'Hurt Locker,' 'Avatar' lead Academy Award nominations

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- The science-fiction sensation ''Avatar'' and the war-on-terror thriller ''The Hurt Locker'' lead the Academy Awards with nine nominations each, including best picture and director for former spouses James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow.

For the first time since 1943, the Oscars feature 10 best-picture contenders instead of the usual five.

Also nominated for best-picture Tuesday: ''District 9''; the animated comedy ''Up''; the World War II saga ''Inglourious Basterds''; the football drama ''The Blind Side''; the recession tale ''Up in The Air,'' the 1960s drama ''A Serious Man,'' and the teen tales ''An Education'' and ''Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' By Sapphire.''

Acting nominees include the four stars who have dominated early awards shows: lead players Sandra Bullock for ''The Blind Side'' and Jeff Bridges for the country-music tale ''Crazy Heart'' and supporting performers Mo'Nique for ''Precious'' and Christoph Waltz for ''Inglourious Basterds.''

The best-picture and director categories shape up as a showdown between ex-spouses who directed films that have dominated earlier Hollywood honors.

Cameron's ''Avatar'' won best drama and director at the Golden Globes, while Bigelow's ''The Hurt Locker'' beat out Cameron at the Directors Guild of America Awards, whose recipient usually goes on to earn the best director Oscar.

''The Hurt Locker'' also beat ''Avatar'' for the Producers Guild of America top prize and was chosen as last year's best film by many key critics groups.

Bigelow said she was gratified and humbled.

''It's a huge, huge compliment to the entire cast and crew,'' she said. ''It was a very difficult shoot of heat and sun and windstorms and sandstorms and they had to unite crew from Lebanon and Israel.''

Bigelow, whose films include ''Point Break'' and ''K19: The Widowmaker,'' is only the fourth woman nominated for a directing Oscar, following Sofia Coppola for 2003's ''Lost in Translation,'' Jane Campion for 1993's ''The Piano'' and Lina Wertmuller for 1975's ''Seven Beauties.''

No woman has ever won the directing Oscar, and until Bigelow, no woman had ever won the Directors Guild honor.

Lee Daniels, who made ''Precious,'' became only the second black filmmaker nominated for best director, after John Singleton for 1991's ''Boyz N the Hood.''

''After 82 years, it's the first film nominated for best picture directed by an African-American,'' Daniels said. ''Isn't that great? It's so exciting.''