'Avatar' leads the way in British award nominations

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James Cameron's sci-fi epic "Avatar" received eight nominations including best film as the contenders for this year's BAFTA awards were announced Thursday.

A strong showing for "Avatar" at the BAFTAs, which are awarded in London on February 21, could set the 3D, computer-animated blockbuster up for success at the Oscars two weeks later.

The movie already won best picture and best director at this month's Golden Globes and is poised to become the biggest-grossing film ever, overtaking "Titanic", another Cameron hit.

Iraq war thriller "The Hurt Locker" and "An Education" also got eight nominations at the BAFTAs, formally known as the British Academy Film Awards.

Stars including George Clooney and Andy Serkis will fight it out for the leading actor award, while Meryl Streep and Audrey Tautou are up for leading actress.

Big names in the frame for best director include Cameron for "Avatar", Quentin Tarantino for "Inglourious Basterds" and Cameron's ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow for "The Hurt Locker".

"The Hurt Locker" is up for categories including best film, best director and leading actor for Jeremy Renner.

"An Education" is a coming-of-age drama set in 1960s London, based on a memoir by a British journalist. Its nominations include best adapted screenplay for British novelist Nick Hornby.

Clooney's role in "Up In The Air" earned him a nod for leading actor but he will have to fight it out with Jeff Bridges ("Crazy Heart"), Colin Firth ("A Single Man"), Renner and Serkis ("Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll").

Streep's role in "Julie & Julia" sees her named alongside Tautou ("Coco Before Chanel") as leading actress contender.

They face competition from Gabourey Sidibe ("Precious"), Carey Mulligan ("An Education") and Saoirse Ronan ("The Lovely Bones").

The nominees for best film are "Avatar," "An Education", "The Hurt Locker", "Precious" and "Up In The Air".

Among those joining Cameron and Tarantino in the battle for best director are Lone Scherfig for "An Education" and Neill Blomkamp for "District 9".

Other notable nominees include singer David Bowie's son Duncan Jones, formerly known as Zowie Bowie.

Jones is up for the outstanding debut by a British writer, director or producer award for directing science fiction movie "Moon".