LOS ANGELES - James Cameron's science-fiction blockbuster "Avatar" and the searing Iraq War drama "The Hurt Locker" lead the Academy Awards with nine nominations each, including Best Picture.
"Hurt Locker"'s Kathryn Bigelow will be competing against her ex-husband Cameron for Best Director. She is only the fourth woman ever to be nominated in the category.
Also vying for the top prize at this year's Oscars - which for the first time in six decades features a field of 10 nominees - are the inspirational football drama "The Blind Side"; "District 9," the science fiction hit of aliens relegated to an apartheid existence in South Africa; Quentin Tarantino's World War II saga "Inglourious Basterds"; the Coen Brothers' meditation on religion and morality, "A Serious Man"; the animated Pixar comedy "Up"; "Up in The Air," a dramedy about a corporate downsizer; and two tales of teenagers in very different circumstances, involving romance ("An Education") and abuse ("Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire").
"Up," a travel adventure about a lonely widower who flies his house off to South America suspended from helium balloons, is only the second animated film ever to earn a Best Picture nomination (following Disney's "Beauty and the Beast" in 1991).
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.
No woman has ever won the directing Oscar (previous nominees include Sofia Coppola for 2003's "Lost in Translation," Jane Campion for 1993's "The Piano," and Lena Wertmuller for 1975's "Seven Beauties").
Bigelow's previous films include "Point Break" and "Near Dark." She said she was gratified and humbled by the nomination.
"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."
"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.
Also nominated for best director Lee Daniels ("Precious), who became only the second black filmmaker nominated in the category (after John Singleton for 1991's "Boyz N the Hood"); Jason Reitman for "Up in the Air"' and Quentin Tarantino for "Inglourious Basterds."
There were familiar faces among this year's nominees - Meryl Streep, Jeff Bridges, George Clooney, Wallace and Gromit - and some first -timers.
Sandra Bullock received her first Oscar nomination for playing a wealthy woman who takes in a homeless teen in "The Blind Side," while Streep received her 16th for her portrayal of Julia Child in "Julie & Julia." Also nominated for Best Actress: Helen Mirren as the wife of Leo Tolstoy in "The Last Station"; Carey Mulligan as a British school girl romanced by a much older man in "An Education"; and Gabourey Sidibe, making her film debut as an illiterate, pregnant teenager who moves toward self-discovery amid horrendous domestic circumstances, in "Precious."
Jeff Bridges received his fifth acting nomination, as a country-western singer in "Crazy Heart." George Clooney, who won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for "Syriana," is up for Best Actor for "Up in the Air." Also in the running: Colin Firth as a gay professor grieving over the death of his lover in "A Single Man"; Jeremy Renner as a bomb technician in "The Hurt Locker"; and Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela in Clint Eastwood's "Invictus."