'Lincoln,' 'Argo' face off for Britain's Oscars

LONDON (AP) — Hollywood stars squelched up a soggy red carpet Sunday at the British Academy Film Awards, which pitted presidential biopic "Lincoln" against epic musical "Les Miserables" and Iran hostage crisis drama "Argo."

Steven Spielberg's stately historical drama about slavery-abolishing U.S. President Abraham Lincoln has 10 nominations at Britain's equivalent of the Oscars, 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 magical realist journey "Life of Pi" received nine nominations each. James Bond adventure "Skyfall" got eight and "Argo" seven.

"Skyfall," the highest-grossing film in the Bond series' 50-year history, was named best British film — rare awards-season recognition for an action movie. Thomas Newman's score also won the best-music prize.

Director Sam Mendes said he was accepting the trophy on behalf of the "1,292 people" who worked on "Skyfall."

"We all had high expectations for this film and it's fair to say all of them have been exceeded," Mendes said. "Here's to the next 50 years."

The early prizes were shared widely, with "Les Mis" taking trophies for sound and makeup/hair, "Argo" winning the editing prize and "Life of Pi" receiving the honor for cinematography.

Quentin Tarantino picked up the original screenplay award for "Django Unchained," and Christoph Waltz was named best supporting actor for playing a loquacious bounty hunter in Tarantino's slave-revenge thriller.

Waltz said his victory was entirely due to Tarantino — "you silver-penned devil, you."

Anne Hathaway was named best supporting actress for her brief but powerhouse performance in "Les Miserables." Hathaway said she was "overjoyed" — and so taken aback that "I almost walked past George Clooney without hugging him."

Writer-director David O. Russell won the adapted screenplay prize for "Silver Linings Playbook," a comedy about characters confronting mental illness.

Before the ceremony, stars including Clooney, "Argo" director and star Ben Affleck, Hugh Jackman, Samuel L. Jackson, Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper braved a chilly rain that turned to snow outside the Royal Opera House.

For once it was hair, even more than frocks, that drew attention — though Marion Cotillard defied the dull weather in a canary-yellow gown. Beards were de rigeur among male stars including Clooney, Affleck and Cooper, while Helen Mirren turned heads with a pink 'do, sported in honor of breast cancer awareness.

Jackman, who has hosted the Tony Awards several times and is up for a best actor award, said it was far easier simply to be a nominee.

"After hosting an event like this or two, it's just so much more relaxing just to watch the show," he said.

The British Academy Film Awards, known as BAFTAs, are increasingly glamorous — despite a well-earned reputation for dismal weather — 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 such as the Golden Globes, the Producers Guild and the Directors Guild of America Awards.

"Argo" marks a change for Affleck, whose first two features as director — "Gone Baby Gone" and "The Town" — were set in his native Boston. In "Argo" he stars as Tony Mendez, a CIA agent who poses as a sci-fi filmmaker in a risky plot to rescue Americans in Tehran.

"I wanted to get as far away from Boston as I could," Affleck said. "I ended up in Iran."

"Argo" is now considered a front-runner for the best picture award at the Oscars on Feb. 24, 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.

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

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

Day-Lewis is considered almost certain to win. 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"; Cotillard for "Rust and Bone"; and Mirren for "Hitchcock."

Poignant old-age portrait "Amour" is up for best foreign language film, along with Norway's "Headhunters," Denmark's "The Hunt" and French films "Rust and Bone" and "Untouchable."

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."

___

Online: http://www.bafta.org

Jill Lawless can be reached at http://Twitter.com/JillLawless

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