The most compelling narrative in this year's Oscar race is the battle between Avatar and The Hurt Locker. Both films have nine nominations and the directors, James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow, were formerly married. Critics have cast the films as polar opposites:Avatar, the $500 million special-effects monstrosity versus Hurt Locker, a low-budget indie war flick. But have critics got it all wrong? Joe Morgenstren at The Wall Street Journal says the films aren't as different as one might think:

Despite its proudly independent roots, "The Hurt Locker" is a heartening throwback to the golden age of Hollywood, when studio films could aspire to such lean and disciplined excellence, and occasionally achieve it. Despite its astronomical budget and studio affiliations, "Avatar" is an indie film in the sense that the man who made it operates by his own rules. Aspiration is the common denominator of both productions. Mr. Cameron has been outspoken, as is his custom, in promising to transform the experience of watching movies in theaters, but damned if he didn't do it; against all odds, "Avatar" has lived up to its ballyhoo. Ms. Bigelow was no less ambitious, though she kept her intentions to herself. She simply took off for the Middle East and shot an exemplary feature that went into distribution ballyhooless, then earned richly deserved adulation on its own.