Years ago, the British Academy’s BAFTA Awards made for an interesting foil to the stateside Oscars, but the ceremony has evolved into more of a bellwether event.
For a time, the London pageant was held after the Oscars. But at the turn of the millennium, it finally found permanent fixture amid the other precursor pit stops that lead to Hollywood’s big night. Procedurally, the Brits used to delegate nomination duties in most categories to the entire membership, while the individual branches would determine the winners. But in 2012, the organization made vast changes to protocol, shifting to a system that mirrored the American Academy’s (i.e. the inverse, whereby branches decide nominees and the full membership decides the winners).
The result has been an annual show that can provide the most holistic set of clues into the Oscar outcome. In the film editing category, for instance, BAFTA has presaged wins for “Whiplash” and “Hacksaw Ridge” when most pundits were looking elsewhere. The ceremony has firmed up original score trajectories for “Gravity” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel” as well, and ever since the 2012 changes, the group’s cinematography choices have been 100% affirmed by the American Academy’s.
Why might that be? It’s not necessarily because there is significant crossover in the two memberships. That’s somewhat marginal. Another way to look at it is these are two vast bodies of film professionals in many different disciplines. So, like minds, etc.
Does that mean surprise BAFTA winner “Baby Driver” is primed to upset in the film editing category at the Oscars? It’s quite possible, as Edgar Wright’s film has been top competition for “Dunkirk” all along. It’s interesting to note, however, that the only divergence between BAFTA and AMPAS here in the last five years was when another Working Title Films production involving fast cars claimed the Brits’ prize: Ron Howard’s “Rush.”
For original score, Alexandre Desplat has been the frontrunner all season long for his waltzy “Shape of Water” offerings, so consider this a rubber stamp. The cinematography choice, however, could be telling.
Fourteen-time Oscar nominee Roger Deakins has now claimed both the American Society of Cinematographers award and the BAFTA honor for “Blade Runner 2049.” The last time he won both of those prizes was in 2002, for “The Man Who Wasn’t There.” He ultimately dropped the Oscar to “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.” And in fact, the last time any film won both precursors on its way to losing the Academy Award was in 2007 when ASC/BAFTA victor “Children of Men” deferred to “Pan’s Labyrinth” on Oscar night.
The key difference between those two instances and this year is that they came prior to BAFTA’s procedural shift, i.e., cinematographers were the only ones doing the deciding in 2002 and 2007. But Deakins has now won with both his cinematography peers and with a vast organization of cross-discipline pros.
All of that is to say that, yes, this could finally be his year. The caveat is that the British Academy clearly adored the film a bit more, going so far as to hand Denis Villeneuve a directing nomination. But this is about as solid as a director of photography can get going into the Oscars. Dare to dream!
Speaking of “Blade Runner 2049,” the film bested “War for the Planet of the Apes” in the visual effects category, which could indeed be a harbinger. For some reason, Academy members have consistently looked down upon Fox’s revitalized “Apes” franchise. Each time out, they have turned to prestige awards-season offerings — “Hugo” and “Interstellar” — while passing over the films entirely for nominations in deserving areas like sound and original score. It would be crushing to see Weta’s considerable efforts go unrecognized by the Academy yet again, but “deserve’s got nothing to do with it,” to quote the retired gunslinger.
In the major categories, BAFTA has taken on the role of rubber-stamping frontrunners, whether they end up panning out at the Academy Awards or not. Acting winners Gary Oldman, Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell and Allison Janney make it a perfect repeat of virtually every major precursor this season, so you might as well bet on each for Oscars. Guillermo del Toro, meanwhile, doubled down after his Golden Globe and directors guild victories, so he’s looking golden as well. And while “Call Me by Your Name” is cruising in adapted screenplay, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” — showered with love by BAFTA — is clearly a threat to “Get Out” in original. There are sure to be some sparks in that race.
You can’t put quite as much on the best film category, however. The last three winners have failed to turn the best picture trick at the Oscars, and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is somewhat divisive (no, not just online). That will do it no favors on the Academy’s preferential ballot. The British Academy, by contrast, uses a standard plurality ballot.
And that, in addition to the AMPAS’ ongoing evolution, is what has kept the best picture Oscar race so exciting these last few years. You just can’t be sure of what will happen, and if you are (as many of us were last year), well — check yourself.