LONDON – 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.
Stars including "Argo" director and star Ben Affleck, George Clooney, Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, Samuel L. Jackson, Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper braved a chilly rain that turned to snow as they walked the red carpet before Sunday's ceremony at the ornate 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.
"People have felt that ('Lincoln') is a great movie, Daniel Day-Lewis is fantastic, but the feeling is – we knew what was going to happen. Our customers are saying, when you leave the cinema, you don't have the same feeling as you do leaving `Argo."'
Besides Affleck, the heavyweight best director list includes Michael Haneke for "Amour," Quentin 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."
"Les Miserables" is a contender in the separate category of best British film, alongside "Anna Karenina," "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," "Seven Psychopaths" and "Skyfall."
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."