Togas, "Tiger" top U.K.'s BAFTAs

By Adam Dawtrey

LONDON (Variety) - The warriors are neck and neck, but the dancer is right
behind them in the race for this year's British Academy Film Awards.

Ridley Scott's "Gladiator" and Ang Lee's "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"
lead the field with 14 nominations apiece, while Stephen Daldry's "Billy
Elliot" is pressing hard with 13.

The best film prize will be contested by these three, along with Steven
Soderbergh's "Erin Brockovich" and Cameron Crowe's "Almost Famous."

The BAFTA winners will be announced Feb. 25 at London's Odeon Leicester
Square theater. This is the first year the British Academy has held its
ceremony before the Oscars, instead of two weeks after.

The move has triggered a big increase in media attention and Hollywood
interest, with several studios (notably Columbia TriStar, Universal,
DreamWorks and Miramax) launching concerted BAFTA campaigns for the first

Since this year's roster parallels many of Oscar's expected front-runners,
the studios will be closely watching the results.

Had the BAFTA nominations been filled with such films as "Magnolia" (eligible
for Oscar last year) or "Memento" (which hasn't yet opened in the U.S.), the
BAFTAs would have remained a minor curiosity factor in Hollywood.

The campaigning this year certainly helped Miramax's "Chocolat," which picked
up eight nominations even though the film has yet to be released in the U.K.

The diligence also paid off for Columbia's "Crouching Tiger," which grabbed
the most BAFTA nominations ever for a foreign-language movie.

The inclusion of "Erin Brockovich" in the best film list at the expense of
the same director's "Traffic" was perhaps the only surprise.

But there was consolation for Soderbergh in the director category, where he
was nominated for both pics, alongside Scott, Lee and Daldry.

The actor race pitches "Billy Elliot" star Jamie Bell against Russell Crowe
("Gladiator"), Michael Douglas ("Wonder Boys"), Tom Hanks ("Cast Away") and
Geoffrey Rush ("Quills").

The actress prize will be contested by Juliette Binoche ("Chocolat"), Kate
Hudson ("Almost Famous"), Julia Roberts ("Erin Brockovich"), Michelle Yeoh
("Crouching Tiger") and Hilary Swank, whose Oscar-winning performance in
"Boys Don't Cry" wasn't eligible for last year's BAFTAs.

"Erin Brockovich" and "Almost Famous" managed six nominations overall, while
"Traffic" and "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" snagged four apiece.

"Traffic" seems to have suffered from being one of the few contenders not
sent out on videotape. That perhaps also explains the failure of Christopher
Nolan's critically acclaimed "Memento" to figure at all, after Nolan insisted
on a no-tape strategy.

However, the same approach clearly did not hurt "Crouching Tiger," which
opened to huge critical and box office success right in the middle of the
BAFTA voting.

There was less evidence of hometown favoritism in the voting than in previous
years, although the posthumous nomination of Oliver Reed in the supporting
actor category clearly had a sentimental edge.

Reed is running against his "Gladiator" co-star Joaquin Phoenix, Benicio Del
Toro ("Traffic"), Albert Finney ("Erin Brockovich") and Gary Lewis ("Billy

The supporting actress race pitches perennial kudos candidate Judi Dench
against her "Chocolat" co-star Lena Olin, Frances McDormand ("Almost
Famous"), Zhang Ziyi ("Crouching Tiger") and Julie Walters ("Billy Elliot").

Olin, reached in New York, said she learned of her nomination from husband
Lasse Hallstrom, who is prepping "The Shipping News" in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
"I was very, very happily surprised this morning when I got the call," said
the Swedish-born actress. "It was a thrill and an honor."

The four acting awards and the best film prize are decided by a vote of the
whole British Academy membership. All the other awards are chosen from the
short list by expert juries.

Separately, "Gladiator" and "Billy Elliot" also are among the 10 top-grossing
films of 2000, which will compete for the Orange Audience Award, voted by the
general public. This short list is not counted in the tally of BAFTA
nominations, although the prize is handed out at the BAFTA ceremony.

"We're thrilled for all of the nominations," said "Gladiator" producer Doug
Wick. "We're particularly pleased for Ridley and the other Brits to get this
recognition in their home town."