BAFTA admits it needs mending

Posted by · 5:22 pm · January 31st, 2009

Interesting. Variety reports that BAFTA is to re-evaluate its voting process — and it appears to be a direct response to the widespread criticism that greeted this year’s nominations, which baffled pundits and industry folk alike with some questionable inclusions (Tilda Swinton, Freida Pinto, a whopping eight nods for “Changeling”) and equally baffling snubs (most notoriously, a hurtful donut for Mike Leigh’s widely acclaimed “Happy-Go-Lucky”).

To begin with, one needs to understand the eccentric, back-and-forth nature of BAFTA voting. The first round of voting produces a longlist of 15 contenders in each category — 5 of which are selected by the relevant branch (or ‘chapter’) of voters in that field (and marked as such on the ballot), with the other 10 chosen by the general BAFTA membership.

The next two rounds of voting work in a reversal of the Oscar system. The 5 nominees are determined by the general membership, while the winners are decided by the relevant ‘chapter’ voters alone — with the exception of Best Film, Best Foreign Language Film and the four acting awards, for which all members vote.

Confused? I don’t blame you. It’s a ludicrous system that has received a lot of flak in the industry (Mike Leigh himself has been a vocal critic in the past), not least because it frequently leads to some inexpertly chosen nominees. (This, for example, is how a film like “Mamma Mia!” lands a Best Score nod.) The obvious solution, then, would be to use ‘chapter’ voting to determine the nominees, right?

Wrong. Weirdly, BAFTA seems to feel that ‘chapter’ voting actually exerts too much influence on the nominees, and is reviewing their role in that regard. The reason? On this year’s longlists, the five contenders marked as the ‘chapter’ choices wound up as the final nominees in all but four cases. In the acting categories, the general membership preferred Dev Patel and Freida Pinto to the acting branch choices, Michael Sheen and Viola Davis. Similarly, in the animated category, “Waltz With Bashir” displaced “Kung Fu Panda.”

Okay, so the latter was a good call. (Though if last night’s travesty is anything to go by, it seems animators reeeeaaally love the Panda.) But overall, is it surprising that the general membership would, by and large, support the opinion of a group of experts in any given field — or possibly be guided by their choices if they have no idea themselves?

For my money, the best thing about the BAFTAs is that, while the nominations can be a bit of a mess, most of the winners are determined by more informed voters. This has resulted in any number of smart, inspired technical choices in recent years: “Mulholland Drive,” “City of God” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” all won for Editing, for example, while the Director category frequently throws up such pleasant surprise champs as Baz Luhrmann (“Romeo + Juliet”) or Pedro Almodovar (“All About My Mother”). With that in mind, I’d encourage BAFTA to give ‘chapter’ voting as much sway as possible.

Of course, even that wouldn’t be perfect. The ‘chapters’ themselves showed some pretty bland taste this year in certain areas, particularly as challenging, quality homegrown fare like “Hunger” and “Happy-Go-Lucky” failed to dent the voting at all, even at the longlist stage. As BAFTA strains to be more of an Oscar precursor with each passing year, it seems their failings of taste and credibility run ever deeper.

It’s encouraging that BAFTA has at least recognised that there are problems here, but I don’t think they have been successfully diagnosed yet. For now, it appears to be yet another case of placing a bandage on a broken arm.

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10 responses so far

  • 1 1-31-2009 at 6:14 pm

    Glenn said...

    To be fair, “Mamma Mia!” is up for Best Music, not Best Score.

  • 2 1-31-2009 at 6:31 pm

    movieguy said...

    I’ve been suspicious of the BAFTA voting process ever since Andy Millman got a nomination for “When the Whistle Blows.”

  • 3 1-31-2009 at 6:41 pm

    Bill said...

    I always wondered how Milman pulled that off with the reviews as they were.

    The efficient Darren could only find one positive criticism-something about a toad?

  • 4 1-31-2009 at 7:27 pm

    BurmaShave said...

    Are you havin’ a laugh?

  • 5 1-31-2009 at 9:09 pm

    red_wine said...

    Whats there to complain about, its almost as if the the nominations in each category were chosen by the specific chapter only. Isn’t that what the Academy does?

    But even the Baftas have fallen into disgrace this year. There was a time when they gave best film to Manhattan without caring about Oscars.

  • 6 1-31-2009 at 11:08 pm

    Ben M. said...

    The acting choices the actors branch had where a lot better IMO and the rest of the voters where probably taken by Slumdog fever. Also, FYI, while it was completely expected Boyle took the DGA.

  • 7 2-01-2009 at 3:18 am

    Rob said...

    You know this years BAFTA nominees weren’t awful at all. And I’d rather them keep their current system than try and pander and ‘predict’ awards – something I think they’ve resisted now.

    I do like the Chapter and Jury system however. But allowing everyone to vote in all catregories for all nominees ensures that several movies get nominated in every catergory.

    Their picks have a tendancy to be in line with my own taste a lot more than the Academy.

    The BAFTA’s have certainly not ‘fallen into disgrace’ at all. Every year there is the odd British nominee that misses and the press get into such a lather about it. It’s really no different from the American Academy – its personal taste in the end.

  • 8 2-01-2009 at 6:50 am

    Simone said...

    This year’s BAFTA really demonstrated how distressed and disjointed the voting process is when a performance like Michael Fassbender’s in ‘Hunger’ went completely unrecognized and failed to get a Best Actor nom. I’m not saying he 100% deserved to win, but he 110% deserved to have been nominated!!!

  • 9 2-01-2009 at 1:37 pm

    Sophie said...

    It’s a shame the BAFTA and Oscar this year, big injustices, snubs and many awards for euphoria of the moment, example ,shocking nominations of Patel and Pinto, as well as nominations for aberrant Changeling (BAFTA), nomination for my mamma mía, instead of other big productions awarded by the public and international critics as Happy go Lucky and Hunger. At the same euphoria and madness of BAFTA, this Double nomination of Kate in a category is so competitive this year.
    At least Michael Fassbender is Rissing actor nomination for the year but the poor Sally Hawkins did not take anything unjustly no Oscar nomination and more importantly an appreciation of his home by BAFTA snub size.

  • 10 2-02-2009 at 12:36 am

    AdamL said...

    Acting nominations for Slumdog are a complete embarrassment. To fix BAFTA they simply need to rescind the membership of anyone who voted for Frieda Pinto. Job done.