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Hollywood uses BAFTA Awards to build buzz on road to Oscar noms

LONDON — Is it a peculiarly British vanity to imagine that the BAFTAs can sway the Oscar race?

Or do the august members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Science really scan the list of films anointed by their British brethren for clues about how they should cast their votes?

The Hollywood studios certainly pour enough money and effort into campaigning for the BAFTAs to suggest the British awards have a significance beyond the mere glory of winning one for its own sake.

But this year’s BAFTA nominations will be announced just two days before the first Oscar poll closes — and remember, AMPAS (unlike BAFTA, which has switched to online voting) still uses snail mail, so most ballots will already have be sent in by the time BAFTA reveals its short list.

Logically, the direct impact of the British nods can only be marginal. Yet, as one veteran London PR argues, logic cannot always explain the complex dynamics of the kudos season.

“I believe it’s all about reaching critical mass,” says Liz Miller of McDonald & Rutter. “The BAFTAs are thrown into the mix with all of the critics’ awards and the guilds. Everything influences everything else, and the Oscars are the culmination of the process.”

The importance of the BAFTAs lies as much in the debate that precedes the nominations as in the nominations themselves. BAFTA and AMPAS members are part of the same trans-Atlantic community, and they talk among themselves as the campaign unfolds through the fall and winter.

David Linde, co-president of Focus Features, says: “BAFTA is made up of very creative folks who, by nature, are in constant dialogue with their peers at AMPAS and the guilds. Those quiet conversations can make a campaign, and that’s why, no matter the timing of nominations, we take BAFTA very seriously.”

Linde also points out that, although the BAFTA noms come too late to have an impact on the Oscar noms, the British kudos can still make a difference to the final Oscar voting — particularly since the BAFTA awards themselves are handed out a full nine days before the final Oscar deadline.

Given the considerable common ground between the two groups of voters, it’s hard to tell whether the BAFTAs can actively change the course of the Oscar race, or whether they merely provide an insight into which direction the tides of opinion are flowing.

Two years ago, “21 Grams” seemed to be falling behind in the Oscar stakes when it was shut out of the Golden Globes. But then it figured strongly in the BAFTA nods and went on to win four Oscar nominations.

Did the BAFTAs actually put the movie back in the Oscar race? Or more likely, did the British awards simply reveal that “21 Grams” was held in higher regard within the industry than previously thought?

No one can be sure, and perhaps in the end it doesn’t matter. Either way, and whatever the precise timetable of voting, the industry perceives the BAFTAs as a significant foreshadowing of the Oscars. And in the hall of mirrors that is Oscar season, perception and reality are the same thing.

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