What BAFTA Nominations Really Mean for the Oscars

Bafta Nominations Oscar Impact
Courtesy of Disney/The Weinstein Co/Warner Bros./Paramount/A24

Precious few things really 'mean' anything this time of year, but BAFTA is an exception.

You get a headline like the one above a lot this time of year. Everyone thinks everything “means” something vis a vis the Oscars, when in fact, precious few things really do. One thing that absolutely does mean something, though, is the British Academy of Film and Television Arts’ annual nominations announcement, though admittedly, that didn’t used to be the case.

Up until a few years ago, BAFTA wasn’t a great barometer in either phase of the season, really. The reason was the org’s voting system, which was formerly the reverse of the American Academy’s, i.e., the entire group would decide nominees collectively while the various branches would determine the winners. But ever since that system was reversed, with branches deciding nominees and the collective group picking winners, it’s become one of the most significant bellwethers in the race.

You could make the connection last year in a number of tight below-the-line races. The BAFTA Awards signified, for instance, that Alexandre Desplat’s “Grand Budapest Hotel” score was stronger than the presumably frontrunning “Theory of Everything,” and that “Whiplash” was a strong contender in the editing and sound mixing categories it eventually won (surprisingly, some would say) at the Oscars.

Of course, there were differences, not least of which being “Boyhood’s” triumph over “Birdman” in the best picture and best director categories. Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s eventual Oscar victor won only one trophy from the Brits, in fact. But the parallels were more notable than they had been in a previous scheme that was arguably more intriguing, when something like “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” could win editing, or “Children of Men” could be recognized for its production design.

All of that is to say that this morning’s BAFTA nominations deserve a hard look, and they told us a few things. First, after Steven Spielberg’s “Bridge of Spies” had already flexed its muscle on the guild circuit, BAFTA solidified the film as one of the year’s strongest contenders. The film tied “Carol” for the most nominations. Speaking of Todd Haynes’ film, The Weinstein Company is very aware that the on-the-ground Los Angeles contingent isn’t going to be the one to push that through, but rather, the New York and European elements of the Academy. BAFTA proved that pulse is alive and well across the pond.

Otherwise, the nominees further revealed a season that has been quite scattered. No best film nominations, for instance, for perceived Oscar heavies “The Martian” and “Mad Max: Fury Road,” though the former did net significant best director and best actor mentions, while the latter was still dominant throughout the craft categories, picking up seven noms. But does George Miller missing the best director cut indicate that industry voters might love the film for its parts, but will keep it in its genre place when it comes to overall acceptance? Perhaps, but remember that the Academy is the only one employing the unique preferential balloting system, which allows for passion to shine through. And “Mad Max’s” supporters are nothing if not passionate.

Elsewhere, “Sicario” netted three mentions after proving to be a force on the American guild circuit, including a supporting actor nod for Benicio Del Toro, who has been MIA, despite being pegged as an early favorite. Alicia Vikander picked up dual nominations for “The Danish Girl” and “Ex Machina,” with BAFTA going its own way with category placement on the former. That could actually happen with the Academy, too. Though Rooney Mara remained in supporting, despite being perceived as a co-lead with Cate Blanchett in a film the group clearly loved (“Carol”).

“The Big Short” continued its sly dominance in the precursor circuit, landing key nominations across the board — best picture, best director, best supporting actor, best adapted screenplay, best editing. It’s one of the most solid competitors this year, even if it might not ultimately be strong enough to win outside of best adapted screenplay or perhaps best film editing at the Oscars. (Then again, perhaps it is. “Spotlight” has felt ripe for an upset all along.)

Speaking of which, “Spotlight” did show a little weakness by missing on a best director nomination and coming up empty-handed across the crafts (best editing being the only viable place to recognize it, and the American Cinema Editors already passed on it anyway). Mark Ruffalo was the cast member to make the cut this time in the supporting actor category, perhaps finally bringing some clarity to what will happen there, perhaps not.

Interestingly, the cinematography nominees mirrored the ASC’s, including the Robert Richardson snub for “The Hateful Eight.” Quentin Tarantino’s film did pick up three nominations after turning out nothing on the guild circuit, however, for best original screenplay, best supporting actress (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and best original score. Those should join at least some of the oft-lauded sound personnel at the Oscars, and perhaps Richardson, too.

