There's a tendency in our circles to talk about the European Film Awards, which announced their annual nominations on Saturday, as some kind of highbrow parallel-universe Oscars, where art reigns and Hollywood-style politics have no place. To some extent, that's true: at what other international awards ceremony would the top nominee be something as off-the-wall as Lars von Trier's apocalypse drama "Melancholia," which comfortably leads all takers with eight nods?

But look closer at the EFA list, and you'll see it's as riddled with conservatism and short-sightedness as any Academy Award ballot. Familiar big-name filmmakers dominate, while newer talents get frozen out. Exciting, difficult European marvels like "We Need to Talk About Kevin" and "Elena" are shunted out of the top categories in favor of vanilla, Academy-endorsed titles like "The King's Speech" and "In a Better World." Cannes remains the standard-setter: two-thirds of the Best European Film slate comes from this year's Competition.

More discouragingly, the EFAs are even worse than the Academy when it comes to thinning the field: you could be forgiven for thinking that the entire continent of Europe produced only 12 films this year, since that select group fill every one of the 40 nomination spots available. Does "Le Havre" really feature one of the outstanding male lead performances of the year? Is the editing of "The King's Speech" truly worth singling out in this field? Did nobody see Céline Sciamma's "Tomboy?" We know they saw Wim Wenders' form-bending "Pina" -- so where's the love?

Okay, enough whingeing on my part. Sift judiciously through the nominees, and there are several inclusions to cheer. It's nice to see Béla Tarr's uncompromising "The Turin Horse" recognized, particularly for its breathtaking black-and-white cinematography, while Pedro Almodóvar's "The Skin I Live In" is acknowledged in precisely the areas it deserves. (The Spanish veteran has lost his magic touch with EFA voters -- this is the first time since 1997's "Live Flesh" that he hasn't scored a Best Director bid.

Unusually enough, the Best Actress category looks far stronger than its male counterpart. Thank goodness Tilda Swinton ("Kevin") and the remarkable Nadezhda Markina ("Elena") managed to register here where their films were otherwise blanked. And I'm glad EFA voters recognize that Charlotte Gainsbourg is at least as strong as Cannes winner Kirsten Dunst in "Melancholia," which is even split between its two leads. (Sadly missing: Olivia Colman in "Tyrannosaur.")

Finally, even if "The Artist" was an inevitable choice -- I suspect it'll win the big one, despite the dominance of Team Von Trier and the unaccountable lack of a nod for director Michel Hazanavicius (see what I mean about established auteur names?) -- it's still a kick to see this delightful one-off muscle its way into all corners of the awards season.

The European Film Awards take place in Berlin on December 3. Greg Ellwood has the full list of nominations here. For no particular reason, other than that, for once, I've seen all the nominees, my bets and preferences are as follows:

WILL WIN
Best European Film: "The Artist"
Best European Director: Lars von Trier, "Melancholia"
Best European Actress: Tilda Swinton, "We Need to Talk About Kevin"
Best European Actor: Jean Dujardin, "The Artist"
Best European Screenwriter: Lars von Trier, "Melancholia"
Best European Cinematographer: Manuel Alberto Claro, "Melancholia"
Best European Editor: Mathilde Bonnefoy, "Three"
Best European Production Designer: Antxón Gómez, "The Skin I Live In"
Best European Composer: Ludovic Bource, "The Artist"

 

SHOULD WIN
Best European Film: "The Artist"
Best European Director: Lars von Trier, "Melancholia"
Best European Actress: Nadezhda Markina, "Elena"
Best European Actor: Jean Dujardin, "The Artist"
Best European Screenwriter: Lars von Trier, "Melancholia"
Best European Cinematographer: Fred Kelemen, "The Turin Horse"
Best European Editor: Molly Malene Stensgaard, "Melancholia"
Best European Production Designer: Jette Lehmann, "Melancholia" 
Best European Composer: Alberto Iglesias, "The Skin I Live In"