Baftas go to Hollywood

American actors and directors are likely to dominate tonight's awards, leaving few chances for British nominees

Britain swept the board at last year's film awards, and triumphant headlines echoed screenwriter Colin Welland's cry from 1981: "The British are coming." What a difference a year makes: critics and bookies warned yesterday we must steel ourselves for an American invasion, with the first wave expected to dominate tonight's Bafta Awards.

American Kathryn Bigelow is the bookmaker's favourite for best director, for her Iraq war drama The Hurt Locker; her ex-husband, Avatar director James Cameron, is second in line. Also in the running are the American Quentin Tarantino, South African-born Neill Blomkamp and Danish Lone Scherfig.

The change could not be more profound after last year's triumph, when British director Danny Boyle took best director and with six other Baftas, including the coveted best film award for Slumdog Millionaire.

"It's shocking that a British name isn't among the best director contenders," said Sam Ashurst of Total Film magazine. "I expect An Education, A Single Man and Nowhere Boy to do well, but the big prizes will go to American films."

British film-makers are pinning their hopes on the best actor and actress categories. Andy Serkis is a prospect for his turn as musician Ian Dury in Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, as is Colin Firth – who picked best British actor at last week's London Film Critics Circle Awards – for his role in Tom Ford's A Single Man.

Twenty-four-year-old Londoner Carey Mulligan is tipped to hold off Meryl Streep and Audrey Tautou, and newcomers Saoirse Ronan and Gabourey Sidibe, as best actress for her role as Jenny in An Education. She took best British actress at the Critics Circle Awards.

Bookmaker William Hill said that partisan betting had shortened the odds on British contenders. "British punters are convinced that the judges will be biased towards any Brit, and we have seen a gamble on both Colin Firth and Andy Serkis to win the leading actor."

But industry insiders say this cannot disguise a dearth of top-notch home-grown films. "I don't think that it has been a banner year for British film," said Helen O'Hara, deputy online editor at Empire magazine. "The films have been good but out of kilter with the type of films that win awards. We haven't had an English Patient or Atonement. An Education is the closest we've got."

Some grumble, however, that British movies have been deliberately excluded from the forthcoming Oscars as "compensation" for Hollywood after the runaway success of multiple winner Slumdog Millionaire. British films are almost non-existent in this year's prestigious Oscar categories, only An Education picking up a nomination for best picture.

British actors have salvaged some dignity, with Colin Firth picking up his first Oscar nomination, and the stalwart Helen Mirren nominated for her role as Sofya Tolstoy in The Last Station.

"It seems that this year's Oscar nominations are overcompensating for last year's British invasion. Aside from a handful of token nods, the big stories at this year's ceremony are all American," said Mr Ashurst.

Amanda Nevill, director of the British Film Institute, agreed: "For a British film to do well at the Oscars [this year], it has to do one and a half times as well as an American one."

Nominations

Best film Avatar, An Education, The Hurt Locker, Precious, Up in the Air

Outstanding British film An Education, Fish Tank, In the Loop, Moon, Nowhere Boy

Outstanding debut by a British writer, director of producer Lucy Bailey, Andrew Thompson, Elizabeth Morgan Hemlock, David Pearson, Mugabe and the White African; Eran Creevy, Shifty; Stuart Hazeldine, Exam; Duncan Jones, Moon,; Sam Taylor-Wood, Nowhere Boy

Director James Cameron, Avatar; Neill Blomkamp, District 9; Lone Scherfig, An Education; Kathryn Bigelow, The Hurt Locker; Quentin Tarantino, Inglourious Basterds

Leading actor Jeff Bridges, Crazy Heart; George Clooney, Up in the Air; Colin Firth, A Single Man; Andy Serkis, Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll; Jeremy Renner, The Hurt Locker

Leading actress Carey Mulligan, An Education; Saoirse Ronan, The Lovely Bones; Gabourey Sidibe, Precious; Meryl Streep, Julie & Julia; Audrey Tautou, Coco Before Chanel

Supporting actor Alec Baldwin, It's Complicated; Christian McKay, Me and Orson Welles; Alfred Molina, An Education; Stanley Tucci, The Lovely Bones; Christoph Waltz, Inglourious Basterds

Supporting actress Anne-Marie Duff, Nowhere Boy; Vera Farmiga, Up in the Air; Anna Kendrick, Up in the Air; Mo'Nique, Precious; Kristin Scott Thomas, Nowhere Boy already announced: academy fellowship Vanessa Redgrave

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