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‘Oppenheimer’ aims for a record haul at the British Academy Film Awards

Film up for 13 awards, could break record number won
The marquee for the Los Feliz Theatre features the films “Oppenheimer” and “Barbie,” Friday, July 28, 2023, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

Stars from both sides of the Atlantic and beyond walked the red carpet Sunday for the British Academy Film Awards, where atom-bomb epic “Oppenheimer” could smash a 53-year-old record if it makes good on its field-leading 13 nominations.

Christopher Nolan ’s biopic of physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer is up for trophies including best film, best director and best actor for star Cillian Murphy. A good night could see it surpass the record nine awards won by “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” at the BAFTAs in 1971.

It faces stiff competition in what’s widely considered a vintage year for cinema. Gothic fantasia “Poor Things” has 11 nominations, including best film, director for Yorgos Lanthimos and actress for Emma Stone. Historical epic “Killers of the Flower Moon” and Holocaust drama “ The Zone of Interest” have nine nominations each for the prizes, officially called the EE BAFTA Film Awards.

The ceremony, hosted by “Doctor Who” star David Tennant, will be a glitzy, British-accented appetizer for Hollywood’s Academy Awards, closely watched for hints about who might win at the Oscars on March 10.

Nominees including Bradley Cooper, Carey Mulligan, Emily Blunt, Robert Downey Jr., Rosamund Pike, Ryan Gosling and Ayo Edebiri were all expected on the red carpet at London’s Royal Festival Hall, along with presenters that include Andrew Scott, Cate Blanchett, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Idris Elba.

Guest of honor will be Prince William, in his role as president of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. He’ll be without his wife, Kate, who is recovering after abdominal surgery last month.

Newcomer Dominic Sessa, a best supporting actor nominee for his role as a troubled high school student in “The Holdovers,” said he was “having the time of my life” on the awards circuit.

Other leading contenders include French courtroom drama “Anatomy of a Fall,” boarding school coming-of-age drama “The Holdovers” and Leonard Bernstein biopic “Maestro” — each with seven nominations — and grief-flecked love story “All of Us Strangers” with six. Barbed class-war dramedy “Saltburn ” has five nominations.

“Barbie,” one half of 2023’s “Barbenheimer” box office juggernaut and the year’s top-grossing film, also has five nominations but missed out on nods for best picture and best director. Many saw the omission of “Barbie” director Greta Gerwig — for both the BAFTAs and the Oscars — as a major snub.

The best film race pits “Oppenheimer” against “Poor Things,” “Killers of the Flower Moon,” “Anatomy of a Fall” and “The Holdovers.”

The BAFTAs also celebrate home-grown cinema with a separate category of best British film, an eclectic slate that includes “Saltburn” – snubbed at the Oscars but embraced by the U.K. academy – alongside imperial epic “Napoleon,” south London romcom “Rye Lane” and chocolatier origin story “Wonka,” among others.

Britain’s film academy introduced changes to increase the awards’ diversity in 2020, when no women were nominated as best director for the seventh year running and all 20 nominees in the lead and supporting performer categories were white.

However, there is only one woman among this year’s six best-director nominees: Justine Triet for “Anatomy of a Fall.” Gerwig, Emerald Fennell for “Saltburn” and Celine Song for star-crossed romance “Past Lives” all failed to make the list.

A woman of color could take the best actress BAFTA for the first time, with Fantasia Barrino for “The Color Purple” and Vivian Oparah for “Rye Lane” nominated alongside Sandra Hüller for “Anatomy of a Fall,” Mulligan for “Maestro,” Margot Robbie for “Barbie” and Stone for “Poor Things.”

German actress Hüller, who also was up for best supporting actress for her work in “The Zone of Interest,” said she was just “trying to be calm.”

No British performers are nominated in the best-actor category, but Ireland is represented by Murphy for “Oppenheimer” and Barry Keoghan for “Saltburn.” They’re up against Cooper for “Maestro,” Colman Domingo for civil rights biopic “Rustin,” Paul Giamatti for “The Holdovers” and Teo Yoo for “Past Lives.”

Ukraine war documentary “20 Days in Mariupol,” produced by The Associated Press and PBS “Frontline,” is nominated for best documentary and best film not in the English language.

“Every step of this journey is a miracle,” said filmmaker Mstyslav Chernov, who captured the harrowing reality of life in the besieged city with an AP team. “We represent not just this city, not just Mariupol, but all Ukrainians.”

The ceremony is set to include musical performances by “Ted Lasso” star Hannah Waddingham and Sophie Ellis-Bextor, the latter singing her 2001 hit “Murder on the Dancefloor,” which shot back up the charts after featuring in “Saltburn.”

Actress Samantha Morton will receive the academy’s highest honor, the BAFTA Fellowship, and film curator June Givanni, founder of the June Givanni PanAfrican Cinema Archive, will be honored for outstanding British contribution to cinema.

Sunday’s ceremony will be broadcast on BBC One in the U.K. from 1900GMT, and on streaming service BritBox in the U.S., Canada, Australia and South Africa.

Hilary Fox contributed to this story.

Jill Lawless, The Associated Press