LOS ANGELES Silent film "The Artist" and animated movie "Hugo" led nominations for Hollywood's Critics' Choice Awards on Tuesday, in a key week that will firm up the field of likely Oscar contenders.
The two movies -- both love letters to the early days of the movie industry -- notched 11 nominations, including for best film and for their directors Michel Hazanavicius ("The Artist") and Martin Scorsese ("Hugo").
Summer sleeper box-office hit "The Help" and action movie "Drive" starring Ryan Gosling followed with eight nominations apiece, while the George Clooney family drama "The Descendants" and director Steven Spielberg's upcoming family movie "War Horse" both garnered seven. All four also landed among the 10 nominees for best film.
Clooney, Brad Pitt ("Moneyball") and Viola Davis ("The Help") were among acting nominees, along with Meryl Streep for her performance as former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in "The Iron Lady", and Michelle Williams' turn as Marilyn Monroe in "My Week with Marilyn."
The nominations were announced by the Broadcast Film Critics Association -- the largest film critics organization in the United States and Canada.
They come as Hollywood's awards season heats up with the Screen Actors Guild announcing its picks on Wednesday for the best movie performances of 2011, and Thursday's Golden Globe nominations.
The early nominations help narrow the field for the actors, directors and writers likely to compete for the Oscars, the film industry's top awards. Oscar nominations are due January 24 and the awards will be presented on February 26.
Other Critics' Choice nominees for best film included Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris" and Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life" in the best picture category.
Christopher Plummer, who has proved popular in early film critics awards, got another nod for his supporting actor turn as a gay man who comes out in old age in "Beginners".
Newcomer Jessica Chastain also notched another nomination, this time for her role in "The Help" about black maids and their white employers in the early 1960s.
The Critics' Choice Awards will be handed out at a ceremony in Hollywood on January 12.
(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte)