The Last Station,” Stanley Tucci, “The Lovely Bones,” and Christoph Waltz, “Inglourious Basterds.” Oscar handicappers give Waltz, unknown outside one Austria year ago, a 90% chance of winning.

There were surprises, some pleasant, in his year's list, but nothing to make the earth shake. Few pundits, for example, forecast a supporting actress nomination for Maggie Gyllenhaal for "Crazy Heart," pitch-perfect as she was.

The other Supporting Actress nominees were Penélope Cruz in "Nine,” Vera Farmiga in "Up in the Air," Anna Kendrick, "Up in the Air” and Mo'Nique in "Precious." Mo'Nique cleaned up the year-end awards and may own this category.

In Animation, "The Secret of Kells" was an unexpected nomination -- but the glaring omission was Miyazaki's "Ponyo," which for my money was better than "The Princess and the Frog." The other nominees were: “Coraline,” “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” and “Up.”

The documentary category included the usual unexpected lot. "The Cove" and "Food, Inc" were expected, but few have seen “Burma VJ, ” “The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers” and “Which Way Home.” The glaring omission was "The Beaches of Agnes," the luminous life's memories by Agnes Varda, mother of the French New Wave.

The Foreign Language Film category has, as usual, some unexpected names: Joining "Un Prophète" from France and "The White Ribbon" from Germany were the largely unseen "Ajami" from Israel, "El Secreto de Sus Ojos" from Argentina, and "The Milk of Sorrow" from Peru. They may be very good; reforms now require voters to see the contenders. They would have to be masterpieces to outrank Almodovar's "Broken Embraces." The winner here will be "The White Ribbon."

Oddly, Penelope Cruz was nominated for the mediocre "Nine" in the same year she made "Broken Embraces" by Spain's Pedro Almodovar. The Almodovar was a Sony Pictures Classics release; any more nominations would have piled on top of its record 18. Fox was next with 14, including those for "Avatar" and "Crazy Heart." For the brothers Weinstein, Harvey and Bob, there were 13 nominations for the Weinstein Company, including eight for "Inglourious Basterds."

The Best Director category was notable for honoring Lee Daniels, only the second African-American director to be nominated, after John Singleton for "Boyz N the Hood." Oddly, Spike Lee has never been named. Bigelow is only the fourth woman to make it into the white boys' club.

For Original Screenplay, the nominees were "The Hurt Locker," by Mark Boal; "Inglourious Basterds," by Quentin Tarantino; "The Messenger," by Alessandro Camon & Oren Moverman;

"A Serious Man," by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen; and "Up," by Bob Peterson and Pete Docter. The favorite is Tarantino.

For Best Adapted Screenplay, the Academy nominated "District 9," by Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell; "An Education," by Nick Hornby; "In the Loop," by Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci and Tony Roche; "Precious," by Geoffrey Fletcher, and "Up in the Air," by Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner. Reitman and Turner are probably the front-runners.

The 2010 Oscar ceremony will be telecast live March 7 on ABC from the Kodak Pavilion on Hollywood Boulevard. Co-hosts will be Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin, from "It's Complicated."

Best Picture "Avatar," "The Blind Side," "District 9," "An Education," "The Hurt Locker," "Inglourious Basterds," "Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push' by Sapphire," "A Serious Man," "Up," "Up in the Air."

Best Direction "Avatar," James Cameron "The Hurt Locker," Kathryn Bigelow "Inglourious Basterds," Quentin Tarantino "Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push' by Sapphire," Lee Daniels "Up in the Air," Jason Reitman.

Actor in a Leading Role Jeff Bridges, "Crazy Heart,” George Clooney, "Up in the Air,” Colin Firth, "A Single Man,” Morgan Freeman, "Invictus,” Jeremy Renner, "The Hurt Locker.”

Actress in a Leading Role Sandra Bullock, "The Blind Side” Helen Mirren, "The Last Station” Carey Mulligan, "An Education” Gabourey Sidibe, "Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push' by Sapphire” Meryl Streep, "Julie & Julia”

Actor in a Supporting Role Matt Damon, "Invictus,” Woody Harrelson, "The Messenger,” Christopher Plummer, "The Last Station,” Stanley Tucci, "The Lovely Bones,” Christoph Waltz, "Inglourious Basterds.”

Actress in a Supporting Role Penélope Cruz, "Nine,” Vera Farmiga, "Up in the Air,” Maggie Gyllenhaal, "Crazy Heart,” Anna Kendrick, "Up in the Air,” Mo'Nique, "Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push' by Sapphire.”

Writing (Adapted Screenplay) "District 9," Written by Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell "An Education," Screenplay by Nick Hornby "In the Loop," Screenplay by Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, Tony Roche "Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push' by Sapphire," Screenplay by Geoffrey Fletcher "Up in the Air," Screenplay by Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner.

