'Avatar' and 'Hurt Locker': the Oscars odd couple

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Science-fiction blockbuster "Avatar" and Iraq war drama "The Hurt Locker" are the Oscars odd couple who will face off in a David versus Goliath showdown at this year's Academy Awards.

The two films garnered nine Oscar nominations each here Tuesday - but that is the only similarity between the two starkly different movies, directed by former spouses James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow.

With a reported budget of between 300 and 500 million dollars, "Avatar" is the most expensive movie ever made, a 3-D box office sensation that has been hailed as a groundbreaking film in the history of cinema.

Packed with state-of-the-art special effects, Cameron's film has passed the director's own "Titanic" to become the highest grossing movie of all time, earning some two billion dollars at the box-office in less than two months.

But while "Avatar" packs its punch via stunning visual effects, "The Hurt Locker" relies on a starkly gritty realism to tell the story of the tension-filled lives of a US army bomb disposal squad in Iraq.

And while "Avatar" was made with a production budget in the hundreds of millions, "The Hurt Locker" was made for a meager 15 million dollars.

So far the film has barely broken even at the box office, earning just 16 million dollars worldwide - roughly 125 times less than "Avatar."

Yet if "Avatar" is the new "Titanic", then "The Hurt Locker" might just represent an iceberg when the Oscars are handed out in Hollywood on March 7.

Despite its limited impact at the box office, "The Hurt Locker" is on pole position in the race for the coveted best picture prize.

The film has been a critical darling and has won a series of prizes and accolades this year which are regarded as reliable indicators of likely Oscars success.

The latest of those came on Saturday when Bigelow took home the Directors Guild of America (DGA) Awards top prize, the first time a woman has ever won the award.

In 62 years, only six winners of the DGA award have failed to go on and win the corresponding best director Oscar - and the directing Oscar often goes to the film which wins best picture.

Bigelow's film also scored a surprise win at the Producers Guild of America Awards in January, another reliable Oscars barometer.

"'The Hurt Locker' is definitely the front-runner," said Tom O'Neil, an awards season pundit for The Los Angeles Times's theenvelope.com.

"There doesn't seem to be any confusion. There is a clear consensus within the industry, which is strange because 'The Hurt Locker' is a movie without stars and it's made no money.

"In recessionary times, voters seem to be turning their back on the most successful film ever made in favor of a money loser."

O'Neil agreed that the Oscars showdown between the two films could be characterized as a David versus Goliath showdown.

"Actually it's even better than that because they used to be Mr and Mrs Goliath," he quipped, referring to former spouses Cameron and Bigelow.