'Avatar,' 'Hurt Locker' Face Off at U.K. Awards in Walk-Up to Oscars

LONDON -- The intense war drama "The Hurt Locker" and the blockbuster sci-fi spectacle "Avatar" are squaring off at the British Academy Film Awards -- a curtain raiser for their Academy Awards battle in Los Angeles next month.

British coming-of-age drama "An Education" is also a favorite for the London prizes, attended by a mix of homegrown celebrity and Hollywood imports.

Kate Winslet, Uma Thurman, Colin Firth, Dustin Hoffman and "Twilight" star Robert Pattinson are due to attend Sunday's ceremony at London's Royal Opera House, with Prince William in attendance to add real royalty to showbiz aristocracy.

William's office said the prince would present an award, although it did not confirm the recipient. Media reports said it would a lifetime achievement honor to actress Vanessa Redgrave.

"Avatar," "An Education" and "The Hurt Locker" all have eight nominations, including best picture. "Avatar" director James Cameron and "Hurt Locker" director Kathryn Bigelow, former spouses turned awards-season rivals, are competing for best director.

The two directors, who were married from 1989 to 1991, are also going head to head at the March 7 Oscars, where their films have nine nominations apiece.

The British awards, known as BAFTAs, are considered an important indicator of likely Oscar success. Last year, Danny Boyle's underdog picture "Slumdog Millionaire" won seven BAFTAs, including best film -- and it went on to win eight Oscars.

The "Avatar"/"Hurt Locker" battle seems like a David-and-Goliath story. Cameron's last feature, "Titanic" won 11 Oscars, including picture and director. "Avatar" is a global phenomenon that has taken more than $2 billion at the box office.

"Hurt Locker," the intense story of a bomb-disposal team in Iraq, has made about a hundredth that much -- but Britain loves an underdog.

The nominations for "An Education" include one for 24-year-old Carey Mulligan for best actress. Mulligan made a career breakthrough -- and gained an Oscar nomination -- for her performance as a smart schoolgirl having a sobering romance with an older man in 1960s London.

South African alien thriller "District 9" is up for seven awards, while Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" and Jason Reitman's "Up in the Air" each have six nominations.

The best picture nominees are: "Hurt Locker," "Avatar," "An Education," "Up in the Air" and "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire."

As well as Cameron and Bigelow, the 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 Mulligan, Audrey Tautou for "Coco Before Chanel," Irish actress Saoirse Ronan for "The Lovely Bones" and Gabourey Sidibe for "Precious."

Nominees for outstanding British film are "An Education"; "Fish Tank"; "In the Loop"; "Moon" and "Nowhere Boy."