Will BAFTA stick by their own?

Posted by · 7:15 am · November 16th, 2008

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the BAFTA Awards. On the one hand, they can be far more daring and playful in their choices than the American Academy — this is an organisation, after all, that has handed their Best Film award to such enduring works as “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” “GoodFellas” and “Lacombe, Lucien,” while nominating the Oscar-snubbed likes of “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “The Usual Suspects.”

Their technical awards are invariably more imaginatively awarded, too — take a look at their Best Film Editing category, for example, which in recent years has crowned “Eternal Sunshine,” “City of God” and “Mulholland Drive” as winners. And they can often be counted upon for gratifying upsets, as when Pedro Almodovar pushed past Sam Mendes for Best Director in 2000, or when “Trainspotting” blindsided “Sense and Sensibility” in the 1996 screenwriting race.

For an awards show that fancies itself world-class, however, BAFTA can be infuriatingly parochial in their selections, stubbornly rewarding their own in the face of bigger, bolder competition. I doubt most of the voters could say with a straight face that “Four Weddings and a Funeral” was the very best film of 1994, nor “The Full Monty” of 1997, but they cleaned up nonetheless.

For the last two years running, that kind of provincialism has ruled the voting, with this year’s awards looking particularly suspect. I think “Atonement” is a fine film, but handing it their top award seemed tokenistic at best, not least when the only other gong it took was for Best Art Direction.

It’s a trend that Variety thinks could continue this year. In an article previewing the British contenders in the acting categories, they point out that Limeys have taken 16 acting BAFTAs in the last decade, compared to seven Oscars. Needless to say, they are frequently justified. It’s fair to say that this year, several British names will be cropping up in awards lists on either side of the Atlantic, and deservedly so — particularly in the Best Actress category, where thesps like Kristin Scott Thomas, Sally Hawkins and the ubiquitous Kate Winslet are all likely to figure.

But that group of sixteen has its share of suspect winners too — Bill Nighy in “Love, Actually,” say, or Thandie Newton in “Crash” — who never got much awards consideration anywhere else, but rode a wave of sentimental hometown favouritism to victory on BAFTA night. And it’s Variety’s list of potential contenders in this bracket that makes for worrying (and sometimes all-too-plausible) reading.

I’d like to think that the reviews would deter even BAFTA from citing the feeble likes of Newton (again) for “W.” or Tom Wilkinson for “RocknRolla,” as the article suggests they might. But I certainly wouldn’t put them above throwing in a nomination for much-adored national treasure Julie Walters in UK uber-hit “Mamma Mia!” In fact, that one seems almost inevitable, much as the idea dismays me. Variety also anticipates multiple acting nods for “The Duchess,” and they may well be right, even if I think none of the cast (least of all the robotic Hayley Atwell) should get within a mile of the gold.

Of course, there is a potential upside to the favouritism. A small, challenging British film like “Hunger” may struggle to get the make the headway it deserves with Oscar voters, but stands a greater chance of BAFTA recognition, particularly for lead actor Michael Fassbender.

I wouldn’t bet the house on it, though, as BAFTA has a curious double standard when it comes to acknowledging their own product. Last year, both Anton Corbijn’s “Control” and Shane Meadows’ “This Is England” represented landmark achievements in British cinema, praised to the skies by critics both here and abroad. (The latter was my favourite film of 2007.) Shoo-ins for BAFTA glory, right? Wrong. Both were resigned to the Best British Film ghetto (a category which routinely makes more interesting choices than the main field), scoring a paltry two nods between them in the main categories. Meadows’ film took the British Film award, handily beating “Atonement” in the process, but it deserved better.

In other words, while they are happy to garland palatable, comparatively middlebrow British cinema, BAFTA still frequently shies away from anything, local or otherwise, that pushes the envelope. Perhaps they aren’t so very different from the Oscars after all.




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25 responses so far

  • 1 11-16-2008 at 7:29 am

    AJ said...

    Thadie Newton deserved so much more for Crash.

  • 2 11-16-2008 at 7:34 am

    R.J. said...

    I agree with you A.J.! The film is so very underrated and Newton’s performance was so great. More than anyone, she deserved supporting nominations from every major awards festival that year. Matt Dillon was great and it was great to see him get nominated for the Oscar, but Thandie Newton was brilliant.

  • 3 11-16-2008 at 7:34 am

    Rob said...

    I do agree that some choices in the past have been somewhat embarassing, but the notion that ‘British’ talent get rewarded excessively is somewhat unjustified I feel. The US Academy has a tendancy to do the same, and BAFTA has much more of an international feel. Its less of a big deal to reward or nominate non english language films in key caatergories.

