If you’ve got a farm you want to bet, here’s a copper-bottomed tip: Imelda Staunton to win best actress at the British Academy Film Awards Feb. 12.Staunton’s tear-stained turn as a golden-hearted abortionist in Mike Leigh‘s “Vera Drake” has already established her as an Oscar frontrunner. And of course she’s a British national treasure in the mold of perennial BAFTA favorite Judi Dench. So far, so obvious. But there’s a more tangible reason to place a large wager on her head: Insiders say she received double the votes of her nearest rival in BAFTA’s first round of polling, which closed Jan. 4. If Staunton was the big winner of the first round, then Clint Eastwood was the big loser. His “Million Dollar Baby” failed to make the short list of 15 candidates for film or director (where Clint apparently came in 16th), from which the five nominees will be selected in the second round of voting. That’s almost certainly because distrib Entertainment followed its long-standing policy of not sending out screeners, and managed to arrange only a handful of screenings over the Christmas period. In fact, only two movies made the top 15 for best film without the aid of screeners — “Sideways” (not yet released in Blighty), and “The Incredibles,” still playing at every multiplex in the country — although DVDs of “The Aviator” also came in too late to seriously influence the first-round vote. Other movies that didn’t send out screeners and ended up under-represented across the short lists include “Kinsey,” “Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera,” “The Passion of the Christ” and a slew of smaller Brit pics that should have figured at least in the acting stakes, such as “My Summer of Love” and “Ae Fond Kiss.” The second round closes Jan. 12. Members then vote for a third and final time to decide best film and the four acting prizes. Specialist juries settle all the other winners, except this year in sound and editing, where BAFTA is experimenting for the first time with chapter voting. It’s a byzantine process, but to their credit, BAFTA chairman Duncan Kenworthy and film committee chair David Parfitt are working manfully to simply, clarify and thus legitimize the way the org doles out its kudos. They no longer allow the film committee to rectify perceived omissions from the membership vote by arbitrarily adding extra titles to the short lists. They have made voting compulsory. By next year, they hope to replace almost all the juries with chapter voting. They also have been pushing for a couple of years to throw the Alexander Korda Award for British film, historically given by the film committee, open to the membership vote. This has so far been resisted by BAFTA’s old guard, who believe the members won’t look beyond the most widely distributed and commercially successful movies. But if the membership of the British Academy can’t be trusted to judge the best British film, what on earth is the point of BAFTA? That debate resulted in this year’s awkward compromise, where the members were allowed for the first time to vote for five spots on the Korda short list, but the committee will add another five, and then select the five nominees from that expanded list of 10. This secretive process means the five British films voted by the members won’t be publicly announced. Nonetheless, they are understood to be “Closer,” “Finding Neverland,” “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” “Vera Drake” and “Shaun of the Dead.” It will be fascinating to see which of these end up nominated.
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