Bafta Brits battle Hollywood heavyweights

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Blockbuster sci-fi spectacle Avatar, coming-of-age movie An Education and Iraq war drama The Hurt Locker lead this year's film Bafta nominations with eight nods apiece.

The Orange British Academy Film Awards shortlist, announced today, sees British talent including Carey Mulligan, Colin Firth and Andy Serkis battling against Hollywood heavyweights like George Clooney and Meryl Streep.

Avatar was nominated for Best Film, while the movie's James Cameron received a nod in the Director list, competing with ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow who was nominated for The Hurt Locker, about an elite bomb disposal team.

An Education is also vying for Best Film, against The Hurt Locker, Precious and Up In The Air.

The Leading Actor category sees Up In The Air star Clooney against Firth for A Single Man, Serkis for Ian Dury biopic Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, Jeremy Renner for The Hurt Locker and Jeff Bridges for Crazy Heart.

Serkis said he was "totally blown away" to be shortlisted, describing his nomination as a fitting tribute to the late singer and songwriter Dury.

He said: "To get this nomination is not only a great thrill for all of us involved, but a fitting tribute at a time that we mark the 10-year anniversary of the passing of the magnificent man himself, the unique Ian Dury."

Mulligan was nominated for Orange Rising Star as well as Leading Actress for An Education, based on the memoirs of journalist Lynn Barber.

She will do battle in the Leading Actress category with Julie and Julia star Streep, who bagged a Best Actress Golden Globe earlier this week.

Completing the list are Irish teen star Saoirse Ronan for The Lovely Bones which is based on Alice Sebold's best-selling novel, Gabourey Sidibe for Precious, and Julia and Audrey Tautou for Coco Before Chanel.

Other films honoured in the shortlist include sci-fi movie District 9 with seven nominations, Inglourious Basterds and Up in the Air with six nominations apiece, and Coco Before Chanel, Nowhere Boy, Precious and Up with four each.

An Education received a nod in the Outstanding British Film category, as did In The Loop, the movie spin-off of the BBC's political comedy The Thick Of It.

Fish Tank, Nowhere Boy and Moon rounded off the list.

Competing with Cameron and Bigelow for a Director gong are Quentin Tarantino for Inglourious Basterds, Lone Scherfig for An Education, and Neill Blomkamp for District 9.

Christoph Waltz appears in the Supporting Actor section for Inglourious Basterds for his role as a bloodthirsty Nazi.

He faces competition from Alec Baldwin for It's Complicated, Christian McKay for Me And Orson Welles, Alfred Molina for An Education and Stanley Tucci for The Lovely Bones.

Bury-born McKay told of his delight at the nod for playing maverick actor Orson Welles.

He said: "I thought there could be no greater accolade than getting to play Orson Welles in my first film but being Bafta-nominated is very close.

"I am very grateful."

The Supporting Actress category is a battle of the co-stars.

Anne-Marie Duff, who plays John Lennon's mother Julia, and Kristin Scott Thomas, who plays his aunt Mimi, are both up for their roles in Nowhere Boy.

Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick were also nominated, both for Up In The Air, along with Golden Globe winner Mo'Nique for the hard-hitting tale Precious.

The Animated Film section promises a three-way fight between Coraline, Fantastic Mr Fox and Up.

The Orange British Academy Film Awards will take place on February 21 at the Royal Opera House in London, ahead of the Oscars in March - where Avatar is expected to win big after its double Golden Globe success.

In the Music category, Avatar is pitted against country movie Crazy Heart, Fantastic Mr Fox, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, and animated comedy adventure Up.

The White Ribbon, which won the Palme d'Or at Cannes, is in the Film Not In The English Language category, against Penelope Cruz movie Broken Embraces, A Prophet, Let the Right One In, and Coco Before Chanel.

The Baftas will also recognise an Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer.

Artist turned film-maker Sam Taylor-Wood was nominated in the section for her directorial debut on Nowhere Boy.

She will battle it out with David Bowie's son Duncan Jones, who directed low-budget science fiction film Moon, which won a British Independent Film Award last month.

Other nominations include Lucy Bailey, Andrew Thompson, Elizabeth Morgan Hemlock and David Pearson, who directed and produced Mugabe And The White African.

Eran Creevy, who wrote and directed Shifty, and Stuart Hazeldine, who wrote and directed Exam, complete the category list.

Film4 received six Bafta nominations in total, for Nowhere Boy and The Lovely Bones.

Its previous releases include Danny Boyle's Slumdog Millionaire, which dominated the Baftas and the Oscars last year.

The UK Film Council said movies awarded Lottery funding to support their development and production, including Nowhere Boy, Fish Tank and In The Loop, had 14 nominations.

John Woodward, UK Film Council chief executive officer said: "In 2009 British independent films were more popular with cinema-goers than they have been for a decade - that, together with today's news that three UK Film Council-backed films have been nominated in the Bafta Outstanding British Film category, underlines the current strength of British film-making talent and the crucial importance of public investment in creative excellence."

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