BAFTA Nominations: A Good Day for Ken Loach and ‘La La Land,’ Less So for Diversity

New York Film Festival 2016
Courtesy of Sundance Selects

Barry Jenkins and Denzel Washington are prominently absent from a list otherwise heavy on the usual suspects.

There was a time, way back in the mists of the 20th century, when you wouldn’t have looked to the BAFTAs to confirm any predictions you had about the upcoming Academy Awards — not least because they took place comfortably after the Oscars, happily marching to their own beat not just in terms of scheduling, but voting too. Those were days when “Jean de Florette” and “The Commitments” won Best Picture, while Wim Wenders could sneak in a Best Director win for “Paris, Texas.”

They’re also very much over: Since 2001, when BAFTA jumped back to precede the Academy’s shindig, they’ve embraced their Oscar precursor status, gravitating almost exclusively around films and artists with awards buzz echoing from across the Atlantic, and giving mostly short shrift to Britain’s own independent cinema.

This morning’s BAFTA nominations see them largely stick to that system, albeit with some key deviations from the Oscar playbook that recall the more self-steered British Academy of old. To the surprise of precisely nobody, recent Golden Globes sweeper and presumed Oscar favorite “La La Land” leads the field with 11 nominations, missing nary a category in which it could conceivably compete. Meanwhile, “Manchester by the Sea” and “Moonlight” — the films that have joined Damien Chazelle’s original musical to form a near-unbreakable trinity of frontrunners all season — also landed in the Best Film category, even if the latter has reason to be disappointed. (More on that shortly.)

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BAFTA Film Award Nominations: ‘La La Land’ Leads Race

The remaining two top slots, however, were filled with less of a sense of inevitability. Awards pundits have been undecided all season on the likely fortunes of “Arrival,” Denis Villeneuve’s elegant heart-and-head sci-fi puzzler, but a healthy nine nominations, including mentions for Best Film, Director and Actress, might persuade the uncertain that it’s an Oscar player to be reckoned with.

That haul places it second on the BAFTA nomination leaderboard, a position it shares with this season’s recurring wild card, “Nocturnal Animals.” Tom Ford’s tricksily structured revenge drama repeated its Golden Globe feat of landing multiple semi-unexpected nods in the top categories (including two for Ford himself and one for shock Globe winner Aaron Taylor-Johnson), but falling just short of a Best Film nomination. The film’s many critics might say that’s an apt fate for a work they see as less than the sum of its many dazzling parts, but with the Oscars having more slots to play with, don’t be stunned if it cracks the Best Picture lineup.

But where BAFTA really stood its own ground this morning, going to bat for a film with scarcely any chance of awards recognition in the U.S., was in those five key nominations, including Best Film and Director, for Ken Loach’s Cannes Palme d’Or winner “I, Daniel Blake.” It’s fair recognition for a British film that, in addition to its critical and festival acclaim, significantly connected with the U.K. public upon its release in October 2016, its unsubtle but affecting social tract stoking a heated nationwide conversation about the government’s problem-riddled benefits system.

That’s pretty much exactly what Loach, now 80, was put on the planet to do, but he’s received less BAFTA recognition for it than you might think: This is the first time he’s landed in BAFTA race besides Best British Film since “Kes” in 1969. This morning’s news will come as consolation to Team Loach after “Blake” was essentially steamrolled at last month’s British Independent Film Awards — the U.K.’s answer to the Spirits — by Andrea Arnold’s edgier, less populist “American Honey,” which today landed a Best British Film nod and no more. Arnold’s sidelining is far more typical of BAFTA’s usual approach to its most adventurous local filmmakers; another multiple BIFA winner, Babak Anvari’s foreign-language Oscar submission “Under the Shadow,” was likewise restricted to non-general categories.

But Loach’s home-turf success means one of the bigger players has to sit out the race — and over in Best Director, that meant the rather startling omission of “Moonlight’s” Barry Jenkins. Jenkins may not be a familiar face to most BAFTA voters (“Medicine for Melancholy” never received a U.K. release, for one thing), but his hefty presence on the circuit thus far might have led one to assume he was a safer bet, even on foreign ground, than Tom Ford.

