In a potential battle between art and commerce, Kathryn Bigelow's critically respected war movie "The Hurt Locker" tied James Cameron's box-office juggernaut "Avatar" with nine nods each when the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences revealed its Oscar nominations Tuesday morning in Beverly Hills.
And in a battle of the exes, the former husband and wife will also compete for best directing award.
Quentin Tarantino's gonzo World War II epic "Inglourious Basterds" trailed close behind with eight nods, followed by Jason Reitman's recession-themed romance "Up in the Air" and Lee Daniels' urban drama "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire," which drew six nominations each. Those three films were also nominated for best picture and best director.
The best picture category, which this year was expanded to 10 nominees for the first time since 1943, cast a wider net in the hopes of catching crowd-pleasing movies along with the usual serious-minded fare that tends to win awards. Ratings for the yearly Oscar awards broadcast have experienced some worrisome declines, possibly because past years focused on downbeat films like "No Country For Old Men" and "There Will be Blood," which many viewers had not seen.
This year's list of best picture nominees, read aloud by the actress Anne Hathaway at the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater, included several surprises. "Up," Pixar's tale about a grouchy senior citizen, became the first movie in Oscar history to receive nods for best animated feature and best picture. Two of the year's surprise hits, the South African sci-fi flick "District 9" and the Sandra Bullock vehicle "The Blind Side," also popped up in the top category.
Rounding out the best picture nominees were the coming-of-age story "An Education," which also earned newcomer Carey Mulligan a best actress nod, and the modern-day parable "A Serious Man," which earned the Coen brothers a nomination for best original screenplay.
Clint Eastwood's historical drama "Invictus" was shut out of the best picture category but drew two nominations, for best actor for Morgan Freeman (playing South African president Nelson Mandela) and best supporting actor for Matt Damon as a rugby captain.
The best actor category included George Clooney in "Up in the Air," Jeff Bridges in "Crazy Heart" (he won the Globe for best dramatic actor last month), Morgan Freeman in "Invictus," Jeremy Renner in "The Hurt Locker" and Colin Firth in "A Single Man."
Meryl Streep, who held the Oscar nomination record with 15, added another for best actress in "Julie & Julia." Her competition includes Helen Mirren in "The Last Station," the newcomer Gabourey Sidibe in "Precious" and, in a surprise, Sandra Bullock in a dramatic turn as a Southerner who adopts a black teenager in "The Blind Side."