An Oscar first for a female director – unless her ex-husband wins

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Almost two decades after they divorced, Kathryn Bigelow and James Cameron are reunited with nine Oscar nominations each for 'The Hurt Locker' and 'Avatar'

It will be both a battle of the sexes, and a battle of the exes: James Cameron and his former wife Kathryn Bigelow are preparing to share the spotlight at next month's Academy Awards, after their films Avatar and The Hurt Locker led the field by being shortlisted in nine categories when the Oscar nominations were announced yesterday.

Hollywood's blue-riband event for 2010 is now likely to revolve around a David vs Goliath clash between two movies which, despite their intriguing provenance, couldn't be more different in style and tone, and which have enjoyed compellingly different paths to success.

Cameron's Avatar is an extravagant 3D science-fiction blockbuster with state-of-the-art special effects and a $400m [£250m] budget. It has topped the box-office charts since its release shortly before Christmas and this week became the highest-grossing film ever made, beating Titanic to pass $2bn in global ticket sales.

Bigelow's war drama The Hurt Locker, by contrast, is a gritty look at a US army bomb-disposal team working in Iraq shortly after the 2003 invasion. It was pulled together on a shoestring budget of $11m. But despite winning critical acclaim and endless accolades this awards season, it made just $16m at the box office

Cameron's film is widely seen to represent the future of Hollywood, with its huge profile and expensive 3D technology; Bigelow's is an example of the virtues of independent movies, which are made outside the major studio system and have in recent years tended to struggle commercially.

The pair, who divorced in 1991 but remain friendly, were both shortlisted for the Best Director award. If Bigelow goes on to win that battle (and the bookmakers currently have her as the odds-on favourite) she will become the first woman to ever receive the accolade.

Asked how that felt, she said yesterday: "I am perhaps overwhelmed with joy. But I do hope that someday we can lose the modifier and that becomes a moot point whether the person is male or female and they're just film-makers making statements that they believe in."

The full line-up for next month's Oscars was announced by actress Anne Hathaway early yesterday. While Avatar's remaining seven nominations came in technical categories, The Hurt Locker got nods for its star Jeremy Renner as Best Actor, and writer Mark Boal for Best Original Screenplay.

In a second potential milestone, Precious, the hard-hitting tale of an abused black teenager in 1980s Harlem, got six nominations, including Best Film. "After 82 years, it's the first film nominated for Best Picture directed by an African-American," said its director Lee Daniels. "Isn't that great? It's so exciting."

Gabourey Sidibe, the teenage star of Precious who won her part at an open audition while she was working at a call centre, continued her staggering rise when she was nominated for Best Actress. "As soon as I heard, I jumped up and down and for some reason I kept screaming, 'I'm gonna get a car! I'm gonna get a car!' I don't know why," she said.

Sidibe faces stiff competition from lofty rivals like Dame Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep, but her toughest opponent is perhaps Sandra Bullock, whose film The Blind Side is also a surprise nomination for Best Picture.

Despite mixed reviews, the tale of how a housewife adopts a black orphan teenager who goes on to become an American football star has been a huge hit with Middle America and was one of the top-grossing films of 2009, making more than $230m in the US.

The Blind Side benefited from a decision by the Academy to expand the number of films shortlisted for Best Picture from five to 10. The event's organisers hope the move will put more commercial hits in the running and reverse a long-term trend of falling TV audiences for the awards ceremony.

Other surprising nominations for Best Picture were District 9, a South African science fiction satire about apartheid, which got a total of four nods, and Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, which got a total of eight. Despite mixed reviews and a lukewarm reception at Cannes Inglourious has been a huge box-office success, taking more than $300m.

Jason Reitman's recession comedy Up in the Air received six nominations, including two in the Best Supporting Actress category for its co-stars Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick, and one in the Best Actor division for George Clooney.

Clooney is up against the strong favourite Jeff Bridges, who has never won an Oscar but has been nominated for his portrayal of a washed-up country singer in Crazy Heart. Also fancied in the Best Actor category is Morgan Freeman, who played Nelson Mandela in Clint Eastwood's Invictus. "This is my fifth nomination and I'm more proud of that than all the rest," he said.

