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 …