A strong showing for Avatar at the BAFTAs, which are awarded in London on February 21, could set the 3D, computer-animated blockbuster up for success at the Oscars two weeks later.
The movie won best picture and best director at last Sunday’s Golden Globes and is poised to become the biggest-grossing film ever, overtaking Titanic, another Cameron hit.
Iraq war thriller The Hurt Locker and An Education also got eight nominations at the BAFTAs, formally known as the British Academy Film Awards.
Stars including George Clooney and Andy Serkis will fight it out for the leading actor award, while Meryl Streep and Audrey Tautou are up for leading actress.
Big names in the frame for best director include Cameron for Avatar, Quentin Tarantino for Inglourious Basterds and Cameron’s ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker.
The Hurt Locker is up for categories including best film, best director and leading actor for Jeremy Renner.
An Education is a coming-of-age drama set in 1960s London, based on a memoir by a British journalist. Its nominations include best adapted screenplay for British novelist Nick Hornby.
Clooney’s role in Up In The Air earned him a nod for leading actor, but he will have to fight it out with Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart), Colin Firth (A Single Man), Renner and Serkis (Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll).
Streep’s role in Julie and Julia sees her named alongside Tautou (Coco Before Chanel) as leading actress contender.
They face competition from Gabourey Sidibe (Precious), Carey Mulligan (An Education) and Saoirse Ronan (The Lovely Bones).
The nominees for best film are Avatar, An Education, The Hurt Locker, Precious and Up In The Air.
Among those joining Cameron and Tarantino in the battle for best director are Lone Scherfig for An Education and Neill Blomkamp for District 9.
Other notable nominees include singer David Bowie’s son Duncan Jones, formerly known as Zowie Bowie.
Jones is up for the outstanding debut by a British writer, director or producer award for directing science fiction movie Moon.