'King' and 'Royale' subjects stir the pot

LONDON — With its 6,000 voting members split between Blighty, Los Angeles and New York, spanning the film biz, the TV industry and even videogamers, the British Academy of Film & Television Arts is a very broad church indeed.

Never was that clearer than in the eclectic nominations for its 2006 film awards. This year’s picks display an intriguing diversity of tastes that could be regarded as exciting, curious or just schizophrenic.

What’s no surprise is that Stephen Frears’ “The Queen” leads the nomination table with 10 entries, but the appearance of Kevin Macdonald’s “The Last King of Scotland” in the best film short list, however, appeared to come out of left field — though the fact that the movie was released in the U.K. to reams of favorable press in the final week of voting surely played a part in its five nominations.

The rest of the best film list — “Babel,” “The Departed” and “Little Miss Sunshine” — mirrors the kudos consensus emerging from the U.S. guilds. The appearance of the quirky, low-budget U.S. entry “Sunshine” ahead of several higher-profile British movies proves BAFTA is willing to take comedy seriously, alongside more conventionally awards-worthy (or as some are saying, pompously self-important) epics such as “Babel.”

Moreover, the polylingual “Babel” and the eight noms for “Pan’s Labyrinth” show that BAFTA isn’t intimidated by subtitles.

On the other hand, Pedro Almodovar’s widely praised “Volver” fell unexpectedly short, with just two nods despite the helmer’s strong BAFTA track record. And outstanding reviews for Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto” couldn’t win it enough votes in anything but the foreign-language category.

The big shock is that there was no place in the best film list for Working Title’s “United 93,” which has topped many critics’ polls and might have hoped for more hometown support. After BAFTA’s lukewarm response to “Pride & Prejudice” last year, Working Title co-chairs Tim Bevan and Eric Fellner must wonder what they have to do to please their own academy.

Nonetheless, “United 93″ helmer Paul Greengrass did oust Macdonald from the best director nominations, which otherwise follow the best film entries (Frears of “The Queen,” Martin Scorsese of “The Departed,” Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu of “Babel” and Jonathan Dayton/Valerie Faris of “Little Miss Sunshine”). Greengrass also picked up a nod for original screenplay, even though the movie had no script in the conventional sense.

“United 93″ was also nominated for best British film alongside “Queen,” “Casino Royale,” “Last King” and “Notes on a Scandal.” For once, BAFTA’s film committee did not exercise its prerogative to insert any nominees of its own ahead of the five voted by the membership.

“Casino Royale,” which has barely figured in the Stateside awards stakes, made a strong showing overall, with nine nominations — including best actor for Daniel Craig — and a slew of tech nods, not to mention co-star Eva Green being tapped for Orange Rising Star consideration.

Judi Dench was predictably nominated for “Notes,” along with Patrick Marber for adapted screenplay, but the movie didn’t generate much wider support.

Among other Brit contenders, “The History Boys” and “Venus” nabbed a couple of key acting nods apiece for their veteran thesps — Richard Griffiths and Peter O’Toole jousting for the leading actor prize, Frances de la Tour looking favorite in supporting actress, and Leslie Phillips in with a shot for supporting actor.

But there were no nods whatsoever for Anthony Minghella’s “Breaking and Entering,” Ken Loach’s Cannes winner “The Wind That Shakes the Barley” or Chris Noonan’s quasi-British “Miss Potter.” And regrettably, at least for the struggling TV ratings of the BAFTA award show, nothing for Sacha Baron Cohen’s perf in “Borat.”

Only one film got a nod from the mass membership vote without sending out a screener — Paul Verhoeven’s “Black Book,” nominated in the foreign-film section. Otherwise, the advantages of mounting a screener campaign were amply demonstrated by “Rang de basanti,” which, after sending a DVD to all the voters, became the first Bollywood pic to win a BAFTA nomination.

Meanwhile, “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” “Children of Men” and “Marie Antoinette” all got multiple entries in the craft and design categories. Chris Munro, Eddy Joseph and Mike Prestwood Smith are double-nominated for their contributions to the sound of “Casino Royale” and “United 93.”

The big Hollywood losers for BAFTA recognition included “Dreamgirls,” which only mustered nominations for its music and Jennifer Hudson’s supporting performance. That’s all the more notable because the premiere screening of “Dreamgirls” to BAFTA members, with director Bill Condon and Hudson in attendance to answer questions, was by all accounts a love-in of orgiastic proportions, with ovations during and after the movie, and Hudson being persuaded into an impromptu vocal display that blew the roof off. Clearly, however, the same effect was not felt by the majority of members who watched the movie on the small screen at home.

Some of the nominations variety comes from BAFTA’s unique blends of voting systems, mixing the full membership poll with voting by chapters and juries. Best film and the four acting awards are chosen by the entire membership. Most of the other categories use a mixture of membership and chapter votes to decide the long list of 15 contenders, followed by a pure membership vote for the five nominees, and then a pure chapter vote to choose the winner.

This year, for the first time, BAFTA controversially opted to identify which five films on the long lists of 15 topped the chapter vote in the first round. That seems to have had a strong influence on the membership’s choices in the second round, with the five nominees exactly following these chapter “recommendations” in seven of 10 categories.

In the other three sections, the membership only differed from the chapters by one choice: In sound, “Babel” was picked over “Flags of Our Fathers,” in visual effects, “Children of Men” over “X-Men: The Last Stand,” and in music, “Dreamgirls” over “Breaking and Entering.”

Films absent from the final round of BAFTA honors included “Bobby,” “Flags of Our Fathers,” “Infamous” (despite its Brit lead actor Toby Jones), “The Prestige” (again, despite strong Brit contributions), “World Trade Center” (despite a heavy campaign by Par and Oliver Stone in person), “The Pursuit of Happyness,” “Stranger Than Fiction,” “Running With Scissors” and “Blood Diamond.”

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