A final big winner was the Pixar film Up, which was shortlisted for five of this year's 24 awards and is a shoo-in for Best Animation gong. The tale of an elderly man who attaches helium balloons to his house and flies to South America became only the second cartoon after Beauty and the Beast in 1992 to be nominated for Best Picture, perhaps reflecting the fact that animations have been the engine room of the Hollywood economy this year, accounting for five of 2009's 15 highest-grossing titles.

Complete list of 82nd Annual Academy Award nominations

1. Best Picture: 'Avatar,' 'The Blind Side,' 'District 9,' 'An Education,' 'The Hurt Locker,' 'Inglourious Basterds,' 'Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire,' 'A Serious Man,' 'Up,' 'Up in the Air.'



2. Actor: Jeff Bridges, 'Crazy Heart'; George Clooney, 'Up in the Air'; Colin Firth, 'A Single Man'; Morgan Freeman, 'Invictus'; Jeremy Renner, 'The Hurt Locker.'



3. Actress: Sandra Bullock, 'The Blind Side'; Helen Mirren, 'The Last Station'; Carey Mulligan, 'An Education'; Gabourey Sidibe, 'Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire'; Meryl Streep, 'Julie & Julia.'



4. Supporting Actor: Matt Damon, 'Invictus'; Woody Harrelson, 'The Messenger'; Christopher Plummer, 'The Last Station'; Stanley Tucci, 'The Lovely Bones'; Christoph Waltz, 'Inglourious Basterds.'



5. Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz, 'Nine'; Vera Farmiga, 'Up in the Air'; Maggie Gyllenhaal, 'Crazy Heart'; Anna Kendrick, 'Up in the Air'; Mo'Nique, 'Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire.'



6. Directing: James Cameron, 'Avatar'; Kathryn Bigelow, 'The Hurt Locker'; Quentin Tarantino, 'Inglourious Basterds'; Lee Daniels, 'Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire'; Jason Reitman, 'Up in the Air.'



7. Foreign Language Film: 'Ajami,' Israel; 'El Secreto de Sus Ojos,' Argentina; 'The Milk of Sorrow,' Peru; 'Un Prophete,' France; 'The White Ribbon,' Germany.



8. 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: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire'; Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner, 'Up in the Air.'



9. Original Screenplay: Mark Boal, 'The Hurt Locker'; Quentin Tarantino, 'Inglourious Basterds'; Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman, 'The Messenger'; Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, 'A Serious Man'; Bob Peterson, Pete Docter, Tom McCarthy, 'Up.'



10. Animated Feature Film: 'Coraline'; 'Fantastic Mr. Fox'; 'The Princess and the Frog'; 'The Secret of Kells'; 'Up.'



11. Art Direction: 'Avatar,' 'The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus,' 'Nine,' 'Sherlock Holmes,' 'The Young Victoria.'



12. Cinematography: 'Avatar,' 'Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,' 'The Hurt Locker,' 'Inglourious Basterds,' 'The White Ribbon.'



13. Sound Mixing: 'Avatar,' 'The Hurt Locker,' 'Inglourious Basterds,' 'Star Trek,' 'Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.'



14. Sound Editing: 'Avatar,' 'The Hurt Locker,' 'Inglourious Basterds,' 'Star Trek,' 'Up.'



15. 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.



16. 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.



17. Costume: 'Bright Star,' 'Coco Before Chanel,' 'The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus,' 'Nine,' 'The Young Victoria.'



18. Documentary Feature: 'Burma VJ,' 'The Cove,' 'Food, Inc.' 'The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers,' 'Which Way Home.'



19. Documentary (short subject): '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.'



20. Film Editing: 'Avatar,' 'District 9,' 'The Hurt Locker,' 'Inglourious Basterds,' 'Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire.'



21. Makeup: 'Il Divo,' 'Star Trek,' 'The Young Victoria.'



22. Animated Short Film: 'French Roast,' 'Granny O'Grimm's Sleeping Beauty,' 'The Lady and the Reaper (La Dama y la Muerte),' 'Logorama,' 'A Matter of Loaf and Death.'



23. Live Action Short Film: 'The Door,' 'Instead of Abracadabra,' 'Kavi,' 'Miracle Fish,' 'The New Tenants.'



24. Visual Effects: 'Avatar,' 'District 9,' 'Star Trek.'

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