Sci-fi extravaganza ‘Avatar,’ Iraq drama “The Hurt Locker” and coming-of-age story “An Education” earned eight nominations apiece Thursday in the race for the British Academy Film Awards, Britain’s equivalent of the Oscars.
The three films are up for best picture alongside “Up in the Air” and “Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire.”
The British awards, known as BAFTAs, are handed out two weeks before the Academy Awards in Hollywood and considered an important indicator of likely Oscar success.
South African alien thriller “District 9” received seven BAFTA nominations, while Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds” and Jason Reitman’s “Up in the Air” got six each.
The nominations boost the Oscar hopes of James Cameron’s “Avatar,” an astronomically expensive eco-adventure that has already taken more than $1.6 billion (euro1.13 billion) at the global box office. “Avatar” - Cameron’s first narrative feature since the Oscar-sweeping “Titanic” in 1997 - has already won Golden Globes for best drama and director.
It faces strong competition from two much smaller films: “The Hurt Locker,” a claustrophobic study of a bomb-disposal team in Iraq, and “An Education,” the piquant tale of a teenager’s sentimental education in 1960s London.
Cameron is competing for best director against his ex-wife, “The Hurt Locker” director Kathryn Bigelow. The other director nominees are Neill Blomkamp for “District 9,” Lone Scherfig for “An Education” and Quentin Tarantino for “Inglourious Basterds.”
The best actor race pits George Clooney, for “Up in the Air,” against “The Hurt Locker” star Jeremy Renner, Jeff Bridges for “Crazy Heart,” Colin Firth for “A Single Man” and Andy Serkis for his portrayal of musician Ian Dury in “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll.”
Meryl Streep received her 13th BAFTA nomination for “Julie & Julia.” The other best-actress nominees are Carey Mulligan for “An Education,” Audrey Tautou for “Coco Before Chanel,” Irish actress Saoirse Ronan for “The Lovely Bones” and newcomer Gabourey Sidibe for “Precious.”
Nominees for outstanding British film are “An Education”; “Fish Tank”; “In the Loop”; “Moon” and “Nowhere Boy.”
Five films are competing for best foreign-language film - fashion biopic “Coco Before Chanel,” Pedro Almodovar’s lush “Broken Embraces,” Swedish vampire story “Let the Right One In,” Jacques Audiard’s prison drama “A Prophet” and Michael Haneke’s chilling “The White Ribbon.”
The British prizes - officially the Orange British Academy Film Awards - will be awarded during a ceremony at London’s Royal Opera House on Feb. 21.
Last year, Danny Boyle’s underdog picture “Slumdog Millionaire” won seven BAFTAs, including best film; it went on to win eight Oscars.