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Oscar buzz influences BAFTA race

Wins usually require Academy Award viability

LONDON — Can a British movie that isn’t a serious Oscar contender win big at the British Academy Film Awards?

History suggests not. “Casino Royale” did unusually well last year to raise its BAFTA stakes with nine nominations. But on the night of the ceremony, “Royale” was put firmly back in its place, with just a single win for best sound.

This year, the challenge to the hegemony of Hollywood taste will come from Anton Corbijn’s “Control,” which swept the board at the British Independent Film Awards in November.

Along with “Atonement” (see sidebar), “Control” is the most widely acclaimed British movie of the year, toasted by local critics and at international festivals. But whereas Joe Wright’s lavish costumer is an Oscar frontrunner, “Control” has little Stateside profile.

And that’s a problem, because BAFTA rarely hands out kudos for pics with no U.S. momentum, outside the special categories reserved for locals — the Alexander Korda award for best British film, and the Carl Foreman prize for most promising first-time British director, writer or producer. That’s partly because roughly a quarter of BAFTA members are U.S.-based and partly because BAFTA members on both sides of the Atlantic get caught up the chatter of the Oscar campaigns.

“Control” is a lock for a Korda nomination, which is chosen by a jury of senior Brit industry figures, but the question is whether the pic will also break into the mainstream categories voted by the wider membership: film, director, adapted screenplay (Matt Greenhalgh, who also qualifies for Foreman consideration), supporting actress (Samantha Morton), supporting actor (Toby Kebell), cinematography (Martin Ruhe) and music.

Intriguingly, the pic’s U.S. distrib, the Weinstein Co., is running its own BAFTA campaign for the movie, alongside that of local distrib Momentum Pictures. The Weinsteins evidently believe that a strong BAFTA showing could catapult “Control” into the Oscar race.

Another local wild card is “This Is England” by Shane Meadows, which won for film at the BIFAs back in 2006 but qualifies for BAFTA this year because it was released in April. This is a strong Korda candidate that could gain wider support if distrib Optimum puts enough effort into reminding voters of its existence. And then there’s “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” arguably the best film in the franchise so far, brilliantly directed by David Yates in only his second movie outing.

Meanwhile, there are a few British indie outsiders that could pick up a few nods, including David Mackenzie’s “Hallam Foe,” Anand Tucker’s “And When Did You Last See Your Father?” and Sarah Gavron’s “Brick Lane.”

Same pool, different winners

The uncertainty about the BAFTA chances of fringe Oscar prospects like “Control” and “This Is England” shouldn’t be extrapolated to argue that BAFTA doesn’t have a mind of its own. Within the established list of contenders, the org’s spread of nominations can deviate significantly from the U.S. consensus. Last year, British-made pics such as “The Last King of Scotland,” “United 93” and “The Queen” did better at BAFTA than at the Oscars.

David Cronenberg’s London thriller “Eastern Promises” is a good bet for a Korda nod, and is also likely to show in other categories, such as original screenplay for local scribe Steve Knight.

Michael Winterbottom should get hometown support for “A Mighty Heart,” and don’t bet against Paul Greengrass, who won best director last year for “United 93,” making a re-

appearance for “The Bourne Ultimatum.”

Julie Christie, strongly tipped for an Oscar nom in “Away From Her,” would usually be a shoo-in for the BAFTA slot that’s all but reserved for beloved British actresses of a certain age (e.g. Judi Dench, Helen Mirren). Christie’s prospects could have been harmed by pic’s April release in the U.K. by Metrodome, a distrib that normally campaigns little for BAFTAs, but U.S. distrib Lionsgate dramatically improved Christie’s chances by mailing screeners in December.

Daniel Day-Lewis looks a certain BAFTA nominee, if not winner, for his bravura turn in “There Will Be Blood.” Other Oscar-tipped British actors who should do well include Tom Wilkinson and Tilda Swinton for “Michael Clayton.”

“Sweeney Todd” lensed in Blighty, and Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter live in London, so they should have ready-made support. But the movie has no chance at BAFTA if Warner sticks to its decision not to send out screeners.

Ridley Scott’s “American Gangster” has gone down well with British audiences, but the L.A.-based Scott won’t get any special favors from BAFTA voters. When “Gladiator” won best picture at the BAFTAs in 2000, he lost the director award to Ang Lee.

“The Golden Compass” will surely show up in the craft and technical categories, particularly for its spectacular British-made f/x, and it may be joined by “Stardust” and “Sunshine.”

If BAFTA voters are in a really populist mood, they could decide to acknowledge the fabulous year enjoyed by Simon Pegg with “Hot Fuzz” and “Run, Fat Boy, Run.” But don’t hold your breath.

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