"The Messenger" is one Oscar-nominated film you don't want to miss. It's unsettling, compelling and important.

The film tells the stories of Captain Tony Stone (Oscar actor nominated Woody Harrelson) and Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery (an excellent Ben Foster, "X Men: The Last Stand," "Alpha Dog," "3:10 to Yuma," TV's "Six Feet Under").

Stone and Montgomery deliver the news from the Army Casualty Notification Office about the deaths of sons or daughters serving as soldiers in the Iraq War to the next of kin of some seven families.

At first, Stone and Montgomery clash. Gradually, they bond.

Harrelson is superb as a by-the-book officer.

Samantha Morton is graceful as a widow. Steve Buscemi is explosive as a father. Jena Malone plays Montgomery's ex-girlfriend.

The movie-goer is given a glimpse into what is perhaps a little-known aspect of the military from perspectives not often, if ever, depicted in detail and with such emotions.

The unassuming, nonjudgmental and insightful screenplay by the film's first-time director Oren Moverman (screenwriter, "Married Life," and the Bob Dylan biopic, "I'm Not Here") and Alessandro Camon (executive producer, "Thank You For Smoking," "The Cooler") is nominated for an original screenplay Oscar.

Don't shoot "The Messenger." Do see it.

"The Messenger": MPAA Rated R (Restricted. Under 17 Requires Accompanying Parent Or Adult Guardian) for language and some sexual content-nudity; Genre: Drama, Romance, War; Run time: 1 hr., 58 min.; Distributed by Oscilloscope Laboratories.

Credit Readers' Anonymous: Willie Nelson sings "Home on the Range" during the closing credits of "The Messenger," filmed in and around Fort Dix and Morristown, N.J.

Oscar picks: Though the Oscar picture category doubled from five to 10 nominees, the 82nd annual Academy Awards figures to be very predictable.

Oscar will crown many who've received Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild, Directors Guild of America and other industry and critics' awards for work in 2009.

Here are my picks:

Picture: "Avatar" Writer-Director James Cameron is still king of the movie world, as he shouted when his "Titanic" won director and picture Oscars in 1998.

Actor: Jeff Bridges He lifted "Crazy Heart" above the routine to the memorable.

Actress: Sandra Bullock Hollywood turns "The Blind Side" to perennial nominee Meryl Streep for "Julie & Julia," although Gabourey Sidibe for "Precious" could upset.

Supporting Actor: Christoph Waltz The little-known German actor will give director Quentin Tarantino bragging rights for "Inglourious Basterds."

Supporting Actress: Mo'Nique The talk-show host-standup comedian turned movie actress will add Oscar to her shelf of accolades for "Precious."

Director: Kathryn Bigelow The fourth woman nominated as director will be the first to triumph for "The Hurt Locker," over ex-hubby Cameron.

Animated Feature: "Up" There's no doubt about this delightful flight of fancy and friendship.

Original Screenplay: "The Messenger" (Allesandro Camon, Oren Moverman); Adapted Screenplay: "Up in the Air" (Jason Reitman, Sheldon Turner); and Original Song: "The Weary Kind" (T Bone Burnett, Ryan Bingham, "Crazy Heart").

Box Office, Feb. 26: Leonardo DiCaprio and Martin Scorsese made it two in a row at No. 1 for "Shutter Island," $22.2 million, $75 million, two weeks, keeping two other new movies from the top spot.

Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan made it to No. 2 with "Cop Out," opening with a so-so $18.5 million. "The Crazies" opened at No. 3 with $16.5 million.

4."Avatar," $14 million, $706.9 million, 11 weeks; 5. "Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief," $9.8 million, $71.2 million, three weeks; 6."Valentine's Day," $9.5 million, $100.3 million, three weeks; 7. "Dear John," $5 million, $72.6 million, four weeks; 8. "The Wolfman," $4.1 million, $57.2 million, three weeks; 9. "Tooth Fairy," $3.4 million, $53.8 million, six weeks; 10. "Crazy Heart," $2.5 million, $25 million, 11 weeks; 34. "The Messenger," $46,800, $952,600, 26 weeks

Unreel, March 5: You just gotta love Tim Burton ("Charlie and the Chocolate Factory") reteaming with Johnny Depp (Mad Hatter) for a new version of Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" in 3-D, no less. The cast includes Mia Wasikowska (Alice), Helena Bonham Carter (Red Queen), Anne Hathaway (White Queen), Alan Rickman (Blue Caterpillar), Stephen Fry (Cheshire Cat) and Christopher Lee (Jabberwocky).

In "Brooklyn's Finest," Antoine Fuqua ("Training Day") directs Richard Gere, Don Cheadle and Ethan Hawke as three veteran cops trying to bring law, if not order, to a housing project.

Four Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes