'Mesrine' is No. 1 among Cesar noms

Biopic leads with 10; 'Seraphine' follows with nine

PARIS -- A legendary bandit will battle it out with a forgotten painter at next month's Cesar Awards as Jean-Francois Richet's "Mesrine" and Martin Provost's "Seraphine" compete for France's top film prize.

The two biopics, which led Friday's list of nominees, will compete for French film of the year alongside Remi Bezancon's "The First Day of the Rest of Your Life," Arnaud Desplechin's "A Christmas Tale," Cedric Klapisch's "Paris" and Laurent Cantet's foreign-language Oscar contender "The Class."

Desplechin, Richet, Provost, Cantet and Bezancon also will compete for the title of best director.

"Mesrine," a two-part biopic starring Vincent Cassel as France's infamous 1970s public enemy No. 1, scored 10 nominations. "Seraphine" followed with nine, finishing just ahead of "The First Day of the Rest of Your Life" and "A Christmas Tale," with eight noms each.

Philippe Claudel's "I've Loved You So Long" held its own with five mentions, including best actress and best supporting actress nominations for Kristin Scott Thomas and Elsa Zyberstein, respectively.

Thomas will compete with Tilda Swinton ("Julia"), Catherine Frot ("Le Crime est Notre Affaire"), Yolande Moreau ("Seraphine") and Sylvie Testud ("Sagan") in the best actress category.

The French Academy didn't give a very warm welcome to record-breaking boxoffice smash "Welcome to the Sticks," with Dany Boon's comedy notably absent other than a nom for best original screenplay.

Recently deceased actor Guillaume Depardieu received a posthumous best actor nomination for his role in Pierre Schoeller's "Versailles." Depardieu won the most promising actor prize in 1995 for his role in Pierre Salvadori's "Les Apprentis." Other best actor nominees include Albert Dupontel ("2 Days to Kill"), Francois-Xavier Demaison ("Coluche"), Vincent Cassel ("Mesrine") and Jacques Gamblin ("First Day").

In a break from tradition, seven films, rather than the usual five, will compete for foreign film of the year. Squaring off in the category are Matteo Garrone's "Gomorrah," Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's "Lorna's Silence," Ari Folman's "Waltz With Bashir," Bouli Lanners' "Eldorado" and three U.S. titles: James Gray's "Two Lovers," Paul Thomas Anderson's "There Will Be Blood" and Sean Penn's "Into the Wild."

Actor Antoine de Caunes will host the 34th annual Cesar Awards ceremony Feb. 27 at Paris' Theatre du Chatelet, with actress Charlotte Gainsbourg serving as the event's honorary president. The event will be broadcast live on Canal Plus.