With just four nominations, including Best Film, Original Screenplay and acting bids for Mahershala Ali and Naomie Harris, “Moonlight” might be considered the morning’s most conspicuous under-performer, scoring not even below the line for its widely celebrated cinematography and editing. (Such omissions at the nomination stage are all the more surprising given BAFTAs switch a few years ago to the Academy’s system of branch-determined voting for the nominations and membership-wide voting for the winners; it used to be the reverse, with frequently, sometimes delightfully, quirky results — gone are the days when a “Mulholland Dr.” could bag an editing win.)

At a time when “diversity” is a watchword for such voting groups — and with BAFTA itself having recently implemented bold new measures to up the diversity of its British fields — Jenkins’s miss is less likely to be waved off as just one of those things, particularly in light of the morning’s other most prominent omission: that of “Fences” director-star Denzel Washington from the Best Actor lineup. Washington may be regarded as the only man with even a theoretical shot at beating precursor hoarder Casey Affleck at the Oscars, but made way for “Nocturnal Animals” star Jake Gyllenhaal in the BAFTA lineup, while “Fences” landed a solitary nomination for Viola Davis. Washington’s miss today maintains a stat that American awards-watchers may find astonishing: Despite six Oscar nominations and two wins, Washington has not once been nominated for a BAFTA.

As for the year’s third major African-American-centered awards hopeful, “Hidden Figures” bested “Fences” scribe August Wilson to nab the film’s one nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. (That “Figures” writers Ted Melfi and Allison Schroeder are both white doesn’t help the picture for BAFTA much.) Is a #BAFTASoWhite protest in the works? Well, that’d probably be overestimating the British awards’ cultural resonance and influence, but it is sure to be a talking point — especially in light of the commercial and distribution challenges that black-themed cinema already faces in the U.K.

African-American stories, in particular, are routinely a difficult sell to British audiences. A veritable blockbuster in the U.S., “The Help” — which did land a Best Film BAFTA nod — performed modestly in Blighty, while on the opposite end of the prestige spectrum, one-man industry Tyler Perry hasn’t had a film released theatrically in the U.K. since his bid for crossover respectability, “For Colored Girls…”, bombed hard in 2010. “Moonlight,” “Fences” and “Hidden Figures” are all very different kettles of fish — from each other as well as from such aforementioned examples — and we’ll find out how they land with British viewers when they open in February. But this less than effusive welcome from BAFTA will already be making their local distributors a tad nervous.

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  1. in the 2014 Chiwetel Ejiofor won for Best Actor (at the oscars Mccounaghey) and Barkhad Abdi for supporting actor (Jared Leto at the oscars). Last year they nominated Idris Elba and the Oscars not.

    We really have to nominate every one of the 1297 movies americans have made about afroamericans this year. Even movies like Hidden Figures? It’s just a lifetime tv movie with a big budget. Are you kidding America? Be serious please.

  2. Do remember though that the three films you have highlighted – Hidden Figures, Moonlight and Fences – have not yet been released in the UK (they all have a February release date scheduled) and all at least a month away from wide release, meaning they have (admittedly) not been given a fair shot to impress general audiences and voters as, say, Arrival, Nocturnal Animals and I, Daniel Blake has.

    I find that far more likely more likely that be the reason than any hidden agenda to exclude black (or indeed any other minorities) nominees.

    • Dex says:

      @Nathan Osborne
      BAFTA members received screeners for these films. The fact that there’s a Feb. wide-release date is a convenient excuse, but simply makes members peddling it look foolish.
      Whatever the case, actors, studios and directors shouldn’t concern themselves with BAFTA; it’s the Oscar nom that carries the much greater weight–both nationally and internationally.

  3. Iván el Conquistador says:

    Shouldn’t these awards be given to those who demonstrate talent and creativity? Enough with the diversity thing, as if the awards weren’t enough about politics already.

  4. Andrea Barilli says:

    For what it’s worth, I didn’t care much for LA LA LAND either. Nothing to do with skin colour. I’m just not much of a fan of musicals. The cinematography is great but the songs… unmemorable, mediocre.

    But a more startling omission from the nominees (make this about race, if you like) is the very moving LION, whose young star, Sunny Pawar, out acts everyone on the screen. Is that ageist as well as racist? Or could it be that not enough people have seen the film, lacking as it does the buzz that accompanies films like LA LA LAND.

