'Gravity,' '12 Years a Slave' up for UK film glory

JILL LAWLESS
February 16, 2014
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Actors Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt pose for photographers on the red carpet at the EE British Academy Film Awards held at the Royal Opera House on Sunday Feb. 16, 2014, in London. (Photo by Joel Ryan/Invision/AP)

LONDON (AP) — Space thriller "Gravity" was named best British movie at the British Academy Film Awards Sunday, taking the first trophy of the night.

Made in the U.K. by Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron and starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, "Gravity" has 11 nominations in all for Britain's equivalent of the Oscars, and is a favorite to take the overall best-picture prize.

David O. Russell's con-artist caper "American Hustle" and Steve McQueen's unflinching "12 Years a Slave" are the other front-runners, with 10 nominations apiece.

The temperature was hardly Hollywood, but Britain's fickle weather relented ahead of Sunday's ceremony. The sun shone as nominees including "Wolf of Wall Street" star Leonardo DiCaprio and "12 Years a Slave" performer Lupita Nyong'o— striking in a green Dior gown — walked the red carpet outside London's Royal Opera House.

Best-actress nominee Amy Adams wore a black dress by Victoria Beckham, and revealed the inspirations for her "American Hustle" character's faux-British accent: "Marianne Faithfull and Julie Christie."

There was royalty of the Hollywood kind — Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, wearing matching tuxedos. And there was British royalty, too, in the form of Prince William, honorary president of the film academy.

In the past few years, the prizes, known as BAFTAs, have helped underdog films, including "Slumdog Millionaire," ''The King's Speech" and "The Artist," gain Oscars momentum. This year, bookmakers have made "12 Years a Slave," which has a British director and a British star, Chiwetel Ejiofor, favorite to take home the best picture and best actor trophies.

Director McQueen said he was "so proud" to be nominated for awards in his home town, London. And he paid tribute to Brad Pitt, a producer on "12 Years," for helping to get the film's uncompromising vision of slavery onscreen.

"If you're trying to make a movie like this, you need some heavy backers," McQueen said. He said slavery "happened because of mental violence and physical violence. One has to be honest and truthful."

The BAFTAs have become an essential stop for many Hollywood stars ahead of the Academy Awards, held this year on March 2.

Nominees Bradley Cooper, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Judi Dench and Sandra Bullock were among those attending Sunday's black-tie ceremony.

This year's best-picture nominees are: "12 Years a Slave"; "Gravity"; "American Hustle"; "Captain Phillips"; and "Philomena," the story of an Irishwoman in search of the son she lost decades earlier.

The separate category of best British film pits "Gravity," ''Philomena" and Mary Poppins story "Saving Mr. Banks" against motor-racing drama "Rush," biopic "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom" and gritty parable "The Selfish Giant."

Helen Mirren is to receive the British Academy Fellowship in honor of a career that has ranged from a hard-nosed detective in TV series "Prime Suspect" to Queen Elizabeth II in "The Queen."

Mirren, who won a best-actress Oscar for "The Queen," said she had never expected to get the honor, whose previous recipients include Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock, Elizabeth Taylor and Judi Dench.

"I always imagined myself as a bit of an outsider, really, sort of the naughty girl," Mirren said.

Mirren, 68, is no stranger to awards, but she said the prospect of making Sunday's acceptance speech was daunting.

"You think, 'My God, I've got to talk about my whole life,'" she said. "Not only my whole life — what movies mean, what movies mean to me, what they mean to all of us. And do it all in two minutes."

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