Writing (Original Screenplay) "The Hurt Locker," Written by Mark Boal "Inglourious Basterds” Written by Quentin Tarantino "The Messenger," Written by Alessandro Camon & Oren Moverman "A Serious Man," Written by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen "Up," Screenplay by Bob Peterson, Pete Docter, Story by Pete Docter, Bob Peterson, Tom McCarthy.

Animated Feature Film "Coraline" "Fantastic Mr. Fox" "The Princess and the Frog" "The Secret of Kells" "Up."

Art Direction "Avatar," Art Direction: Rick Carter and Robert Stromberg; Set Decoration: Kim Sinclair "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus," Art Direction: Dave Warren and Anastasia Masaro; Set Decoration: Caroline Smith "Nine," Art Direction: John Myhre; Set Decoration: Gordon Sim "Sherlock Holmes," Art Direction: Sarah Greenwood; Set Decoration: Katie Spencer "The Young Victoria," Art Direction: Patrice Vermette; Set Decoration: Maggie Gray.

Cinematography "Avatar," Mauro Fiore "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," Bruno Delbonnel "The Hurt Locker," Barry Ackroyd "Inglourious Basterds," Robert Richardson "The White Ribbon," Christian Berger.

Costume Design "Bright Star," Janet Patterson "Coco Before Chanel," Catherine Leterrier "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus," Monique Prudhomme "Nine," Colleen Atwood "The Young Victoria," Sandy Powell

Documentary (Feature) "Burma VJ” "The Cove" "Food, Inc." "The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers” "Which Way Home.”

Documentary (Short Subject) "China's Unnatural Disaster: The Tears of Sichuan Province” "The Last Campaign of Governor Booth Gardner” "The Last Truck: Closing of a GM Plant” "Music by Prudence” "Rabbit à la Berlin.”

Film Editing "Avatar," Stephen Rivkin, John Refoua and James Cameron "District 9," Julian Clarke "The Hurt Locker," Bob Murawski and Chris Innis "Inglourious Basterds," Sally Menke "Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push' by Sapphire," Joe Klotz.

Foreign Language Film "Ajami," Israel "El Secreto de Sus Ojos," Argentina "The Milk of Sorrow," Peru "Un Prophète," France "The White Ribbon," Germany.

Makeup "Il Divo," Aldo Signoretti and Vittorio Sodano "Star Trek," Barney Burman, Mindy Hall and Joel Harlow "The Young Victoria," Jon Henry Gordon and Jenny Shircore.

Music (Original Score) "Avatar," James Horner "Fantastic Mr. Fox," Alexandre Desplat "The Hurt Locker," Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders "Sherlock Holmes," Hans Zimmer "Up," Michael Giacchino.

Music (Original Song) "Almost There” from "The Princess and the Frog” Music and Lyric by Randy Newman "Down in New Orleans” from "The Princess and the Frog” Music and Lyric by Randy Newman "Loin de Paname” from "Paris 36” Music by Reinhardt Wagner Lyric by Frank Thomas "Take It All” from "Nine” Music and Lyric by Maury Yeston "The Weary Kind (Theme from Crazy Heart)” from "Crazy Heart” Music and Lyric by Ryan Bingham and T Bone Burnett.

Short Film (Animated) "French Roast” Fabrice O. Joubert "Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty” Nicky Phelan and Darragh O'Connell "The Lady and the Reaper (La Dama y la Muerte)” Javier Recio Gracia "Logorama” Nicolas Schmerkin "A Matter of Loaf and Death” Nick Park.

Short Film (Live Action) "The Door," Juanita Wilson and James Flynn "Instead of Abracadabra," Patrik Eklund and Mathias Fjellström "Kavi," Gregg Helvey "Miracle Fish," Luke Doolan and Drew Bailey "The New Tenants," Joachim Back and Tivi Magnusson.

Sound Editing "Avatar," Christopher Boyes and Gwendolyn Yates Whittle "The Hurt Locker," Paul N.J. Ottosson "Inglourious Basterds," Wylie Stateman "Star Trek," Mark Stoeckinger and Alan Rankin "Up," Michael Silvers and Tom Myers.

Sound Mixing "Avatar," Christopher Boyes, Gary Summers, Andy Nelson and Tony Johnson "The Hurt Locker," Paul N.J. Ottosson and Ray Beckett "Inglourious Basterds," Michael Minkler, Tony Lamberti and Mark Ulano "Star Trek," Anna Behlmer, Andy Nelson and Peter J. Devlin "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers and Geoffrey Patterson.

Visual Effects "Avatar," Joe Letteri, Stephen Rosenbaum, Richard Baneham and Andrew R. Jones "District 9," Dan Kaufman, Peter Muyzers, Robert Habros and Matt Aitken "Star Trek," Roger Guyett, Russell Earl, Paul Kavanagh and Burt Dalton.

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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