'THE Hurt Locker' pulverised 'Avatar' at the BAFTA film awards last night and secured what may be a possibly decisive advantage ahead of the Oscars in two weeks' time.
The two films have traded punches since the awards season began in earnest at the start of January.
That the two directors, Kathryn Bigelow and James Cameron, were once married to each other has added spice to the contest for observers, even though they apparently still get on famously.
Last night, 'The Hurt Locker', a low-budget, $15m bomb-disposal thriller set in Iraq, won six awards, including Best Film and Best Director for Bigelow.
'Avatar', the $300m science-fiction behemoth that is the biggest-grossing film of all time, won just two.
On a night when the BAFTAs seemed more than ever to be aspiring to a role on the global stage, there were home triumphs in both the principal acting categories, with Colin Firth and Carey Mulligan winning for 'A Single Man' and 'An Education'. It was the latter's only win, a disappointing return on its eight nominations, the same number as 'Avatar' and 'The Hurt Locker'.
Mulligan's victory denied Irish teen Saoirse Ronan another award to go with the IFTA she won the previous night.
But there was an Irish success with Dubliner Richard Baneham, from Tallaght, winning an award for special visual effects in 'Avatar'.
Firth made the speech of the night. He said: "What Tom Ford (the former Gucci designer who directed 'A Single Man') doesn't know is that I have an email in my outbox telling him I couldn't possibly do this. I was about to send it when a man came to repair my fridge. I would like to thank the fridge guy."
However, the real story of the night was the triumph of 'The Hurt Locker'.
Bigelow said that the success was "beyond our wildest imagination" and she dedicated the award to "the need to find a resolution for peace".
It never really looked like being 'Avatar's' night. The opening moments found Cameron wincing as Jonathan Ross, the ceremony's host, misfired with a joke about the film being "such an unstoppable juggernaut that I assumed it had been made by Toyota".
'Up' and 'The Hurt Locker' pipped it to technical awards early on. 'Avatar' finally won a Bafta for Special Visual Effects, a category where it has redefined the possibilities of cinema.
If he had lost there, Cameron's famously volcanic temper might have laid waste to his section of the stalls.
The parade of A-list talent on a cold red carpet outside the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, London, included Uma Thurman, Quentin Tarantino, Cameron, Kate Winslet, Robert Pattinson, Guy Pearce, Mickey Rourke and Dustin Hoffman.
Since 2001, the Bafta voters have agreed with their American counterparts only three times on the best film and four times on the best actor and best director.
David Bowie's son Duncan Jones paid tribute to his father after clinching a Bafta for his low-budget sci-fi film 'Moon'.
The film, about a stranded astronaut, won Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer.
Jones, christened Zowie Bowie before he changed his name, welled up with emotion when he received the award, saying: "It's taken me a long time to know what I wanted to do with my life. Finally, I think I've found what I love doing."
Backstage, he credited his father with getting him "interested in the canon of sci-fi" at a young age.
He said: "He (David Bowie) is watching it live in New York. I turned my phone off, like I was told to, so I'm sure when I turn it back on, he will be trying to get through."
Jones added: "As far as sci-fi goes, one of the things my dad did an awful lot of was show me quite a few films when I was growing up, just getting me interested in the literature and in the sort of canon of sci-fi." (© The Times, London)