'A Prophet,' 'Welcome' lead Cesar noms

Awards to be held Feb. 27 in Paris

PARIS – French Academy members got serious on Friday with two politically charged dramas heading the major categories for the 35th annual Cesar Awards that will see Jacques Audiard's "A Prophet" go head to head with Philippe Lioret's "Welcome." The nominees were announced Friday at a press conference in Paris.

While no one can foresee the winners, "A Prophet" looks bound to triumph with Jacques Audiard's prison drama nominated for 13 awards including best film, best director and a best actor and most promising male newcomer nod for the film's breakout star Tahar Rahim.

Academy voters also gave a hearty reception to Phillipe Lioret's "Welcome" with 10 nods and Xavier Giannoli's "In the Beginning" with 11 nominations.

Radu Mihaileanu's "The Concert" was also music to voters' ears with the tragicomedy about a washed-up former conductor of the Bolshoi orchestra who travels to Paris to make his career comeback scoring six nominations. The Romanian filmmaker will face off against Audiard, Giannoli, Lioret plus Lucas Belvaux for "Rapt" for the title of best director.

Anne Fontaine's "Coco Before Chanel" biopic about the famous fashion designer also added some glam to the nominees list with five nominations.

"A Prophet" is the story of a young Arab man sent to French prison who eventually gains power among the reigning Corsican mafia. The film has been a worldwide favorite this year having won the jury grand prize at the Festival de Cannes in May and the Louis Delluc prize for best French film of the year in Gaul, not to mention nods for best foreign film at the Golden Globes. Sony Pictures Classics will release the film stateside.

"Prophet"s fellow Festival de Cannes titles Xavier Giannioli's "In the Beginning" and Alain Resnais' "Wild Grass" also made the cut for the best film prize category alongside "Welcome," Jean-Paul Lilienfeld's "Skirt day," "The Concert" and Belvaux's "Rapt."

"Welcome" is the story of a swimming instructor (Vincent Lindon) who takes a young Kurdish immigrant (Firat Ayverdi) under his wing to help the boy swim across the Channel to meet his girlfriend in England.

Film Movement recently snagged U.S. distribution rights to the title that was named best French film of the year at the Lumiere awards, France's pre-Cesar hors d'oeuvre that usually gives a taste of what to expect at the main event.

Francois Cluzet pulled a Meryl Streep, with the actor nominated twice in the best actor category for his roles in "In The Beginning" and "Le Dernier Pour la Route." Cluzet is joined in that category by fellow nominees Rahim, Lindon and Yvan Attal ("Rapt").

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Legendary French actress Isabelle Adjani may be dressing up to accept another prize for her role in "Skirt Day" after the actress won the Lumiere award for best actress of the year. Adjani will compete with in the best actress category against Sandrine Kiberlain for "Mademoiselle Chambon," Audrey Tautou for "Coco Before Chanel," Dominique Blanc for "L'Autre" and Kristin Scott Thomas for "Partir."

Seven films will compete for the title of best foreign film of the year. Squaring off in the category are Michael Haneke's awards season favorite "The White Ribbon," Hollywood films "Avatar," "Milk," "Gran Torino" and "Slumdog Millionaire" plus Belgian title "Panique au Village" and Canadian pic Xavier Dolan's "I Killed my Mother."

The event will be even more international with actress Sigourney Weaver planning to head from "Avatar" planet Pandora to Paris to present a Cesar of Honor award -- in French -- to Harrison Ford.

Organizers are pumping up the glamour with a star-studded night hosted by popular Gallic comedians Valerie Lemercier and Gad Elmaleh.

The awards will be held Feb. 27th at Paris' Theater du Chatelet, with Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard set to return to her native country to serve as the event's honorary president. The event will be broadcast live on pay TV powerhouse Canal Plus.

A full list of nominees follows:

Best film
"In the Beginning," Xavier Giannoli, director; Edouard Weil, Pierre-Ange Le Pogam, producers

"The Concert," Radu Mihaileanu, director; Alain Attal, producer

"Wild Grass," Alain Resnais, director; Jean-Louis Livi, producer
"Skirt Day," Jean-Paul Lilienfeld, director; Benedicte Lesage, Ariel Askenazi, producers

"Rapt," Lucas Belvaux, director; Patrick Sobelman, Diana Elbaum, Sebastien Delloye, producers

"A Prophet," Jacques Audiard, director; Pascal Caucheteux, Gregoire Sorla, Marco Cherqui, producers

"Welcome," Philippe Lioret, director; Christophe Rossignon, producer

Jacques Audiard, "A Prophet"

Lucas Belvaux, "Rapt"

Xavier Giannoli, "In the Beginning"

Philippe Lioret, "Welcome"

Radu Mihaileanu, "The Concert"

Yvan Attal, "Rapt"

Francois Cluzet, "In the Beginning"

Francois Cluzet, "One for the Road"

Vincent Lindon, "Welcome"

Tahar Rahim, "A Prophet"

Isabelle Adjani, "Skirt Day"

Dominique Blanc, "The Other One"

Sandrine Kiberlain, "Mademoiselle Chambon"

Kristin Scott Thomas, "Leaving"

Audrey Tautou, "Coco Before Chanel"

Breakthrough performance, actor
Firat Ayverdi, "Welcome"

Adel Bencherif, "A Prophet"

Vincent Lacoste, "The French Kissers"

Tahar Rahim, "A Prophet"

Vincent Rottiers, "I'm Glad That My Mother Is Alive"

Breakthrough performance, actress
Pauline Etienne, "Silent Voices"

Florence Loiret-Caille, "Someone I Loved"

Soko, "In the Beginning"

Christa Theret, "LOL (Laughing Out Loud)"

Melanie Thierry, "One for the Road"

First film
"The French Kissers," Riad Sattouf

"One for the Road," Philippe Godeau

"Spy(ies)," Nicolas Saada

"La premiere etoile," Lucien Jean-Baptiste

"Silent Voices," Lea Fehner

Original screenplay
Jacques Audiard, Thomas Bidegain, Abdel Raouf Dafri, Nicolas Peufaillit, "A Prophet"

Xavier Giannoli, "In the Beginning"

Jean-Paul Lilienfeld, "Skirt Day"

Philippe Lioret, Emmanuel Courco, Olivier Adam, "Welcome"

Radu Mihaileanu, Alain-Michel Blanc, "The Concert"

Adapted screenplay
Stephane Brize, Florence Vignon, "Mademoiselle Chambon"

Anne Fontaine, Camille Fontaine, "Coco Before Chanel"

Philippe Godeau, Agnes de Sacy, "One for the Road"

Laurent Tirard, Gregoire Vigneron, "Le petit Nicolas"

Alex Reval, Laurent Herbiet, "Wild Grass"

Christophe Beaucarne, "Coco Before Chanel"

Laurent Dailland, "Welcome"

Stephane Fontaine, "A Prophet"

Eric Gautier, "Wild Grass"

Glynn Speeckaert, "In the Beginning"

Foreign film
"Avatar," James Cameron

"Gran Torino, " Clint Eastwood

"Milk," Gus Van Sant

"I Killed My Mother," Xavier Dolan

"A Town Called Panic," Stephane Aubier, Vincent Patar

"The White Ribbon," Michael Haneke

"Slumdog Millionaire," Danny Boyle