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BAFTA snub for Kidman
( 2004-01-20 13:32) (Agencies)

Nicole Kidman is the surprise omission in the Best Actress category in nominations for this year's BAFTAS, Britain's equivalent of Hollywood's top accolades.

Kidman stars in "Cold Mountain," nominated in 13 categories.
The Australian star swept all before her in 2003 with "The Hours" but instead this year's two tipped leading ladies were Uma Thurman and Scarlett Johansson.

American Civil War epic "Cold Mountain," already a hot tip for the Oscars, led the charge on Monday for the British Academy of Film and Television Arts -- widely seen as a pointer to the more famous Hollywood awards, which this year take place on February 29.

Starring Jude Law and Kidman, the film scooped 13 nominations, one more than "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," the last in the fantasy trilogy.

"Girl With A Pearl Earring," starring Colin Firth as the painter Vermeer, was nominated in 10 categories.

"Cold Mountain" co-star Law was pitted against Johnny Depp, Sean Penn, Bill Murray and Benicio Del Toro in a hotly contested battle for the Best Actor award.

The other top "Cold Mountain" nominations were for Best Film, Best Director for Anthony Minghella and Best Supporting Actress for Rene Zellweger.

"Lord of the Rings" could end its three years of box office success on a triumphant note -- especially for Ian McKellen who plays the wizard Gandalf. He is up for the Best Supporting Actor award.

The battle for Best Film award offered an intriguing mix: "Cold Mountain" and "Lord of the Rings" were joined in the last five by the Russell Crowe naval saga "Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World," "Lost in Translation" with Bill Murray and Tim Burton's "Big Fish."

"Internationally the BAFTAS have grown in importance over the last five years," said comic actor Stephen Fry who will be hosting the British film industry's big night on February 15.

The BAFTAS were once staged after the Oscars but have been switched to the run-up, ensuring that a galaxy of Hollywood stars flies to London to give their movies top international exposure before a television audience of one billion.

The BAFTAS have thus become an invaluable publicity tool for the big studios in the build-up to the Oscars.

"The BAFTAS used to be a bit of a damp squib," Fry agreed.

But he said there was no dispute about who the big star was. "The Oscars are the absolute top awards -- no one can deny that. It is only right and fair to the Oscars that they should crown the awards season."

Britain's film industry enjoyed a record year in 2003 with plenty of help from Harry Potter and Bridget Jones.

The third adventure of author J.K. Rowling's boy wizard helped UK film production spending reach a high of 1.17 billion pounds ($2.16 billion) -- double the previous year's total.

But ticket sales at the British box office fell for the first time in more than a decade in 2003, mirroring a movie-going downturn in North America where receipts and attendance both dipped.

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