Colin Firth, Helen Mirren and Carey Mulligan lead British hopes at this year's Oscars

The countdown to this year's Oscars has officially begun, with the announcement of the 2010 nominees.

Anne Hathaway helped name this year's contenders, which include a crop of UK names.

Flying the flag for Britain in the best actor category is Colin Firth for A Single Man. He will go up against Jeff Bridges for a Crazy Heart, George Clooney for his part in Up in the Air, Morgan Freeman for Invictus and Jeremy Renner, for his role in The Hurt Locker.

Meanwhile up for the best actress gong is rising British star Carey Mulligan, for her part in An Education. She's up against veteran actress Helen Mirren, who appeared in The Last Station and US actresses Sandra Bullock - nominated for The Blind Side - newcomer Gabourey Sidibe for Precious and Meryl Streep for Julie & Julia.

Competing for the best supporting actor award are Woody Harrelson for his part as a US army officer in The Messenger, Stanley Tucci for The Lovely Bones and Christoph Waltz for his chilling turn in Inglourious Basterds. The Canadian name on the list is The Last Station's Christopher Plummer, for his role as Tolstoy.

In the last of the main acting categories, supporting actress, the five nominees are: Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick - both for their performances in Up in the Air, comic Mo'Nique for her role in Precious, Maggie Gyllenhall for Crazy Heart and Penelope Cruz for Nine.

James Cameron's sci-fi adventure Avatar and Quentin Tarantino's war epic Inglorious Basterds are both up for the coveted best picture Academy Award.

Other titles put forward in this category – which this year has been broadened from five to ten - include: District 9, An Education, The Hurt Locker, The Blind Side, Precious, A Serious Man, Up and Up in the Air.

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