- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 17, 2012

LONDON (AP) - It’s spry versus spy as frothy silent movie “The Artist” and moody thriller “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” lead the race for the British Academy Film Awards, Britain’s equivalent of the Oscars.

“The Artist” received 12 nominations and “Tinker Tailor” 11, with each film up for best picture and director, and best actor nominations for leading men Jean Dujardin and Gary Oldman.

The other best-film nominees, announced at a ceremony Tuesday by actors Daniel Radcliffe and Holliday Grainger, were “The Descendants,” “Drive” and “The Help.”

In a diverse field not dominated by any single film, there are also multiple nominations for “Hugo,” “My Week With Marilyn,” “The Iron Lady” and “The Help.”

The nominations are another feather in the cap of “The Artist,” a black-and-white French film about a silent screen star’s fall with the rise of talkies that has become an unlikely hit. On Sunday it won three Golden Globes, including best musical or comedy film.

Director Michael Hazanavicius said Tuesday he and his crew had been “a bit mad to make a black-and-white silent film in 2011.”

“We certainly hoped to find an audience, but the support we have received from so many people in so many different countries was unexpected, overwhelming and quite wonderful,” he said.

The shortlist gives a boost to “Tinker Tailor,” an atmospheric adaptation of John le Carre’s espionage classic that has received rave reviews but has so far been snubbed during the U.S. awards season.

“Tinker Tailor” producer Tim Bevan said the film was a “particularly British cultural phenomenon. It’s great that it’s being recognized at the BAFTAs but that it hasn’t at the Golden Globes is not surprising.”

“‘The Artist’ seems to be the film with the momentum, and rightly so,” he said. “It’s been an OK year but not a brilliant year for movies, and ‘The Artist’ defines what cinema should be. It’s brave, different, it’s got a great shot.”

The best actor contest pits Oldman and Dujardin against Brad Pitt for “Moneyball,” George Clooney for “The Descendants” and Michael Fassbender for “Shame.”

The best actress category includes two performers playing real-life icons _ Michelle Williams as Marilyn Monroe in “My Week With Marilyn” and Meryl Streep as former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in “The Iron Lady.”

Streep, who has been widely praised for her performance, said the nomination was “thrilling news … Not just for me, but for the film of which I am very proud, and for the hundreds of people who worked on it! Thanks, from a (New) Jersey girl.”

The other nominees are Berenice Bejo for “The Artist,” Tilda Swinton for “We Need to Talk About Kevin” and Viola Davis for “The Help.”

The prizes will be awarded at a ceremony at London’s Royal Opera House on Feb. 12. They are considered an important indicator of prospects at the Academy Awards in Los Angeles two weeks later.

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