Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images
Nominee for Best Director Kathryn Bigelow for 'The Hurt Locker' hugs ex-husband and nominee for Best Director James Cameron for 'Avatar' at the 82nd Academy Awards at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, California on March 07, 2010.
The Academy Awards have gotten under way with some playful ribbing of Hollywood stars by hosts Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin.
Martin and Baldwin, the first dual emcees at the Oscars since 1987, made light fun of nominees including Meryl Streep, Sandra Bullock, Woody Harrelson, James Cameron, Mo'Nique and Kathryn Bigelow.
Before their monologue, the show began with an introduction of lead-acting nominees and a song-and-dance number by Neil Patrick Harris.
The visually stunning fantasy "Avatar'' and the gripping military drama "The Hurt Locker'' are among a record 10 movies nominated for best picture. The Motion Picture Academy decided to add four more movies to the usual six in hopes of creating more excitement for the ceremony and giving more films a post- Oscar bounce in ticket sales.
"Avatar'' and "The Hurt Locker'' each have a leading nine nominations heading into the ceremony at the Kodak Theatre.
While "Avatar,'' directed by James Cameron, has been dominant at the box office, "The Hurt Locker,'' directed by his ex-wife, Kathryn Bigelow, has been an awards-season favorite, earning the top prize from the Producers Guild of America and a best director award for Kathryn Bigelow. Both the PGA and DGA awards have traditionally been precursors to Oscar glory.
Quentin Tarantino's World War II yarn "Inglourious Basterds'' has eight nominations, while the gritty teen drama "Precious: Based on the Nove 'Push' by Sapphire'' and the high-flying recessionary romance "Up in the Air'' each have six.
Other films up for best picture are "The Blind Side,'' "District 9,'' "An Education,'' "A Serious Man'' and "Up,'' which is only the second animated film to receive a nomination for best movie -- Disney's 1991 film "Beauty and the Beast'' was the first.
Despite the expanded field, the best-picture race is widely expected to be a shootout between "Avatar,'' directed by three-time Oscar winner James Cameron, and "The Hurt Locker,'' directed by Bigelow.
The pair will also compete for best-directing honors, along with Lee Daniels for "Precious," Tarantino for "Inglourious Basterds" and Jason Reitman for "Up in the Air." Bigelow is only the fourth woman ever nominated for a directing Oscar.
"Hurt Locker'' producer Nicholas Chartier was banned from attending the ceremony because he sent an e-mail criticizing "Avatar.'' It's against Academy rules to lobby for an award by slamming the competition.
Jeff Bridges, who turned in a solid performance as an aging, hard- drinking country singer in "Crazy Heart,'' is the front-runner for best actor, thanks to his Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards.
He will compete in the category with George Clooney, who plays a high-flying, relationship-challenged businessman in "Up in the Air''; Colin Firth for his turn as a gay, suicidal college professor in "A Single Man''; Morgan Freeman for his portrayal of Nelson Mandela in director Clint Eastwood's "Invictus''; and Jeremy Renner, for his turn as the leader of an elite bomb-disposal unit in Iraq.
Sandra Bullock, who broke free from her romantic-comedy niche to portray determined Southern housewife Leigh Ann Tuohy in "The Blind Side'' has already won Golden Globe and SAG awards for her role, giving her an edge for the best actress Oscar. But she could face a challenge from the always-formidable Meryl Streep, who give a pitch-perfect portrayal of cooking legend Julia Child in "Julie & Julia.''
Streep has a record 16 Oscar nominations in her career, but she hasn't won one since "Sophie's Choice'' in 1982.
Also nominated are previous Oscar winner Helen Mirren for her role as Leo Tolstoy's wife in "The Last Station''; young British actress Carey Mulligan for her turn as a smitten schoolgirl in "An Education''; and newcomer Gabourey Sidibe, whose first film role was the abused teenager in "Precious.''
Austrian actor Christoph Waltz appears to be a lock for the supporting-actor Oscar for his role as a Jew-hunting Nazi intelligence officer in "Inglourious Basterds.'' He is nominated along with Matt Damon for "Invictus,'' Woody Harrelson for "The Messenger,'' Christopher Plummer for "The Last Station'' and Stanley Tucci for "The Lovely Bones.''
Comedian-turned-dramatic-actress Mo'Nique has been dominating the supporting-actress categories this year for her performance as an abusive mother in "Precious.'' She will vie for the Oscar against Penelope Cruz for "Nine,'' Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick for "Up in the Air'' and Maggie Gyllenhaal for "Crazy Heart.''
"The Hurt Locker'' writer Mark Boal is nominated for best original screenplay, along with Tarantino for "Inglourious Basterds,'' Alessandro Camon and Oren Moverman for "The Messenger,'' Joel Coen and Ethan Coen for "A Serious Man'' and Bob Peterson and Pete Docter for "Up.''
For best adapted screenplay, the nominees are Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell for "District 9''; Nick Hornby for "An Education''; Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Lannucci and Tony Roche for "In the Loop''; Geoffrey Fletcher for "Precious: Based on the Novel `Push' by Sapphire''; and Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner for "Up in the Air.''
"Up,'' along with its best-picture nomination, is nominated in the best animated feature film category, along with "Coraline,'' "Fantastic Mr. Fox,'' "The Princess and the Frog,'' and "The Secret of Kells.''
The best foreign language film nominees are "Ajami'' from Israel, "El Secreto de Sus Ojos'' from Argentina, "The Milk of Sorrow'' from Peru, "Un Prophete'' from France, and "The White Ribbon'' from Germany.
The awards ceremony, which will be televised live on ABC throughout the United States and in more than 200 countries worldwide, will be co-hosted by Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin, who starred this year with Streep in the romantic comedy "It's Complicated.''