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Admiration for Kathryn Bigelow began years ago

Now that Kathryn Bigelow has made history as the first woman to win the best director Oscar, you may be wondering: Why does everyone love her so much?

After all, her resumé is essentially a list of schlocky action movies, most notably "Point Break" (1991), with Keanu Reeves as an FBI agent hunting Patrick Swayze as a surfing bank robber. Her 2002 thriller, "K-19: The Widowmaker," flopped, despite Harrison Ford's star power.

Yet critics have admired Bigelow since her 1987 cult hit, "Near Dark," a horror-Western mash-up that predated not only today's vampire mania but the high-octane pulp later made fashionable by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. Her 1989 thriller, "Blue Steel," starring Jamie Lee Curtis as an aggressive cop with a sizable gun, proved Bigelow enjoyed pulling an audience's trigger. Her 1995 sci-fi flick, "Strange Days," originally written by her ex-husband, James Cameron, died at the box office but cemented her reputation as America's premier - only? - female action director.

Bigelow, 58, also has egghead credibility: Her first short film, 1978's "The Set-Up," was a semiotic analysis of violent imagery. But you don't need a degree to appreciate her movies. Bigelow's specialty is shifting points of view: Think of the beach thugs that gather around the camera in "Point Break," or the dizzyingly high shot of a man trapped in a snake-pit of bombs in "The Hurt Locker."

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