by Michael Phillips, Tribune critic

“Avatar” and “The Hurt Locker,” contrasting cinematic studies in the hazards of occupation made by filmmakers who used to be married to each other, ranked as the two surest things going into this horse race known as the Academy Awards. Tuesday’s announcement affirmed their primacy: Both films received nine nominations. One is the biggest film, fiscally, in film history. The other is merely excellent.

The last time the Academy Awards nominated 10 films for best picture, it was wartime — 1943, and a wartime picture, “Casablanca,” took home the statuette. Here we are again, still in wartime. And in the battle to improve the Oscar telecast’s ratings, the Academy announced its re-expanded 10 titles, up from the usual five in recent decades, running the best picture race.

Here’s your morning-line tip sheet to the 2010 Oscars, to be broadcast March 7 on ABC.

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