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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Independently-made Iraq war movie "The Hurt Locker" won a second key film critics award on Monday in a week heavy with nominations that are likely to set the stage for the Oscars.
The New York Film Critics Circle named "The Hurt Locker" -- about U.S. bomb disposal experts in Iraq -- its film of the year and gave Kathryn Bigelow her second directing award in two days. Bigelow and the movie also won honors on Sunday from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association.
George Clooney was named best actor by the New York circle for his roles in both "Up In The Air" and for voice work in animated movie "Fantastic Mr.Fox". Veteran Meryl Streep was a surprise choice for best actress playing television chef Julia Child in "Julie and Julia".
But some of the most influential choices will come on Tuesday this week with the Golden Globe nominations, and on Thursday when the Screen Actors Guild announces its list of contenders for the top movies and performances of 2009.
Until now, most nominations and awards have been picked by various U.S. critics and independent movie groups, and have shown little broad consensus.
Earlier on Monday, the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA) gave Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" and the Fellini-inspired musical "Nine" a leading 10 nominations each.
Costly and eagerly-anticipated fantasy, sci-fi movie "Avatar" was close behind with nine BFCA nods and "The Hurt Locker" picked up eight.
Taken together, critics awards and nominations often give a movie momentum heading into the race for Oscars -- the movie industry's most coveted awards given by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on March 7, 2010. Oscar nominations are announced in early February.
"Up in the Air", a mainstream movie with Hollywood favorite Clooney playing an executive who fires people for a living, has featured consistently on early critics lists.
But the critics have also scattered their praise across a range of movies and performances including "Nine", "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push" by Sapphire", "An Education", Disney-Pixar's animated movie "Up" and designer Tom Ford's directing debut "A Single Man".
The BFCA, the largest movie critics' organization in the United States and Canada, on Monday included Sandra Bullock and Irish teenager Saoirse Ronan in their best actress nominees for their roles in "The Blind Side" and "The Lovely Bones," respectively.
But "The Road", the long-awaited post-apocalytic tale of a father and son that had figured in early Oscar race handicapping, has failed to gain much traction so far either at the box office ($4 million worldwide) or in the awards race.
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte