Oscar nominations: 'Avatar,' 'The Hurt Locker' take the lead

But some fresh faces appear in the Best Actress category with Carey Mulligan (‘An Education’) and Gabourey Sidibe (‘Precious’).

By , Staff writer

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    Actress Anne Hathaway and The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences President Tom Sherak announce the Best Original Screenplay nominations for the 82nd Academy Awards on Tuesday in Beverly Hills, Calif.
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Oscar nominations came out this morning. There are a few surprises as well as – fittingly – an actual movie moment as former spouses James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow face off for their work on “Avatar” and “The Hurt Locker,” respectively. Both films received nine nominations, including Best Film and Best Director.

Perennial Hollywood favorite Clint Eastwood was overlooked in the Best Film category for his South African film, “Invictus,” but the dark-horse entry from that country, “District 9,” got a Best Film nod.

Jeff Bridges, Morgan Freeman, and George Clooney were seen as shoo-ins for their Best Actor nominations, but Maggie Gyllenhaal for Best Supporting Actress (“Crazy Heart”) was considered a long shot. The relative shut-out in the top categories for the star-studded “Nine,” was seen as a surprise. Alone among the glittering cast that included Nicole Kidman and Daniel Day-Lewis, Penélope Cruz was singled out for her work as a supporting actress.

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In short, says film historian and critic Leonard Maltin, the nominations had a little bit of something for everyone in a slate that is remarkably comprehensive.

“I’d be hard-pressed to find some work of real merit this past year that didn’t get some sort of attention in this list of nomination,” he adds.

Without doubt, this thoroughness is carefully cultivated, says Mr. Maltin, who also hosts “Secret’s Out” on Reelz Channel. He points out that the big story this year, from the academy’s perspective, is the expansion of the Best Film category from five to 10 titles. Awards shows have been struggling for audiences – although recent awards shows such as The Golden Globes and the Grammys have reversed that trend – and even the grande dame of them all is not above making changes to keep viewers interested.

Besides doubling the number of entries in the top category, the ceremony will sport a team of hosts this year, pairing comedian Steve Martin with Alec Baldwin. As the number of awards ceremonies has risen – increasing half a dozen last year to nearly 50 this year – what Maltin calls the top show has to keep pace. “I don’t blame them for hustling, otherwise they will get lost in the crowd of names,” he says.

Beyond the marquee awards, animation has made a significant showing this year, says Yahoo! Movies industry analyst Sean Phillips. Noting that the number of categories expanded from three to five, he adds that none of the titles is filler. “They’re all good films that, more important, appeal to adults and children alike.” This trend, which began with “Beauty and the Beast” in 1991, has been helped along by such TV shows as “The Simpsons” and “The Family Guy.”

“Those have all expanded the idea that animation is no longer the sole province of children and Saturday morning cartoons,” he says.

Veteran Oscar fan Joan Mikkelsen, who watched the nomination announcements this morning, applauds the academy’s efforts to be more inclusive. “There used to be a limited number of categories like the period film, the tear-jerker, and the explosion movies, but now with this bigger list, there’s really a lot for people to tune in and care about,” she says by phone from her home in Berkeley, Calif.

Here are the top four categories:

Best Picture:

“Avatar”

The Blind Side

“District 9”

An Education

“The Hurt Locker”

Inglourious Basterds

“Precious”

A Serious Man

“Up”

Up in the Air

Best Director:

James Cameron, “Avatar”

Kathryn Bigelow, “The Hurt Locker”

Quentin Tarantino, “Inglourious Basterds”

Lee Daniels, “Precious”

Jason Reitman, “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”

For a complete list, go to www.oscars.org.

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