By RUSSELL BAILLIE Entertainment Editor

Despite the lack of a bona fide hit as yet at the local box office and our movies having made a limited impact abroad in recent times, 2001 is still shaping up as a vintage year for New Zealand film.

Or so it might seem from the healthy competition apparent in the nominations for the Nokia New Zealand Film Awards announced today.

Most likely to be taking away the accolades next month are Gillian Ashurst's road movie Snakeskin, Hamish Rothwell's pool hall caper comedy Stickmen and Christine Jeffs' coming-of-age drama Rain. All three are nominated in the best picture and best director categories.

Stickmen leads the field with 12 nominations, followed by Snakeskin with 11 - as well as getting the nod for best screenplay both films feature heavily in the technical categories such as cinematography, editing and design.

But given its rapturous critical reception, it might be that Rain - which has eight nominations and goes on commercial release on Thursday October 18 - takes away some of the major awards.

However, Rain appeared to have been snubbed in two possible categories, having missed out on best screenplay for Christine Jeffs' script adaptation of the Kirsty Gunn novel of the same name and Neil Finn for his soundtrack to the film.

The other high-profile New Zealand movie of the year, Crooked Earth, the "Maori Western" of land claims, family feuding and dope growing has four nominations, three of which are in the performance catergories including Temuera Morrison who would be seen as a frontrunner for best actor, while co-stars Lawrence Makaoare and Nancy Brunning are likely favourites in their respective supporting categories.

In the best actress race, there's likely to be fierce competition between a one-time screen mother and daughter - Melanie Lynskey's (Snakeskin) debut was the troubled child of Sarah Peirse (Rain) in Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures.

While it's likely that young Alicia Fulford-Wierzbicki who plays Peirse's screen daughter in Rain will take away the best juvenile performer.

Contenders with an outside chance include Her Majesty (an American funded, New Zeland cast and crewed film about a young girl's encounter with Queen Elizabeth during her 1953 Royal Tour) one which has seven nominations and horror film The Irrefutable Truth About Demons which has five.

The awards, which are voted upon by a mix of industry juries and members of the New Zealand Academy of Film and Television Arts (AFTA), will be held at Wellington's St James Theatre on November 10.

The nominations in full:

Best Film: Stickmen (producer Michelle Turner); Snakeskin (Vanessa Sheldrick); Rain (Philippa Campbell, John Toon, Robin Scholes).

Best Director: Gillian Ashurst (Snakeskin); Hamish Rothwell (Stickmen); Christine Jeffs (Rain)

Best Actor: Karl Urban (The Irrefutable Truth About Demons); Scott Wills (Stickmen); Temuera Morrison (Crooked Earth);

Best Actress: Melanie Lynskey (Snakeskin); Sarah Peirse (Rain); Vicky Haughton (Her Majesty).

Best Supporting Actor: Paul Glover (Snakeskin); Lawrence Makoare (Crooked Earth); Alistair Browning (Rain).

Best Supporting Actress: Luanne Gordon (Stickmen); Nancy Brunning (Crooked Earth); Liddy Holloway (Her Majesty).

Best Juvenile Performer: Emily Barclay (No-One Can Hear You); Alicia Fulford-Wierzbicki (Rain); Sally Andrews (Her Majesty)

Best Screenplay: Snakeskin (Gillian Ashurst); The Irrefutable Truth About Demons (Glen Standring); Stickmen (Nick Ward).

Best Cinematography: Snakeskin (Donald Duncan); Stickmen (Nigel Bluck); Rain (John Toon).

Best Editing: Snakeskin (Cushla Dillon and Marcus Darcy); The Irrefutable Truth About Demons (Paul Sutorius); Stickmen (Owen Ferrier-Kerr).

Best Original Music: Snakeskin (Leyton & Joost Langveld); Exposure (Bruce Lynch); Crooked Earth (James Hall).

Best Contribution to a Soundtrack: Snakeskin (Dave Whitehead): Stickmen (Mike Hedges); Her Majesty (Tony Johnson).

Best Make-Up: Snakeskin (Vanessa Hurley); The Irrefutable Truth About Demons (Kareen Donalson); Stickmen (Debra East); Her Majesty (Debra East).

Best Costume Design: Stickmen (Nic Smillie); Rain (Kirsty Cameron); Her Majesty (Lesley Burke-Harding).

Best Design: Stickmen (Neville Stevenson): Rain (Kirsty Clayton); Her Majesty (Kim Sinclair).

Best Computer Generated Images: Snakeskin (Peter Hurnard); The Irrefutable Truth About Demons (Nigel Streeter); Stickmen (Oktober).

Best Digitally Mastered Feature Film: The Shirt (John Laing and Ross Bevan); Back River Road (Peter Tait); The Waiting Game (Robert Rowe and Cristobal Araus Lobos).

Best Short Film: Falling Sparrows (Murray Keane); Junk (Greg King); Camping With Camus (Alan Erson).

Best Script for Short Film: Falling Sparrows (Murray Keane); Cow (Michael Bennett); Room Tone (Charlie McClellan).

Best Technical Contribution to Short Film: Junk (John Chrystoffels); Cow (Robert Gillies); Like An Angel (Dave Whitehead).

Best Performance In A Short Film: Jonathon Hardy (Camping With Camus); Lee Hartley (A New Way Home); Jed Brophy (Room Tone).