A musical about moviemaking, a World War II tale about Nazi-killing Jews and an otherworldly space drama are top contenders at Friday's Critics' Choice Awards.
"Nine" and "Inglourious Basterds" come into the contest with 10 nominations each. James Cameron's "Avatar" collected nine nods. All three are up for best picture, along with "An Education," "The Hurt Locker," "Invictus," "Precious," "A Serious Man," "Up" and "Up in the Air."
"Basterds" writer-director Quentin Tarantino said that of his film's 10 nominations, he would be most excited to win for directing, a category in which he's up against Cameron, Kathryn Bigelow ("The Hurt Locker"), Lee Daniels ("Precious"), Clint Eastwood ("Invictus"), and Jason Reitman ("Up In The Air").
"I've never won any big award for best director," Tarantino said on the red carpet, "so I guess that would be the coolest."
Host Kristin Chenoweth said to expect plenty of frivolity during the two-hour ceremony.
"In the past it's been very by the book," she said during rehearsals. "It's not going to be that way at all. It's going to be very fun."
She's planning an opening number that "really sets the tone to people to say, 'Look. This is not going to be serious,'" she said.
Chenoweth will be performing for the casts of "Inglourious Basterds" and "Nine," both nominated for best acting ensemble, along with "Precious," "Star Trek" and "Up in the Air," which also earned an acting nod for George Clooney and supporting actress nominations for Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga. Christoph Waltz is up for best supporting actor for his role as a bloodthirsty Nazi in "Basterds."
Other best-actor nominees include Jeff Bridges for "Crazy Heart," Colin Firth for "A Single Man," Morgan Freeman for "Invictus," Viggo Mortensen for "The Road" and Jeremy Renner for "The Hurt Locker."
Up for best actress are Emily Blunt for "The Young Victoria," Sandra Bullock for "The Blind Side," Carey Mulligan for "An Education," Gabourey Sidibe for "Precious," Meryl Streep for "Julie & Julia" and Saoirse Ronan for "The Lovely Bones." Ronan was also nominated for best young actor.
Winners are chosen by members of the Broadcast Film Critics Association, the largest such group in North America comprising 200 TV, radio and online film critics.
The 15th annual Critics' Choice Awards will be presented at the Hollywood Palladium and broadcast live on VH1. Chenoweth just hopes her mother will find the channel on her TV set.
"My mother said, 'I read online that you're hosting the H1N1 Awards,'" Chenoweth said with a laugh. "And I said ... first of all, it's not the Swine Flu Awards. It's ON VH1.
"She's like, 'Do we get that?'
"'You GET it!'"
AP Television Producer Mike Cidoni contributed to this report.
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