By Alex K Kay
For all intents and purposes, the British Academy Of Film and Television Arts (popularly acronym’d as BAFTA) is the penultimate bellwether precursor event before the big one: the Oscars. The critics groups have had their say, the Golden Globes have sprinkled their fairy dust on the proceedings, giving 12 Years a Slave and American Hustle their top awards. The Writers Guild went for Her and Captain Phillips, the Screen Actors Guild went for Hustle, the Producers Guild tied with Gravity and 12 Years a Slave and the Directors Guild went for Cuarón’s Gravity.
But this year, possibly more than any since the BAFTAs became a precursor award to the Oscars (before 2001, the BAFTAs were held after the Oscars, and had far less influence over it’s American equivalent), BAFTA will perhaps tip the balance towards several races, including Best Picture. A win at BAFTA could give outright momentum to a contender, and pull them ahead of the chasing pack, with the finish line in sight.
Right now, it’s a three way race for the Best Picture Oscar. American Hustle, 12 Years a Slave and Gravity seemed locked in a titanic battle towards the Best Picture accolade. Rarely has there been such a tight race between 3 legitimate contenders. Usually at this point so close to the finish line, there is either a clear single frontrunner or it’s a hard fought two-way race.
Advantage would seem to rest with 12 Years a Slave (10 BAFTA nominations), in the main because of its obviously heavy above-the-line British influence (the director, and several of the main cast are Brits), yet it’s actually the Hollywood blockbuster Gravity, with its 11 BAFTA nods (directed by a Mexican and starring two high wattage American movie stars) that’s somehow been nominated in the category of Outstanding British Film. How Gravity can be considered a “British” film is probably something that baffles most casual observers, though BAFTA can and has often be murkily eccentric in deciding which films can be classified as “British”. On the surface, the film feels about as British as burritos and apple pie. Gravity though, was mostly shot at Pinewood and Shepperton Studios, had a British producer in David Heyman and a whole bunch of British technical and below-the line crew involved in the production, which was probably enough to swing things for BAFTA to declare it a home-grown production.
Is American Hustle in with much of a chance for Best Picture at the BAFTA’s? Possibly. It has a punchers chance, and it scored an impressive 10 nominations with the British Academy. If it were the clear frontrunner in the American awards so far, BAFTA would likely follow suit. But in a race with such wafer-thin margins, it’d take a brave predictor to bet against the films with closer British links. The incredible tie at the PGA between 12 Years a Slave and Gravity and its loss with the WGA have been a bit of a body blow to American Hustle’s overall chances though.
BAFTA could also have implications for other contentious races, such as Best Actor. The early frontrunner Chiwitel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave) has stumbled pretty badly. Ejiofor had a decent showing with the critics’ awards, though far from a confidence inspiring sweep. As far the major televised awards, Ejiofor has lost out at the Golden Globes, SAG and the Critics’ Choice Awards, each time to Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club), who is now the presumptive frontrunner to win the Oscar, with Leonardo DiCaprio (who won the Globe and Critics Choice Awards for Best Actor In A Comedy) as a potential spoiler. If the British Academy come through for the highly respected and very British Ejiofor and award him the Best Actor prize, it could just about reinvigorate his challenge for the Oscar. If Ejiofor can’t win on his turf, then I think he can kiss goodbye to his Oscar chances. Luckily for Ejiofor, BAFTA chose to not even nominate McConaughey, so that’s one major obstacle out of his way. Now all Ejiofor has to worry about is The Wolf Of Wall Street himself, Leo DiCaprio….
Best Director at the BAFTAs should be a shoo-in for Steve McQueen. The former enfant terrible of the British fine art scene has completed a remarkable transformation into a full-fledged cinematic auteur of global repute (he has managed the seemingly impossible task of becoming almost as significant a figure in film, as the other Steve McQueen. Y’know, the super-cool actor). With just three films under his belt, each one more acclaimed than the last, McQueen has been lavishly praised for directing a new masterpiece in 12 Years a Slave, with enthusiastic critical comparisons to Schindler’s List being rained down upon his movie. McQueen is a legitimate threat to win the Best Director Oscar, and I suspect the British Academy would love to give McQueen a strong sign of support going into the actual Oscars.
In the other acting races, expect Cate Blanchett to trample all over the field as she’s been doing all season long in the Leading Actress category. Blanchett’s Blanche Dubois-esque turn in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine seems to be about as sure a thing this season as you can get. Though one cannot overlook of possibility of Dame Judi Dench (for Philomena) acting as potential spoiler, no matter how remote that possibility may seem. Dench already has about a gazillion BAFTA nominations and actual statuettes. She is to the British Academy what Meryl Streep is to the Oscars. Both tend get nominated at an astronomical frequency by their respective national academies, and both could probably pick up nods for reciting the contents a pizza menu. But I still expect Blanchett to prevail. At the Oscars, the only way I can see Blanchett losing is if voters don’t want to see Amy Adams (American Hustle) end up a 5-time Academy Award loser. But as unfortunate a statistic as that would be for Adams, I just don’t see how it’d be enough to derail the Blanchett juggernaut, in what may well be her career defining performance.
The glaring absence of the Supporting Actor frontrunner Jared Leto (BAFTA apparently were not big fans of Dallas Buyers Club) leaves an opening for someone else to steal a bit of his thunder, as he has won most everywhere else. Michael Fassbender’s villainous turn as a sadistic slave owner in 12 Years a Slave seems to be the most likely beneficiary of Leto’s absence at the BAFTA’s. Many expected Fassbender to be Leto’s main challenger, but Leto has won most of the big Supporting Actor awards, including SAG and the Golden Globes.
Supporting Actress at the BAFTA’s should be a straight shoot-out between last year’s “it girl” Jennifer Lawrence, the Golden Globe winner for American Hustle, and this year’s “it girl”, Lupita Nyong’o for 12 Years a Slave. Since losing out to Lawrence at the Globes, Nyong’o has beaten Lawrence at the SAG and Critics Choice awards. Momentum seems to be on the side of the Kenyan-Mexican starlet, whose grace, style and elegant acceptance speeches are winning her legions of fans and admirers.
The BAFTAs are always an interesting awards show, and have often shown more of a tendency to “spreading the wealth” amongst it’s winners, instead of going for the type of dramatic “sweeps” that the Oscars sometimes do. Having said that, I have a sneaking suspicion that 12 Years a Slave will end up the big winner on BAFTA night.
[author image=”http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v193/erikdean/0f752b0d-d4f1-4a32-b7f6-7fc8d5e9b596_zps827d216d.jpg” ]Alex K. Kay is a writer who lives in London and is a graduate of London Metroplitan University with a BA in Film And Broadcast Production. His most recent screenplay “Spin” placed in the top 10% of all entries (out of 7,251) in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts And Science’s Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting for 2013. Alex is also currently working on his first novel, and squeezes in freelance writing jobs between that mammoth task. Alex has been contributing to Awards Watch since it’s inception, and if he had a gun to his head, would probably give an award to Park Chan Wook. Or Danny Boyle.[/author]