    And as frequently as one can say BAFTA is partisan, they show they are not. Mingella and Mendes both lost Direction BAFTA’s.

    I’d suspect that Scott Thomas and Winslet will be on for wins this year.

    But Atonement, based on the UK reviews last year was always going to win. The reaction was much different (in September when it arrived) than the US reaction. It was right and proper it won the award. Although it would have been nice to see PT Anderson with the direction BAFTA.

  • 4 11-16-2008 at 7:36 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Disagree. I thought she was the weakest link in a strong ensemble (much as I dislike “Crash,” I have to acknowledge that virtue).

    I actually think Sandra Bullock was the best in show, even if her character arc was utterly ludicrous.

  • 5 11-16-2008 at 7:44 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Sorry, my previous comment was directed at the first two commenters.

    Rob: I agree with a lot of that, and I love how BAFTA is so much more open to foreign-language cinema. The nods for “The Lives of Others” this year were cause for celebration, as was the brilliantly left-field Best Actress nomination a few years back for Zhang Ziyi in “House of Flying Daggers.” Great stuff.

    I just think that in recent years, they’ve tend to play it a bit safe when choosing winners. I think it’s ever since they shifted to preceding the Oscars.

    Incidentally, I always thought the US reviews for “Atonement” were a bit warmer than the UK ones, but that could be my mind playing tricks on me.

  • 6 11-16-2008 at 7:59 am

    McGuff said...

    I wonder if “Frost/Nixon” doesn’t play up at the BAFTAs this year, riding an awards wave from that into Oscar night, a la “Atonement.” While F/N is an American story, the play’s roots come from Peter Morgan in England, so there’s the kind of autonomy there that Guy shows the BAFTAs like to award.

    Yet another reason not to count “Frost/Nixon” out of the final five just yet.

  • 7 11-16-2008 at 8:55 am

    red_wine said...

    Atonement was a very bad win. The Queen was a very good win.

    Baftas have a truly international flavor, in that respect they are much more open and better than the Oscars.

    They also love Woody Allen and I am very grateful for that. I will never forget that they gave Manhattan, one of my favorite films of all time, Best Picture whereas the Oscars did not even nominate it.

  • 8 11-16-2008 at 8:57 am

    red_wine said...

    And I notice that you have very cleverly placed the picture of the current front-runner on the top of each category. Good job!

  • 9 11-16-2008 at 9:01 am

    John said...

    My early predictions for nominees that we may see …

    I think ‘The Reader’ will facotr in big; as will ‘Australia’, ‘The Dark Knight’, and maybe ‘Slumdog Millionaire’.

    I see possible noms for Daniel Craig (‘Quantum of Solace’ or ‘Defiance’), Christian Bale.

    Sally Hawkins, Kiera Knightley.

    Eddie Marsan, maybe Gary Oldman (for ‘Dark Knight’), Ray Fiennes (for ‘The Duchess’ or ‘The Reader’), Michael Sheen.

    Maybe some ‘In Bruges’ love.

    Some ‘Mamma Mia’ love (Julie Walters in supporting, and maybe ‘Best Sound’).

    Maybe Emma Thompson for ‘Brideshead Revisited’.

    With last yrs. films like ‘Lars & the Real Girl’, ‘Gone Baby Gone’ and ‘Persepolis’ in the race … i see possible noms for Gosling, Mortimer, Amy Ryan, & Best animated or foreign language film.

    But yeah, I see big things for ‘The Reader’, ‘Australia’, ‘The Dark Knight’, ‘Slumdog Millionaire’, and perhaps, ‘Happy-Go-Lucky’. (5 Best Pics noms right there) ?

    Or will ‘Curious Case of Benjamin Button’, ‘Milk’, and ‘Rev. Road’ make a big impression over the pond???

    ‘The Duchess’ and ‘Brideshead Revisited’ could get quite few technicals that they wouldn’t get from AMPAS.

    We’ll see. Exciting stuff, though!!!

  • 10 11-16-2008 at 9:08 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    I’m not sure how much BAFTA traction “The Dark Knight” will gain in the top categories — while very successful, it feels to me that it hasn’t quite been the cultural phenomenon here that it was in the States.

    I could be wrong — Nolan is a Brit, after all. I suspect the nationality of its director was partly accountable for that puzzling Best Film nod for “American Gangster” this year.

