January 27, 2003 10:37 AM

In its continuing effort to try to scoop the Oscars, the Orange British Academy Film Awards (aka the BAFTAs) announced its 2003 nominations in London on Monday, and director Rob Marshall’s musical “Chicago” and Martin Scorsese’s brutal epic “Gangs of New York” led the field with 12 nominations each.

Immediately behind, with 11 nods, was “The Hours,” English director Stephen Daldry’s adaptation of Michael Cunningham’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel starring Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore and Meryl Streep.

A week ago, “The Hours” and “Chicago” took top honors at the Golden Globes, picking up best drama and best musical/comedy, respectively.

The BAFTAs’ other best picture nominees are Peter Jackson’s “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” (which received nine nominations in all) and Roman Polanski’s deeply personal Holocaust drama “The Pianist” (seven nominations).

The directors of the five films also are in the running for best director. One noticeable omission from the best film and best director categories: “Road to Perdition” and its director, Sam Mendes.

The best-actor race pits two Brits — Michael Caine (“The Quiet American”) and Daniel Day-Lewis (“Gangs of New York”) against such likely Oscar suspects as Nicolas Cage (“Adaptation”), Adrien Brody (“The Pianist”) and odds-on favorite, at this point, Jack Nicholson (“About Schmidt”). Globe winner Richard Gere (“Chicago”) was overlooked.

Reuters notes that last year’s Oscar-winning Best Actress, Halle Berry in “Monster’s Ball,” is a BAFTA nominee this year because the film opened in Britain in 2002. Her competition includes Streep and Kidman in “The Hours,” Salma Hayek in “Frida” and Globe winner Renee Zellweger in “Chicago.”

The winners will be announced Feb. 23 — exactly one month before the Academy Awards. Oscar nominations are set for Feb. 11 in Los Angeles.

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