'Avatar,' 'The Hurt Locker' lead Oscar noms

Bestpics 600x201

Cameron, Bigelow films receive nine, including best director

And then there were 10.

As the noms for the 82nd annual Academy Awards were unveiled Tuesday morning, the Oscar race took on a new dynamic. For the first time since 1943, 10 pictures were ushered into the best picture circle.

They range from the blockbuster "Avatar," which has amassed more than $2 billion globally, to a succes d'estime like "The Hurt Locker," which has attracted $16 million worldwide. With nine noms apiece, the two movies, from opposite ends of the commercial spectrum, were equally matched to do battle right up to the moment when the envelopes are opened and the trophies handed out on March 7.

The Oscar top 10 included a handful of other commercial hits: Pixar's "Up," also nominated for best animated feature, became only the second toon to be nominated for best picture, following 1991's "Beauty and the Beast"; Alcon's heartland fave "The Blind Side," which is not only the most popular movie Sandra Bullock has ever made but also her ticket to her first Oscar nom; and the revisionist World War II tale "Inglourious Basterds," the biggest grosser of Quentin Tarantino's career.

At the same time, Oscar's new largesse also embraced a number of smaller movies with passionate followings: the sci-fi allegory "District 9"; the London-set coming-of-age tale  "An Education"; the gritty look at cycles of abuse, "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire"; the Coen brothers' retelling of the Book of Job, "A Serious Man"; and a free-floating study of American malaise, "Up in the Air."

In June, when the Academy's then-president Sid Ganis announced the 10-picture strategy, there were certainly grumblings that it would dilute the Oscar brand. But as the freshly minted noms rained down upon Hollywood -- and beyond -- the initial reaction was that the experiment, designed in part to bring a larger audience to the annual Oscarcast by including a wider variety of movies, is working.

"I'm very happy," Ganis said. "It's a solid group from top to bottom -- including the categories like foreign language and documentary. When there are 300 to 400 films to judge, isn't it nice to say, there are some really big ones, some not so big? It suggests health in this art form and among those who are judging it."

"I applaud the voters," said Tom Sherak, his successor as president, offering a shout-out to the Academy's 5,777 voting members. "They gave us a bit of almost everything. The only thing that didn't happen is a foreign-language movie being nominated for best picture."

Given Hollywood's obsession with status, there will inevitably be a debate over which of the 10 would have been nominated had the field been held to the customary five.

On the face of it, that seems obvious: "Avatar," "Locker," "Basterds," "Precious" and "Up in the Air" all picked up directing noms for their respective -- and diverse -- directors: James Cameron, Kathyrn Bigelow (just the fourth woman in Academy history to be so honored), Tarantino, Lee Daniels (only the second African-American) and Jason Reitman.

Additionally, those five movies also led the tally. Following close behind the nine noms each scored by Fox's "Avatar" and Summit's "Locker," the Weinstein Co.'s "Basterds" picked up eight and Lionsgate's "Precious" and Paramount's "Up in the Air" collected six each.

"I'd like to believe we would have won a spot in the top five, but we feel just as good as if it had been only five," said Joe Drake, president of the Lionsgate Motion Picture Group, which acquired "Precious" at last year's Sundance. In any event, the movie has already become a Cinderella story, grossing more than $45 million domestically.

"When we acquired it, we made the decision with the idea it could be a commercial success," Drake added, "but we always believed that it was important enough, emotional enough, that we had big hopes for its awards potential."

But if some of the other best picture nominees occupy a second tier, that didn't seem to be bothering anybody.

Asked if "Blind" would have been nominated under the previous five-pic rule, Broderick Johnson, one of the movie's producers, frankly responded, "No, I do not. For us, the win is getting the nomination. We don't have any aspirations about actually winning this award, but it's fun for us and I'm glad the film got recognized because it was a really great team effort."

Not that the "Blind Side"-ers won't have some nerves Oscar night: After picking up trophies at the Golden Globes and SAG, Bullock has to be considered a front-runner in the best actress heat, although she faces considerable competition from Meryl Streep, adding a 16th nom to her charm bracelet for "Julie & Julia"; Oscar veteran Helen Mirren for "The Last Station"; and newcomers Carey Mulligan ("An Education") and Gabourey Sidibe ("Precious").

More awards coverage  

Similarly, Jeff Bridges, by dint of the awards he has already collected, is positioned as the prohibitive favorite among the best lead actors for his role as a hard-drinking country singer in Fox Searchlight's "Crazy Heart" -- even though he'll be going up against George Clooney ("Up in the Air"), Colin Firth ("A Single Man"), Morgan Freeman ("Invictus") and Jeremy Renner ("Locker").

For one day, though, it wasn't so much about identifying the ultimate winners (and losers) as it was just enjoying the invitation to the party.

"I know this is going to sound odd coming from Mr. Specialty Films Guy," said James Schamus, CEO of Focus Features, which picked up noms for "Serious Man" and the animated "Coraline." "But it's exciting to see 'A Serious Man' in the same group as 'Avatar,' 'Blind Side' and 'District 9.' It's kind of like the kids being invited to the grown-ups table. As a film geek, I'm thrilled. I would have even really liked to see 'The Hangover' in there. If you're not a snob, but just like really good movies, it's nice to see the specialty films mixing it up with the mainstream."

With 13 noms spread out across eight films (including three of the five foreign-language nominees), Sony Pictures Classics, headed by Michael Barker and Tom Bernard, had one of its better mornings -- tying its company best set in 2001 with the help of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon."