  • 11 11-16-2008 at 9:12 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    @ red_wine: It was Kris who changed the images, not me. (They’re his charts, after all!) But I don’t think the picture necessarily indicates his choice of frontrunner in each category.

    After all, while Kris is underwhelmed by “WALL-E,” I doubt he’s claiming “Kung Fu Panda” is the frontrunner for Best Animated Feature ;)

  • 12 11-16-2008 at 9:17 am

    KB said...

    I think “Atonement” and “The Queen” were the best films of the last two years, and I’m American. Lets’ not forget that the BAFTA had the balls (and the taste) to give “Brokeback Mountain” Best Picture over “Crash”. So….I think they have done a better job recently, imho.

  • 13 11-16-2008 at 9:23 am

    John said...

    I LOVE ‘Atonement’, The Queen’, and ‘Brokeback Mountain’. They do often have good taste/better than AMPAS results.

  • 14 11-16-2008 at 11:45 am

    michael mckay said...

    I’d never heard the word “tokenistic” before.

    Way to go Guy!!

  • 15 11-16-2008 at 12:01 pm

    Rob said...

    I seemed to recall a kinda buzz about Atonement when it landed in Cinemas in September 2007, and then it kinda died in the US. I never got that. It was a deserving winner.

    I do agree Guy that for every inspired win (Mike Leigh, Paul Greengrass, Jake Gyllenhaal) there is are as many that seem to go with the flow (Reese Witherspoon, Julia Roberts).

    I have a feeling that The Dark Knight could do well. It was very popular in the UK and I imagine made plenty of money. I don’t see ‘The Duchess’ (with its lukewarm reviews) doing especially well.

    I have agreed with their last two winners though. The Queen was an important film for Britain (I think anway) and was my favourite film of 2006. Atonement was my favourite of 2007, so I can’t complain.

    I do hope they can muster some love for ‘In Bruges’, but I doubt it.

  • 16 11-16-2008 at 12:50 pm

    Bing147 said...

    They do tend to award their own at times but the Bill Nighy call out is uncalled for, he should have at least been nominated for the Oscar, he was fantastic. I’d go so far as to say he was better than 4 of the 5 the Oscars nominated, including their winner.

  • 17 11-16-2008 at 1:21 pm

    kzam said...

    Thandie Newton deserves a Bafta and Oscar Nom for W. She was great in Crash and even better in W. playing Rice with the right balance required for a movie that was both serious and comical.

  • 18 11-16-2008 at 1:52 pm

    Robert Wills said...

    I am so happy the superior Atonement was awarded here. It deserved better. (I’m trying my hardest to pontificate like many others and just rattle off my opinion as fact.)

  • 19 11-16-2008 at 1:58 pm

    daveylow said...

    I have no problem with the BAFTAs awarding their own. I can’t say their choices are any worse than the Oscars. How boring would it be if they gave awards to the same people as the Academy. Though I still haven’t forgiven them for giving Cottilard an award last year over their own Christie. If anything, I find the BAFTA acting awards puzzling. I wish they would be more daring in their acting choices.

  • 20 11-16-2008 at 7:34 pm

    Matt said...

    Atonement is overrated. It should not of made anybody’s top five, including the Oscars and BAFTA.

  • 21 11-16-2008 at 7:47 pm

    Glenn said...

    I love the BAFTAs. But what will they do with “Mamma Mia” – the highest grossing film of all time. A mesely supporting actress nod for Julie Walters or will they extend it further? Perhaps Streep for it over “Doubt”? There’s not much they can nominate from it without looking silly but surely the highest grossing film ever (and a British film for that matter) will get something else.

    The reaction to “This is England” winning was precious, wasn’t it? Such a shame they didn’t even do a campaign for Oscar. They could’ve snagged an easy Best Original Screenplay nomination over the likes of “Lars and the Real Girl” if they had tried.

  • 22 11-17-2008 at 4:09 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Glenn: I have a feeling Streep will get a BAFTA nomination for “Mamma Mia,” whether it’s over or alongside “Doubt.” (Unlike the Oscars, BAFTA doesn’t mind nominating an actor twice in the same category.)

    I’d also count on a couple of tech nods — sound, maybe costume, certainly music. (BAFTA’s music awards are curious, as they have no problem with recognising pre-existing song scores here: La Vie en Rose, Dreamgirls, Walk the Line, Chicago, etc.) And Amanda Seyfried will probably make their “New Star” award lineup.

  • 23 11-17-2008 at 4:12 am

    Guy Lodge said...

    Plus, assuming it’s eligible, a Best British Film nomination seems inevitable. They can be quite populist in that category.