U.S. front-runners get Brit boost from screener glut

'Luck,' 'Capote' earn film noms without theatrical release

This was the year when BAFTA’s U.K.-based voters were swamped with more screeners than they knew what to do with.

With more than 40 DVDs dropping in mailboxes, mostly in one big rush just before Christmas, there simply wasn’t time to watch them all.

The effect was that those movies already established as Stateside kudos contenders went to the top of the viewing pile, while titles without Oscar heat were left to gather dust on the shelf.

That could explain why the BAFTA nominations ended up so closely following the tracks laid down by the Golden Globes and the U.S. guilds.

Distribs clearly learned the lessons of last year, when “Million Dollar Baby” and “Sideways” were notoriously overlooked by BAFTA voters because these films didn’t go out on screeners. The fact that “Good Night, and Good Luck” and “Capote,” which weren’t set to open theatrically in the U.K. until this month, both got best film nominations proves how well they played on DVD.

Only six out of the 85 nominations voted by the membership this year went to movies that didn’t mail out screeners in the U.K.: “King Kong” (three nods), “Hotel Rwanda” (one) and two foreign-language entries — “The Beat That My Heart Skipped” and “Kung Fu Hustle.”

Even Entertainment Film Distributors, long the most steadfast opponent of screeners, bowed to the inevitable and sent out “Brokeback Mountain,” “A History of Violence,” “The New World” and “The Libertine.”

Cinea machines were distributed to BAFTA members last year, but went unused for 12 months. Several distribs experimented with Cinea-encrypted discs this time around, but with mixed results. Along with Entertainment’s quartet, Buena Vista used the format to send out “The Chronicles of Narnia” and “Casanova”; Universal offered “Nanny McPhee” and “Pride & Prejudice”; Redbus supplied “Good Night,  and Good Luck” and “Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story”; Icon mailed “Match Point”; and DreamWorks tried with “Munich.”

Some members simply never received “The New World” and the pic didn’t make any of the longlists. “Match Point” did come but wouldn’t play without an upgrade disc that had to be requested from Cinea. It did make the longlists but failed to figure in the nominations.

The biggest disaster was “Munich,” which missed the first voting deadline and was wrongly encrypted for region 1 (America) and not region 2 (Europe) when it did come.

Cinea’s refusal to adapt its players for multiregion discs (standard for DVD players in Blighty) was a big gripe for BAFTA members. On the whole, however, the malcontents were in the minority. The near-ubiquity of screeners, combined with the tight new restrictions on campaigning, have leveled the playing field. But that poses distribs a different challenge: to make sure their movies get seen. For left-field pics that come without advance buzz — often the ones that would benefit most from BAFTA recognition — simply mailing them out cold, or just a day or two before the voting deadline, isn’t enough.

How else to explain the exclusion of Michael Winterbottom’s “A Cock and Bull Story” on any of the longlists? Pic drew critical acclaim when it was released in the U.K. after the voting deadline, but by then it was too late.

The exclusion of Golden Globe winner Felicity Huffman from the nominations is perhaps BAFTA’s most glaring omission this year. It could be offered as a rebuttal of the theory that the screener glut favors established American contenders. But Huffman had little profile in Blighty prior to the Globe win that came after the BAFTA deadline, and “Transamerica” itself had no heat at all.

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