In a potential battle between art and commerce, Kathryn Bigelow's jarring Iraq war movie "The Hurt Locker" tied James Cameron's big-budget adventure-epic "Avatar" with nine nods each when the Oscar nominations were revealed Tuesday in Beverly Hills.
And in a battle of the exes, the former husband and wife will also compete for best directing award.
The two mirror-image front-runners - one a crowd-pleasing blockbuster, the other a challenging work of semi-fiction - may be just what the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was looking for when it expanded the best picture category to 10 nominees, from the usual five. The goal was to cast a wider net and pull in more films with popular appeal. This year's best picture list may not include truly populist fare like "The Hangover," which recently won the Golden Globe for best comedy film. Still, there are several surprises, most notably Disney-Pixar's "Up," which became the first movie in Oscar history to be simultaneously nominated for best picture and best animated feature. Two of last year's big hits, the sci-fi flick "District 9" and the Sandra Bullock vehicle "The Blind Side," also popped up in the top category.
Two other best picture contenders feature strong candidates in the supporting actor categories: Mo'Nique, who plays an abusive mother in Lee Daniels' urban drama "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire," and Christoph Waltz, who plays a happy-go-lucky Nazi in Quentin Tarantino's gonzo World War II epic "Inglourious Basterds."
Among the films shut out of the best picture field: Clint Eastwood's historical sports-drama "Invictus" (though Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon are both up for acting awards), the apocalyptic fable "The Road" and "A Single Man," which earned Colin Firth a best actor nod for his portrayal of a gay college professor.