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Lone Scherfig’s An Education is officially the frontrunner for this year’s British Academy film awards, following the publication of the Bafta longlists. Avatar, The Hurt Locker and – perhaps the biggest surprise – District 9 also emerged as strong contenders. And Moon looks like the main rival to An Education for the title of best British film.

The longlists are the result of the first round of Bafta voting, when the list of contenders is narrowed to 15 in each category. The second round, which closes 19 January and is announced two days later, whittles these down to the five nominees. The third round, of course, picks the winners, to be revealed on 21 February.

So many films are included in the longlists that they are very imprecise guides to the eventual victors. Two years ago, Atonement was the most longlisted film, but ended up winning just two Baftas (though one was best picture). This year, An Education leads the way with 17 longlist entries (including seven in the acting categories alone), followed by Inglourious Basterds with 15.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean much. More revealing are the votes by Bafta’s specialist chapters, which offer a strong clue to the likely nominees. Bafta helpfully puts an asterisk by the five candidates on each longlist which received the most support from the relevant chapters. In other words, you can tell which performances the actors voted for, or which editors were picked by their peers. Last year, the chapter selections on the longlists turned out to match almost exactly the eventual nominations.

By that yardstick, An Education still emerges as the frontrunner. It picked up seven chapter asterisks, for director, adapted screenplay, makeup and hair, costume design and three actors (Carey Mulligan, Alfred Molina and Rosamund Pike).

If the nominations do mirror the chapter votes, then the best actor prize will be contested by Andy Serkis, Colin Firth, George Clooney, Jeremy Renner and Morgan Freeman. It’s rare that Bafta recognises actors who aren’t in the Oscar race, so Serkis will do well to get a nod for his turn as Ian Dury in Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll, which has yet to find an American distributor.

By the same calculation, best actress would include Abbie Cornish, Mulligan, Gabourey Sidibe, Meryl Streep and Saoirse Ronan – a list notable, Streep apart, for its extreme youth. At 59, Streep is more than twice the age of her fellow contenders.

An Education is one of just two British candidates on the best film list, alongside Moon, bearing out the suggestion of a weak year for UK cinema. Bright Star, made in Britain by the Australian director Jane Campion, missed the best film cut but figured strongly in other sections. Andrea Arnold also made the director list for Fish Tank, and there were mentions here and there for Nowhere Boy, Damned United, In the Loop, Me and Orson Welles, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, The Young Victoria and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. But Ken Loach’s Looking for Eric was notable by its omission.