Likely winners and losers at 82nd Academy Awards

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The Independent Culture

Form guide in top four categories at Sunday's 82nd Academy Awards taking place at Kodak Theater in Hollywood.

BEST PICTURE

FAVORITE: "The Hurt Locker"

DARK HORSE: "Avatar"

Expanded to 10 films this year from the usual five, the race for best picture honors increasingly appears to be a shoot-out between Iraq war drama "The Hurt Locker" and science-fiction blockbuster "Avatar."

If successful, "The Hurt Locker" will be the lowest-grossing best picture winner in Oscars history with earnings of around 15 million dollars. By contrast James Cameron's "Avatar" is the highest grossing film of all-time with more than two billion dollars in earnings.

The introduction of a preferential voting system could possibly help "Inglourious Basterds" score what would be a monumental upset, but "The Hurt Locker" remains on pole position despite a slew of controversies which have engulfed the film in the final week of campaigning.

BEST DIRECTOR

FAVORITE: Kathryn Bigelow ("The Hurt Locker")

DARK HORSE: James Cameron ("Avatar")

After virtually ignoring woman directors at 81 previous editions of the Oscars - only four women have ever been nominated for best director - the Academy is finally set to honor a female film-maker, Kathryn Bigelow.

The 58-year-old behind "The Hurt Locker" has already made history by becoming the first woman to win best director prizes at the Directors Guild of America Awards and BAFTAS.

Adding spice to the contest is the presence of Bigelow's ex-husband James Cameron on the list of five nominees, leading somem to dub the category as the "Battle of the Exes."

Other nominees include Jason Reitman for "Up in the Air," Quentin Tarantino for his bloody World War Two revenge fantasy "Inglourious Basterds" and Lee Daniels for his grim drama "Precious."

BEST ACTOR

FAVORITE: Jeff Bridges ("Crazy Heart")

DARK HORSE: George Clooney ("Up In the Air")

Nearly 40 years after the first of his five career Oscar nominations, Jeff Bridges is expected to finally get his hands on one of the famous gold statuettes.

The popular 60-year-old has swept the awards season honors this year, winning Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Awards for his portrayal of the alcoholic country singer struggling to rebuild his life in the independent drama "Crazy Heart."

It will be a major upset if Bridges fails to add an Oscar to his trophy haul, although the ever-popular George Clooney remains a long shot for his performance in "Up In the Air."

Other nominees include Britain's Colin Firth for "A Single Man," Morgan Freeman for "Invictus" and Jeremy Renner for "The Hurt Locker."

BEST ACTRESS

FAVORITE: Sandra Bullock ("The Blind Side")

DARK HORSE: Meryl Streep ("Julie & Julia")

Sandra Bullock's performance in "The Blind Side," where she plays a feisty southern matriarch who mentors a troubled teenager, helped the film rewrite box office history by becoming the first movie carried by a female lead to earn more than 200 million dollars. It is also likely to earn Bullock an Oscar.

However the best actress race is reported to be the closest of the major categories, with evergreen Meryl Streep nominated for a record 16th occasion for her performance in "Julie & Julia."

Streep, chasing her third Oscar, leads a pack of challengers to Bullock which also includes young British star Carey Mulligan ("An Education") and Gabourey Sidibe ("Precious").

The fifth nominee is 2007 winner Helen Mirren, regarded as a long shot as her film "The Last Station" is not nominated in the best picture race.

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