'Lincoln', 'Les Mis' and 'Argo' lead race for Baftas

 

Presidential biopic "Lincoln," epic musical "Les Miserables" and boy-meets-tiger voyage "Life of Pi" lead the race for Britain's Academy Awards — but will Ben Affleck's pacey caper "Argo" beat them to the trophies?

Steven Spielberg's stately drama about slavery-abolishing US President Abraham Lincoln has 10 nominations, including best picture and best actor, for Daniel Day-Lewis — though no directing nomination for Spielberg.

British-made favorite "Les Miserables" and Ang Lee's "Life of Pi" received nine nominations each for Britain's equivalent of the Oscars. James Bond adventure "Skyfall" got eight — rare awards recognition for an action movie — and Iran hostage thriller "Argo" has seven.

Stars including Ben Affleck, Jessica Chastain, Anne Hathaway, Samuel L. Jackson and Helen Mirren are due to attend Sunday's ceremony at London's Royal Opera House,

The British Academy Film Awards, known as BAFTAs, are increasingly glamorous, and ever-more scrutinized as an indicator of likely success at the Hollywood Oscars. In recent years they have prefigured Academy Awards triumph for word-of-mouth hits including "Slumdog Millionaire," "The King's Speech" and "The Artist."

This season's movie with momentum is crowd-pleaser "Argo," based on the true story of a group of U.S. diplomats spirited out of Tehran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. It has been building steam with big prizes at ceremonies including the Golden Globes, the Producers Guild and the Directors Guild of America Awards.

"Argo" is now considered a front-runner for the best-picture Oscar, even though Affleck was not nominated for best director. Bookmakers also have made the film favorite to win the best picture BAFTA, over finalists "Lincoln," "Les Miserables," "Life of Pi" and Kathryn Bigelow's Osama bin Laden thriller "Zero Dark Thirty."

"'Argo' is the big mover in the whole of the awards season," said Rupert Adams, spokesman for bookies William Hill.

"People have felt that ('Lincoln') is a great movie, Daniel Day-Lewis is fantastic, but the feeling is — we knew what was going to happen. Our customers are saying, when you leave the cinema, you don't have the same feeling as you do leaving 'Argo."'

Besides Affleck, the heavyweight best-director list includes, Michael Haneke for "Amour," Quentin Tarantino for "Django Unchained," Lee for "Life of Pi" and Bigelow for "Zero Dark Thirty."

The male acting contenders are Affleck, Day-Lewis, Bradley Cooper for "Silver Linings Playbook," Hugh Jackman for "Les Miserables" and Joaquin Phoenix for "The Master."

Day-Lewis is considered almost certain to win. Bookmaker William Hill put the odds at 1/25, with the next favorite, Jackman, a long way off at 10/1.

"The only time I have seen a shorter price than that in recent years was Helen Mirren in 'The Queen,"' said William Hill's Adams. "As far as we are concerned it is virtually done and dusted."

The best-actress shortlist includes: 85-year-old "Amour" star Emmanuelle Riva, who was nominated for the same prize 52 years ago for "Hiroshima, Mon Amour"; Jennifer Lawrence for "Silver Linings Playbook"; Chastain for "Zero Dark Thirty"; Marion Cotillard for "Rust and Bone"; and Mirren for "Hitchcock."

"Les Miserables" is also a contender in the separate category of best British film, alongside "Anna Karenina," "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," "Seven Psychopaths" and "Skyfall."

Sunday's ceremony will also see director Alan Parker receive a BAFTA Fellowship, the academy's highest honor, for a career that includes "Midnight Express," "Fame" and "Mississippi Burning."

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