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BAFTA spreads nomination wealth

No consensus on top honors

With nominations shared almost evenly across 10 leading films, this year’s British Academy Film Awards are too close to call.

Where “Slumdog Millionaire” dominated the ceremony last year, this year’s prizes look likely to be much more widely spread. Not only is there no clear front-runner, there are also several films with only one or two nominations but a realistic chance of winning.

“Avatar,” “An Education” and “The Hurt Locker” lead with eight nods each, followed closely by “District 9” with seven, and “Inglourious Basterds” and “Up in the Air” with six. Not far behind, with four apiece, come “Coco Before Chanel,” “Nowhere Boy,” “Precious” and “Up.”

The nominations have something for just about everyone — unless your name is Clint Eastwood, whose lengthy record of being cold-shouldered by BAFTA was extended with a double snub for “Invictus” and “Gran Torino” (BAFTA-eligible this time around).

James Cameron’s “Avatar” and Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker” have the momentum in the Oscar race, but BAFTA voters seem to be hedging their bets. British support for “An Education” makes Lone Scherfig’s film an equally strong challenger.

Those three are running for top film against “Precious” and “Up in the Air.” “Precious” might not have as many mentions as the others, but its four are all high-profile ones — film, actress, supporting actress and adapted screenplay.

The three acting nominations for “Up in the Air” — George Clooney, Anna Kendrick and Vera Farmiga — indicate a depth of support for Jason Reitman’s movie, also nominated for best film. Yet Reitman himself, like Lee Daniels for “Precious,” is excluded from the director race, where Scherfig, Cameron and Bigelow face Quentin Tarantino and Neill Blomkamp.

BAFTA’s voting system tends to spread the love by letting the members choose the nominees but allowing the specialist chapters to pick their own winner. The only categories where the whole membership votes in the final round are best film, the four acting awards and foreign-language film. The awards for outstanding British film and outstanding British debut are chosen by jury.

“A Single Man” has nods only for Colin Firth and costumes, but Firth is a real contender, given the hometown vote and the great affection in which he’s held by his fellow Brits.

The same applies to Andy Serkis, nominated against Firth for “Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll,” also in the running for music. This is a rare example of BAFTA nominating a performance that isn’t even qualified for the Oscar race. Anne-Marie Duff and Kristin Scott Thomas also fall into that category, and either could upset Oscar hopeful Mo’Nique in the supporting actress race, for their roles as feuding sisters in “Nowhere Boy.”

The writers of “In the Loop,” along with Christian McKay as supporting actor for “Me and Orson Welles” also have genuine shots at kudos.

BAFTA proved again how much it adores Meryl Streep by nominating her for “Julie and Julia,” that film’s sole nod, despite the fact that distrib Sony made it virtually impossible for the 75% of BAFTA members who are based in the U.K. to see the movie. The film came and went quickly in British theaters; Sony didn’t send out DVDs and didn’t even arrange any catch-up screenings during the second round of voting.

Given these handicaps, it will be remarkable if Streep actually wins, particularly against Carey Mulligan in “An Education.” Audrey Tautou’s nod for “Coco Before Chanel” is another case of BAFTA recognition for a performance with no Oscar heat.

Apart from Eastwood, perhaps the most disappointed will be Jane Campion, whose “Bright Star” figured strongly in the first round of voting but got squeezed down to a single nomination for costume. Helen Mirren and Christopher Plummer surprisingly failed to make the cut for “The Last Station,” which went empty-handed.

There was also little love for longtime BAFTA favorites Joel and Ethan Coen, whose “A Serious Man” earned just one mention, for original screenplay — although in such an open year, it wouldn’t be a shock if they win.

Tip Sheet
What:
British Academy Film Awards
When: Feb. 21
TV: BBC America, 8 p.m. Eastern/Pacific Time

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