LOS ANGELES - Oscar voters broke with several traditions yesterday, including handing nominations for best film to two science-fiction movies.
Among the movies is box-office smash hit Avatar, which earned nine nominations overall.
In a mild surprise, South African sci-fi film District 9 also made the best film list.
"Only two other sci-fi films have been nominated for best motion pictures, Star Wars and ET: The Extra-Terrestrial.
Rounding out the best film field was girl's coming-of-age tale An Education and football flick The Blind Side, which also garnered Sandra Bullock a nomination for best actress.
"The voters have given us a little bit of everything ... a good sample of the movies they loved and had an impact on them," said Academy president Tom Sherak.
Morgan Freeman, who plays Nelson Mandela in Invictus, has been nominated in the best actor category.
Veteran Oscar watcher Tom O'Neil of awards website TheEnvelope.com called the race a close battle between major studio film Avatar and low-budget flick The Hurt Locker.
"We have a classic David and Goliath match-up between the biggest movie in history and a film that ... had no stars and is about Iraq, which is a cursed subject at the Oscars," he said.
The Iraq war movie, The Hurt Locker, also had nine nominations, including one for Kathryn Bigelow, who will be competing against ex-husband James Cameron, the mastermind of Avatar, for the best director award.
Academy voters expanded field of best film nominees from five movies to 10 this year. Other films on the list include Quentin Tarantino's World War Two fantasy Inglourious Basterds, which had eight nominations.
Nominations for best actor go to Jeff Bridges, playing a drunk country singer in Crazy Heart, George Clooney, as a corporate hatchet man in Up in the Air, Jeremy Renner, as a bomb specialist in The Hurt Locker, Colin Firth for A Single Man and Freeman. Joining Streep, who portrayed chef Julia Child in Julie & Julia and Bullock as a wealthy woman who plucks a homeless teen off the streets and helps him become a sports star, on the list of best actress nominees were Helen Mirren in The Last Station, Carey Mulligan for An Education and newcomer Gabourey Sidibe in Precious.