"The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," which stars Brad Pitt as a man who ages backward, also was nominated in 11 categories, including best film, best actor and best director for David Fincher.
"Slumdog Millionaire," a British-Indian film about a Mumbai street boy's rise to game-show glory was nominated in six major categories including best picture, best actor for Dev Patel and best director for Danny Boyle. It also received several design nominations.
Double Golden Globe winner Kate Winslet is competing against herself in the best-actress category, with nominations for both "The Reader" and "Revolutionary Road." She is up against Angelina Jolie for "The Changeling," Meryl Streep for "Doubt" and Kristin Scott Thomas for the French film "I've Loved You So Long."
The best-actor nominees are Patel of "Slumdog", Sean Penn for "Milk," Frank Langella for "Frost/Nixon," Mickey Rourke for "The Wrestler" and Pitt - who also was nominated in the supporting-actor category for the Coen brothers' spy comedy "Burn After Reading."
Patel, an 18-year-old London actor, said that to be nominated alongside Penn, Langella, Rourke and Pitt for his big-screen debut was "unbelievably exciting and a big honor."
The winners will be announced at London's Royal Opera House on Feb. 8. The British awards, known as BAFTAs, are considered an important indicator of success at the Academy Awards in Los Angeles two weeks later.
Batman thriller "The Dark Knight" received nine nods, including a best supporting actor nomination for the late Heath Ledger.
Clint Eastwood's L.A. noir "Changeling" is nominated in eight categories, including best director, while political drama "Frost/Nixon" has six nominations including best actor for Frank Langella and best director for Ron Howard.
In addition to "Slumdog" and "Benjamin Button," the best-picture contenders are "Frost/Nixon," inspirational biopic "Milk" and Nazi-themed drama "The Reader."
In the separate category of best British film, the nominees are "Slumdog," ABBA musical "Mamma Mia!" hit-man comedy "In Bruges," Irish hunger-striker drama "Hunger" and tightrope-walking documentary "Man on Wire."
The nominations cement the transformation of "Slumdog" from low-budget outsider to Oscars favorite. Filmed on the streets of Mumbai with a largely Indian cast and partly in Hindi, the film features a tough-but-sweet script from BAFTA-nominated Simon Beaufoy ("The Full Monty") and kinetic direction by Boyle ("Trainspotting," "28 Days Later").
The BAFTAS are also a chance for several highly touted films shut out of the Golden Globe awards - including "Benjamin Button," "Frost/Nixon" and "Doubt" - to regain awards-season momentum.
Among the more offbeat nominations is Robert Downey Jr.'s supporting actor nod for his performance as an overly intense method actor in the lowbrow action comedy "Tropic Thunder."
By Jill Lawless