“120 BPM (Beats Per Minute)”, which follows the battles of a group of ACT UP activists with the French government and drugs companies in the 1990s, picked up 13 nominations including best film.
“Au revoir la-haut” (Goodbye Up There), a breezy post-Great War satire drawn from an award-winning novel, picked up the same number.
The comedy “C’est la vie!”, starring balding French everyman star Jean-Pierre Bacri as a caterer trying keep a shambolic wedding on the rails, was the other big winner, getting 10 nominations.
But a raft of smaller French films which have performed well both at home and abroad also got nods.
Julia Ducournau, whose debut film “Raw”, a cannibal fantasy about a vegetarian veterinary student who develops a taste for flesh, is pitted against “Bond” baddie Mathieu Amalric for his biopic of legendary French singer “Barbara” in the best director category.
They face stiff competition from Hubert Charuel, maker of the sleeper rural thriller “Petit paysan” (Small farmer) and Robin Campillo, who already won the second prize at the Cannes film festival for “120 BPM (Beats Per Minute)”.
Ducournau is the sole woman among the 15 directors competing for the best film or best director titles.
Spanish actress Penelope Cruz will receive an honorary Cesar at the awards ceremony in Paris on March 2, the organisers said.
Last year French-based director Roman Polanski was forced to pull out of presiding over the the Cesars after feminist groups called for a boycott of the awards.
Polanski — who has been accused of sexual assault by several women — is wanted in the United States for having unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977.