The competition was fierce but the low-budget war movie "The Hurt Locker" beat out the big-budget fantasy epic "Avatar" to bring home Hollywood's top honors.
Each film received nine Academy Award nominations, but it was "The Hurt Locker" that came away with Oscar's biggest prizes, Best Movie and Best Director, on Sunday, March 7.
The two movies couldn't be more different. "The Hurt Locker" only grossed a few million dollars while "Avatar" continues to enjoy box office revenues of "Titanic" proportions.
In "Avatar," director James Cameron creates a visual extravaganza that immerses the viewer in the lush, tropical world of planet Pandora. The filmmaker invented a habitat with thousands of imagined animal and plant species. He also created the Na'vi, an alien tribe of 10-foot-tall blue people who speak a language of their own.
"We were creating an entire world from scratch," says Cameron. "So we got a number of top-class artists, I mean the top people. I am an artist so I went to find people that impressed me."
But what's most novel is the film's 3D cinematography. Cameron built a 3D camera that shoots from two different perspectives at the same time, mimicking the way human beings view the world. The movie screen gives the illusion that one is looking from a window into a three-dimensional universe.
"Avatar" is the story of Jake Sully, a paraplegic former marine sent to Pandora to help humans infiltrate and destroy the Na'vis in order to exploit the planet's mineral resources. Jake fuses his consciousness with his avatar, a 10-foot-tall Na'vi engineered by human geneticists.
However, the more Jake inhabits his avatar, the more he empathizes with the natives. He ultimately sides with the Na'vi in a deadly battle against the humans. The film cost $300 million to make and has grossed almost $1 billion.
Cameron, who won Best Picture for "Titanic", faced tough competition from his ex-wife, director Kathryn Bigelow and her gripping Iraq war drama, "The Hurt Locker."
Realities of war
While Bigelow's $11 million production cannot match Cameron's alternate universe, the film does offer riveting cinematography, an intelligent script and Oscar-worthy performances.
The movie focuses on a bomb disposal unit in Baghdad. Danger surrounds them and no one is more exposed than the three soldiers working to disable homemade bombs all across town.
The movie is nerve-racking. Bigelow drives home the war's bottom line: the fight for survival. Bigelow's film does not glorify war. She shows the soldiers' bravery but at the same time portrays their anguish and addiction to the rush of battle.
Four cameras roll at the same time, jerking from one soldier to the next in documentary style.
Bigelow is the first woman director to receive an Academy Award. Before picking up her Oscar, Bigelow had already been named Best Director by the Directors' Guild.
"I think that what's amazing is to be recognized for a film that puts a magnifying lens on a very difficult, if not insane, situation in Iraq," says Bigelow.