And though “Creed” was eligible, supporting actor hopeful Sylvester Stallone was passed over, despite being a very real threat for not only a nomination but the win on these shores. Additionally, “Straight Outta Compton” (predictably, I’d say) turned out a gooese egg with BAFTA, but is clearly well loved Stateside with key nominations from the screen actors, producers and writers guilds.

You can get a bit lost in the examination, but in a few instances, the BAFTA nominations are quite illuminating. They remind of industry support here and there, of rhythms you might not have been as privy to otherwise, etc. And no, the crossover in BAFTA and Academy membership is not hugely significant, but that’s not the point. This is a vast industry body that perceives the craft of filmmaking in ways similar to the American Academy. You simply take that context and apply it as you will when trying to guess at the Oscar noms.

The next major indicator will be the Directors Guild of America nominees, set to be revealed just two days before the Oscar nominees, which are themselves less than a week away. We’re closing in …

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  1. msd says:

    The BAFTAs used to be about supporting the British film industry but that’s clearly secondary now. They created ghetto categories like Outstanding British Film and Outstanding Debut to shut people up but their main concern is trying to be a version of the Oscars, grabbing press and getting big movie stars to attend. France doesn’t do that, Canada doesn’t, Australian doesn’t, Spain doesn’t – why Britain? At least the TV BAFTAs are still about British TV, with Best International Programme a separate category … for now. How long until they expand international shows and try to be like the Emmys? I’m surprised people in Britain don’t kick up more of a fuss about how much it’s moved away from honouring British film.

    Poor choices for me include no Rampling for Actress, no Miller for Director, weak Animated list, weak Documentary list. Pretty middle of the road stuff overall, with no bold choices and, like AMPAS, very white and very male driven (Carol being the exception that proves the rule).

  2. Sean C. says:

    It’s weird how, looking back at the start of the season, a lot of us assumed Spotlight was going to be a real beast for acting nominations, compared to how it’s struggling now.

  3. Davey says:

    I don’t know how the British voters could overlook Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay. Well, at least we the wonderful movie.

  4. Tender Puppy! says:

    Was 45 Years eligible? If so, what’s your take on Rampling’s snub by a group that was presumed to consider her a lock? I suppose there’s still some hope for her though, but it’d be a shame if she missed out.

    Nice to see that Carol’s inclusion gives that film a boost in director and picture categories.

    Man, I am loving how unpredictable this year is. It’s frustrating yet simultaneously exciting.

    • Emily Watson says:

      I’m sure 45 Years was eligible because it got a (lonely) Outstanding British Film nod. But I’m flabbergasted that they could ignore Rampling and Courtenay. Disgusting. I still have hope for an Oscar nod for Charlotte, though. It IS the best performance of the year.

      • Joseph says:

        I think “disgusting” might be a bit of an overstatement, but it’s a real shame that such a powerful film appears to be coming up short in terms of nominations across the board. Ah well. I guess we’ll have to wait until Thursday to see if it makes a recovery.

  5. Philip Mason says:

    The nominations for the awards are so distant from ‘Joe Publics’ choice it’s laughable even bordering on ‘not fit for purpose’. Just another episode of back slapping for the higher brow film makers.

  6. spc says:

    I’m a Bafta voter and Interestingly, no screener of CREED was sent out, and the film doesn’t open in the UK until Jan 15th, so not so surprising there was no nom for Stallone..

    • Phillipa says:

      Let’s hope that’s the reason. It would be so disappointing if one of the best supporting turns of the year (Stallone) is not recognized at the Oscars. Did you get screeners for Big Short and Spotlight?

      • spc says:

        Yes, received screeners for both Big Short and Spotlight.. interesting though how people always talk about snubs for films/performances, as if voters get together and deliberately decide to exclude certain films..

  7. LOL says:

    BAFTA is institutionally racist. They like twee posh films about their caucasian heritage, not multicultural movies about gangsta rap.

    • Kim says:

      ok – well let’s see when/if the Academy/Oscars don’t nominate it either. Although the Oscars have ten spots to fill, which make it easier to be less twee.

  8. Jske says:

    I always here how the preferential ballot helps or somehow changes the result but I just never see that happening because then there would be more surprises and there never are.

    • Not sure what you mean. There aren’t “surprises” because you can measure the passion. So if “Mad Max” missed with BAFTA, it’s still possible for the Oscars because a) it’s a film with a passionate core of support and b) naturally, there are more spots to fill.

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