MILAN — “The First Beautiful Thing,” the sentimental drama set in 1970s Italy and helmed by Paolo Virzi, has emerged as the front-runner in this year’s prestigious David di Donatello film awards.It has notched up an impressive 17 nominations, including film, director and screenplay, even though its attempts to tug on the heart strings won some luke-warm reviews. Marco Bellocchio’s Fascist-era drama “Vincere,” and the World War II resistance drama “L’uomo che verra” by Giorgio Diritti are also in the running with 15 nominations a piece, including film and director. Giuseppe Tornatore’s big-budget Sicilian epic “Baaria,” with 13 nominations, and Ferzan Ozpetek’s gay comedy drama “Mine vaganti” (Loose Cannons) also figure strongly, with 13 and 12 nominations, respectively, including film and director. An awards spokesman said the nominees showed that 2009 had been a convincing and happy year for Italian cinema. The winners of the 54th David di Donatello awards will be announced on May 7 in Rome, with the event to be broadcast on pubcaster RAI.