Twelve years ago, James Cameron declared he was "king of the world" when Titanic won the Oscar for best picture. But on Sunday, his hopes for a repeat with the 3D blockbuster Avatar were blown up by The Hurt Locker, a low-budget war movie directed by his ex-wife, Kathryn Bigelow.
The two films led the field with nine nominations each, including best picture and director. The Hurt Locker won both those races and four other prizes. Avatar ended up with just three awards, all in technical categories. Cameron, personally nominated in three categories, went home empty-handed.
The other big loser was Up in the Air, once considered an Oscar front-runner. Its nominated star, George Clooney, made no attempt to hide his morose expression as the light drama was snubbed in all six of its categories.
The film was also on the wrong end of one of the night's biggest surprises. Director Jason Reitman and playwright Sheldon Turner lost the adapted screenplay category to Geoffrey Fletcher for Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire.
Reitman and Turner, who did not meet until after the film was finished, awkwardly shared the awards-season spotlight after Turner gained a co-writing credit through Writers Guild arbitration.
"What an evening," Reitman wrote on Twitter. The Golden Globes, often considered to be an Oscar barometer despite a patchy track record, sustained heavy collateral damage. They awarded their best drama and directing prizes to Avatar in January. Fletcher was not even nominated.
The awards are organized by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, whose 80-or-so members do not appear to do much writing. None of them are Oscar voters.
The Critics Choice Awards also have no membership overlap with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, but they maintained their impressive success rate. In the past 10 years, eight best-picture winners and seven directing winners have gone on to Oscar glory.
The event is organized by the Broadcast Film Critics Association, which represents about 240 television, radio and online critics in the United States and Canada.
"If you want to win an Oscar, the first thing you've got to do is win a Critics Choice," Joey Berlin, the association's president, told Reuters. "We're movie professionals and it's a big enough sampling to say what the other movie professionals are going to say."
Inglourious Basterds, which followed Avatar and The Hurt Locker with eight nominations, ended up with just one Oscar, for Austrian actor Christoph Waltz's supporting turn as a sinister Nazi. The film's director, Quentin Tarantino, had been considered a good bet for his original screenplay, but he was crushed by the "Hurt Locker" juggernaut.
Other multiple contenders that went home empty-handed included District 9 and Nine, which each landed four nominations.