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"Avatar," "The Hurt Locker" and "Up in the Air" Lead Oscar Field

Ten major categories announced ahead of March 7 awards

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    The Academy Awards aren't until March 7, but we'll soon know who is in contention for the coveted Oscars.

    "Avatar" and "The Hurt Locker" pulled in nine Oscar nominations each and "Up in the Air," starring George Clooney as a shallow frequent flier, drew six to lead a diverse field of Academy Award candidates announced Tuesday.

    The Academy, with actress Anne Hathaway doing most of the talking, set up the March 7 extravaganza this morning by narrowing down a year's worth of film work into short lists.

    Joining the big three in the hunt for Best Picture are "The Blind Side," "District 9," "An Education," "Inglourious Basterds," "Precious," "A Serious Man" and "Up." This race is all about "Avatar" vs. "Hurt locker," with the latter holding an edge based on Bigelow's Directors Guild win on Saturday.

    Nominees for Best Actor are Clooney, prohibitive favorite for the "Don Ameche Lifetime Oscar" Jeff Bridges ("Crazy Heart"), Colin Firth ("A Single Man"), Morgan Freeman ("Invictus") and Jeremy Renner ("The Hurt Locker").

    The Best Actress field is made up of Sandra Bullock ("The Blind Side"),  Meryl Streep ("Julie & Julia"), Helen Mirren ("The Last Station"), Carey Mulligan ("An Education") and Gabourey Sidibe ("Precious"). This one is anybody's guess -- Streep is always a threat, of course. But Bullock's got some weird juju working for her this year, Mulligan was awesome and Sidibe  is a total wild card. Only Mirren appears to have no chance.

    Best Director will come down to James Cameron ("Avatar") and Kathryn Bigelow ("The Hurt Locker"). They used to be married, and while their split was amicable, the competition could test their post-divorce relationship. The other contenders are Quentin Tarantino ("Inglourious Basterds"), Jason Reitman ("Up in the Air") and Lee Daniels ("Precious").

    Matt Damon ("Invictus"), Woody Harrelson ("The Messenger"), Christopher Plummer ("The Last Station"), Stanley Tucci ("The Lovely Bones") and Christoph Waltz ("Inglourious Basterds") -- as close as there is to a sure thing -- all drew nominations for Best Supporting Actor.

    In the Best Supporting Actress category, Penelope Cruz ("Nine"), Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick ("Up in the Air"), Maggie Gyllenhaal ("Crazy Heart") and Mo'Nique ("Precious") were all nominated. Mo'nique is a slam dunk, as well, especially with Kendrick and Farmiga cannibalizing each others' candidacy.

    Best Animated Feature nominees were: "Coraline," "Fantastic Mr. Fox," "The Princess and the Frog," "The Secret of Kells" and "Up." Considering that only "Up" was nominated for Best Picture, logic suggests that this is over -- but when has logic ever ruled the Oscars?