Whether the 10 best-pic pack ultimately gooses Oscar ratings, Barker argued that it's already had a positive effect. "If you look back at December and January," he said, "one of the reasons that business was so good is that there was a heightened discussion of so many films. More films were in the conversation because several more would be nominated for best picture. And I think that change is good for the business."

While there was plenty of advance speculation whether the new formula would favor the studios or the independents, in the end it was something of a draw -- partially erasing differences between the two.

Assembling 13 noms for three of his films, the Weinstein Co.'s Harvey Weinstein noted, "I think we did pretty well -- certainly for the independents and even in the studio column."

The 10 best did succeed in welcoming in sci-fi, a genre the Academy has often left out with just a few exceptions like "Star Wars" and "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial." This year, two -- "Avatar" and "District 9" -- made the list, and "District 9," an allegory about apartheid set in South Africa, proved a particularly interesting choice since it edged out the more conventional South African-set political drama "Invictus."

Said "District 9's" Julian Clarke, who secured an editing nom: "Hopefully, it means that the genre has grown up and that it will be taken more seriously and more artistically."

The new order also ensures that a critically applauded animated movie like "Up" was not relegated to the animated feature race. ("Up," though, will still compete in that category with "Coraline," "Fantastic Mr. Fox," "The Princess and the Frog" and "The Secret of Kells.")

In his new role as Disney Studios chairman, Richard Ross -- who admitted that as a 12-year-old he used to get up early for Oscar noms -- found himself on the dawn patrol as "Up" and "Princess" jointly collected eight noms. He predicted that the added attention for both movies would boost "Up's" DVD sales and the U.K. launch of "Princess" this weekend.

"I think," he said of the Academy's new approach, "they delivered a roster of movies that people care about."

Alex Ben Block, Borys Kit and Lesley Goldberg contributed to this report.

A complete list of nominees is on the next page.

With nine nominations each, "Avatar" and "The Hurt Locker" led the pack as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the noms Tuesday morning. A full list of nominees follows:

Best picture
"The Blind Side"
"District 9"
"An Education"
"The Hurt Locker"
"Inglourious Basterds"
"A Serious Man"
"Up in the Air"

Best actor
Jeff Bridges, "Crazy Heart"
George Clooney, "Up in the Air"
Colin Firth, "A Single Man"
Morgan Freeman, "Invictus"
Jeremy Renner, "The Hurt Locker"

Best actress
Sandra Bullock, "The Blind Side"
Helen Mirren, "The Last Station"
Carey Mulligan, "An Education"
Gabourey Sidibe, "Precious"
Meryl Streep, "Julie & Julia"

Best supporting actor
Matt Damon, "Invictus"
Woody Harrelson, "The Messenger"
Christopher Plummer, "The Last Station"
Stanley Tucci, "The Lovely Bones"
Christoph Waltz, "Inglourious Basterds"

Best supporting actress
Penelope Cruz, "Nine"
Vera Farmiga, "Up in the Air"
Maggie Gyllenhaal, "Crazy Heart"
Anna Kendrick, "Up in the Air"
Mo'Nique, "Precious"

Best director
James Cameron, "Avatar"
Kathryn Bigelow, "The Hurt Locker"
Quentin Tarantino, "Inglourious Basterds"
Lee Daniels, "Precious"
Jason Reitman, "Up in the Air"

Best foreign-language film
"Ajami," Israel
"El Secreto de Sus Ojos," Argentina
"The Milk of Sorrow," Peru
"Un Prophete," France
"The White Ribbon," Germany

Best adapted screenplay
Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell, "District 9"
Nick Hornby, "An Education"
Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, Tony Roche, "In the Loop"
Geoffrey Fletcher, "Precious"
Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner, "Up in the Air"

Best original screenplay
Mark Boal, "The Hurt Locker"
Quentin Tarantino, "Inglourious Basterds"
Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman, "The Messenger"
Joel Coen & Ethan Coen, "A Serious Man"
Bob Peterson, Pete Docter and Tom McCarthy, "Up"

Best animated feature film
"Fantastic Mr. Fox"
"The Princess and the Frog"
"The Secret of Kells"

Best art direction
"The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus"
"Nine" "Sherlock Holmes"
"The Young Victoria"

Best cinematography
"Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince"
"The Hurt Locker"
"Inglourious Basterds"
"The White Ribbon"

Best sound mixing
"The Hurt Locker"
"Inglourious Basterds"
"Star Trek"
"Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen"

Best sound editing
"The Hurt Locker"
"Inglourious Basterds"
"Star Trek"

Best 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

Best original song
"Almost There" from "The Princess and the Frog," Randy Newman
"Down in New Orleans" from "The Princess and the Frog," Randy Newman
"Loin de Paname" from "Paris 36," Reinhardt Wagner and Frank Thomas
"Take It All" from "Nine," Maury Yeston
"The Weary Kind (Theme from Crazy Heart)" from "Crazy Heart," Ryan Bingham and T Bone Burnett

Best costume design
"Bright Star"
"Coco Before Chanel"
"The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus"
"The Young Victoria"

Best documentary feature
"Burma VJ"
"The Cove"
"Food, Inc."
"The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers"
"Which Way Home"

Best documentary short
"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 a la Berlin"

Best film editing
"District 9"
"The Hurt Locker"
"Inglourious Basterds"

Best makeup
"Il Divo"
"Star Trek"
"The Young Victoria"

Best animated short film
"French Roast"
"Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty"
"The Lady and the Reaper (La Dama y la Muerte)"
"A Matter of Loaf and Death"

Best live-action short film
"The Door"
"Instead of Abracadabra"
"Miracle Fish"
"The New Tenants"

Best visual effects
"District 9"
"Star Trek"