An education in how to compete with blockbusters

British film matches $300m Avatar with eight nominations for Bafta awards

The coming-of-age movie An Education, set in Twickenham and based on the memoirs of a British journalist, yesterday became a challenger to James Cameron's Avatar, a Hollywood goliath which at a reputed cost of more than $300m is the most expensive picture ever made, as both received eight Bafta nominations.

A film by Cameron's ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker, a gritty depiction of a squadron of American bomb-disposal experts in Iraq, was also selected in eight Bafta categories.

Bigelow's film lost out to Cameron's at the Golden Globe Awards ceremony only last week after both were selected in the Best Motion Picture – Drama category.

The Orange British Academy Film Awards shortlist also pitted Avatar against The Hurt Locker for its Best Film award alongside An Education, which was made by BBC Films.

Cameron was further selected in the Director list alongside Bigelow, as well as Lone Scherfig, who directed An Education, Quentin Tarantino for Inglourious Basterds, and Neill Blomkamp for District 9, a science-fiction thriller.

Andy Serkis, the British actor best known for playing Gollum in the Lord of the Rings film trilogy, was nominated as leading actor for his turn as Ian Dury in the biopic about the late singer-songwriter, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll. Serkis said he was "totally blown away". "To get this nomination is not only a great thrill for all of us involved but a fitting tribute... (to) the magnificent man himself," he added.

Carey Mulligan is a contender for leading actress for her central role in An Education, in which she plays a 17-year-old girl full of dreams who is duped by a man twice her age; the film is based on the memoirs of Lynn Barber, with a screenplay by the novelist Nick Hornby. She will do battle with Meryl Streep, who received a Golden Globe last week for her performance in Julie & Julia, among others.

Sam Taylor-Wood, was nominated for her directorial debut of Nowhere Boy, about John Lennon's formative years in Liverpool, with Anne-Marie Duff, who plays Lennon's mother, and Kristin Scott Thomas, who features as his aunt, both up for their roles as supporting actresses.

John Woodward, the chief executive of the UK Film Council, said he was delighted by the high count on Bafta's list of British independent films, such as Nowhere Boy, Jane Campion's Bright Star, about the poet John Keats, In the Loop, Armando Iannucci's political satire, which is up for two awards, and the social drama Fish Tank, which is up for Outstanding British Film.

Michael Haneke's chilling black-and-white film The White Ribbon, which won last year's Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, was nominated in the 'Not in English' category.

The Baftas, along with the Golden Globes, are seen as a barometer for films recognised at the Oscars in March; Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire dominated the Baftas last year before going on to win eight Oscars. The ceremony will take place on 21 February.

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