BAFTA Preview

Small U.S. indie pics — even the ones that might tickle the Golden Globes’ or Oscars’ fancy — face an uphill struggle to be noticed at the BAFTAs.

That was evident in last year’s nominations, when “Winter’s Bone,” “Blue Valentine” and “Rabbit Hole” were overlooked. The stars of those films (Jennifer Lawrence, Michelle Williams and Nicole Kidman) all went on to Oscar nods. Yet they were usurped at the BAFTAs, not by British rivals, but by two other Americans — Julianne Moore and Hailee Steinfeld, a supporting actress Oscar nominee — and a European, Noomi Rapace.

As that shows, BAFTA’s national pride rarely becomes parochial, although the only award actually won by “The Kids Are All Right” or “True Grit” was for Brit “Grit” cinematographer Roger Deakins.

BAFTA is also quicker than the Oscars to honor foreign-lingo stars, such as Rapace, Gael Garcia Bernal, Audrey Tautou, Ulrich Muehe or Zhang Ziyi.

But when the BAFTAs disagree with the Oscars, it is most often over U.S. indies. “Sideways” and “In the Bedroom” were embraced with less enthusiasm by British voters, while “The Visitor,” “Rachel Getting Married,” “Frozen River,” “Transamerica,” “Hustle & Flow” and “Half Nelson” were ignored completely.

That can reflect the unfamiliarity of those films to U.K. audiences, the fact that their British distribs have less incentive to mount an aggressive campaign or simply that they don’t get released in time to qualify for the BAFTA deadlines.

It’s all the more significant, therefore, when a U.S. indie does manage to break through that British reserve. The BAFTA victory for “The Hurt Locker” was widely seen as the turning point in the pic’s Oscar duel with “Avatar.”

“Black Swan,” “The Wrestler” and “Little Miss Sunshine” actually fared better at BAFTA than at the Oscars, while “Juno” and “Precious” also punched near their weight.

This year, Fox Searchlight is pushing for its Sundance pickup “Martha Marcy May Marlene,” flying director Sean Durkin and stars Elizabeth Olsen and John Hawkes into London for a Q&A to raise their profile.

Paramount is hoping that Brit actress Felicity Jones will draw attention to “Like Crazy.” Both pics will get their U.K. release Feb. 3, just a week before the BAFTA ceremony, in the hope that any kudos will pay off at the box office. Studiocanal is employing the same strategy for Oren Moverman’s “Rampart,” opening Feb. 10, the last possible qualifying date for the awards.

Such brinkmanship relies heavily on DVD screeners. The downside is no media buzz to influence voters when they make their picks in January.

By contrast, the late-November opening for Jonathan Levine’s “50/50″ from Lionsgate and Jeff Nichols’ “Take Shelter” from the Works gives them a chance of some critical momentum.

Low-profile mid-year releases such as “Win Win,” “Beginners” and even Cannes winner “The Tree of Life” will take a significant effort to bring them back into contention, while wildcards this year include two English-speaking films from European auteurs with a coterie of passionate industry fans, Nicolas Winding Refn’s “Drive” and Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia,” whose chances also depend on smart campaigns.

BAFTA PREVIEW
Upsets at BAFTA on the wane? | Open field for bevy of British runners | Hurdling British reserve | Past plaudits don’t guarantee future performance

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