    Having been a BAFTA voting member since long before they preceded the Oscars, let alone reduced the voting stages from three to two, I’d have to say that while the move was politically astute — a BAFTA suddenly became a posh way of lobbying for an Oscar, rather than a tired ‘also ran’ — it was to the detriment of less high profile movies that consequently became very easily overlooked. A problem that has been exacerbated by the reduction to two rounds of voting, with only five category votes in the first round. How many films were submitted this year? 140? 160? I’ve lost count. It is impossible to view them all and members naturally gravitate to those with an advance buzz. With three rounds and more voting opportunities in each category, there was a much better chance of smaller films breaking through. That has now gone and is a loss to the industry as a whole, I feel.

  5. LOL says:

    The UK has always been institutionally racist. Look at the Stephen Lawrence case. Their media is the same way.

  6. Gustavo H.R. says:

    Bradford Young, Dev Patel, Viola Davis, Noamie Harris, Barry Jenkins (screenplay), Mahershala Ali.

    Diverse.

  7. BD says:

    I don’t think it’s necessary to complain about race here. Denzel Washington and his performance aren’t the best thing ever, it’s annoying, he never shuts up, it’s typical Denzel once again showing what Denzel does best: picking characters where he’s better than everybody else, knows better than everybody else, wants to go over everybody else. It’s the typical Denzel role, only this time it takes place in a very fake looking back yard. Maybe they saw through this just like everybody else did considering the film has been getting nominations for himself and Davis and not much else. So people aren’t as crazy for this film as many believe.

    As for Barry Jenkins, if Tom Ford is the one that pushed him out, can’t it just be that somebody liked Noctural Animals better than Moonlight? Must it be about race? People ask the BAFTAs to think for themselves and when they leave token nominee Jenkins out, it’s about race, not about them doing whatever they want to do which is reward the director of a film that it’s actually very very good.

    And do we know for a fact that Hidden Figures and Fences already made a big impact in the UK? Might be too early and they got where they could get in. I can imagine Viola Davis getting in on name alone and the fact that she’s the obvious BSA winner at the Oscars.

    Finally, people forget that race doesn’t mean the same thing in the rest of the world as it does in the US. Not everybody is going to run after black films to please the #oscarssowhite complainers like many did at Sundance with The Birth of a Nation, a lock for many top categories a year ago and when it came out, it turns out it wasn’t really that good.

  8. Dex says:

    No reason to manufacture outrage, Variety.
    Diversity was indeed represented as evidenced by nods to Viola Davis, the “Moonlight” cast and its Best Picture nomination.
    If anything, the more troubling aspect is that BAFTA voters–like some in this comments section–were simply too lazy or uninspired to watch all of the screeners they received. They consider themselves qualified voting members, yet aren’t willing to fulfill the most basic requirement.
    THAT is the big takeaway.

  9. Martin Pal says:

    I saw Moonlight before any Best Film lists were coming out or industry awards and nominations were being announced, so I had no expectations. It reminded me of dozens of gay films I went to see in the 90’s when all sorts of films were being made by new young and (mostly) gay filmmakers. Many of these were quite outstanding and far better than Moonlight. I didn’t think Moonlight was anything special to have awards and nominations bestowed upon it and have been very perplexed by this shower of attention. It’s a perfectly okay film that has a few good moments and an affecting performance by Mahershala Ali, who I, at first, thought was going to be the main character in the film, but he disappears after the first act. I’ve read a lot of reviews to see why so many critics have found this film so affecting. I still don’t get it. Nocturnal Animals probably got knocked out of a Best Picture nomination because so many thought they “had” to choose Moonlight. No one wants to be accused of not liking a film like that, after all.

    Diversity is one thing. A good movie is another. I found Loving so much more affecting. Fences is bloated. Hidden FIgures is a true entertainment about something no one seems to have known about.
    People shouldn’t be made to feel guilty, like this article is implying, about what they do and do not like.

    Notice that Moana is nominated. Not a peep in this article about that film. Talk about diversity. But it’s animated…so I guess it doesn’t count.

    • Martin Pal says:

      P.S.:

      “Barry Jenkins and Denzel Washington are prominently absent from a list otherwise heavy on the usual suspects.”

      Barry Jenkins is nominated for Screenplay. Does that not count either? Such parsing going on to make points.

  10. Edward L. says:

    Hi Guy, Just on the BAFTAs-before-Oscars point: as far as I remember it, it was only for a period of something like eight years in the 1990s that BAFTA came after the Oscars (with the Schindler’s List year being the first year, I’m pretty sure). Prior to that, the BAFTA ceremony came before the Oscars. Certainly the year Jean de Florette won Best Film at the BAFTAs, that ceremony was a few weeks before the Oscars, because I remember the fun of seeing Cher present Sean Connery with his BAFTA for The Name of the Rose and then a few weeks later present him with the Oscar for The Untouchables. I think the main reason the BAFTA nominees and winners didn’t line up nearly as much with Oscar back then as they do now is that there wasn’t the same level of awards-race focus that there is now, funneling so much thinking into the same few contenders. It’s odd but if anything the explosion of precursors in recent years has only narrowed the field rather than opening it up.

  11. A movie trailer should find those elements in a film that stimulate curiosity. MOONLIGHT (trailer) appeared like “film school”: Too mediocre in its presentation which stimulated nothing.

  12. I have just watched MOONLIGHT all the way through .it was an ordeal to watch especially first half hour .I agree with Andrea it must be one of the most over rated films of the last year I dropped out on first screening after 20 minutes but after winning the Golden Globe and other awards had to see what all the fuss was about .To see a good film with a Gay storyline watch THE PASS new British film Philip Nevitsky Manchester England

  13. wut period says:

    The last two paragraphs of this article highlight both the hypocrisy and the realities of these straw man diversity stories.

    1.) “White” writers like Melfi & Schroeder for “black” films like “Hidden Figures” don’t count (wut)?
    &
    2.) Different countries & even regions of countries have different tastes = Supply vs. Demand (period).

  14. Tender Puppy! says:

    I’m not fretting too much about Jenkins. The AMPAS will correct this gross oversight. He’s almost certainly in @ the DGA. I suppose Ford could always sneak in over Scorsese or Gibson, but I think the big 3 films and their directors are still locks, hopefully. Same goes for Washington. Our voters won’t forget him. It is strange that he’s never received a single BAFTA nod, in spite of so many stellar performances.

    I do wonder if this boosts ATJ’s chances of an Oscar nomination over Hedges, or if Nocturnal Animals will fall short aside from a tech nod or two like Nightcrawler, for example, because it’s for acquired tastes. We shall see. The other curiosity is Blunt still getting in here. Will she claim an Oscar slot? Or was SAG a case of early voting, BAFTA a case of British loyalty, but Oscars a case of the overall picture with late releases like Bening or Huppert’s bolstered momentum preventing such an upset. (I love Blunt, but I want her to get nominated for a better film in the future. But I’d be happy for her, at least.) January 24th cannot come fast enough!

  15. As a BAFTA MEMBER FOR OVER 25 YEARS and a film buff attending many festivals seeing on average 6 new movies a week i dont vote for actors on their skin colour but on the acting ability .Unfortunately i havent seen FENCES orHIDDEN FIGURES yet but looking forward to them both .They are not yet released in the UK but i have screener DVDS but have been very ill for a month so havent watched them yet but after all the buzz on MOONLIGHT i started watching and was so bored i dropped out after 20 minutes but going to watch again today to see what all the fuss is about I have seen 2 very good entertaining USA movies GOLD and THE FOUNDER which Michael Keaton deserves a nomination but will probably be OVER LA LA LOOKED Philip Nevitsky Manchester England

    • Tender Puppy! says:

      Give Moonlight a chance. It’s a slow build, but a magnificent emotional payoff. Trust me. It’s one of the best of the year and this is coming from a non-industry guy.

      I’m looking forward to seeing The Founder.

      • Andrea Barilli says:

        I’m with Philip Nevitsky on MOONLIGHT. I did watch it all the way through and found it tedious and shallow. The cinematography is pretty good and I can’t criticise any of the performances but film doesn’t ever really enlarge on the basic one line synopsis: ‘gay black kid, son of crack whore, is bullied growing up in Florida’. That’s it. No depth, no insight. Utterly predictable. One might only add the word ‘monosyllabic’ to the front of ‘gay black kid…’ to get the full, stultifying effect. Or remove the words ‘gay’ and ‘black’. The film would lose nothing.

      • Tender Puppy! says:

        Crap taste. What a surprise.

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