As usual, BAFTA delivered a few surprises this morning. While nothing in their nominee list is as far off the Oscar radar as, say, “Drive”‘s hefty haul last year, they’ve muddled up the hierarchy a little among the leading awards players, as two of the three leading nominees found their directors frozen out — and not even in favor of certain underperforming British hopefuls, as might have been expected.
Some of the inclusions and exclusions have more bearing on the Oscar race than others. For example, before you make too much of Denzel Washington’s omission from the Best Actor lineup — and yes, “Flight” was eligible — remember that Washington has never been nominated by BAFTA. Across the pond, some films and artists simply translate better than others. With that in mind, let’s run through the contenders that gained the most from today’s nominations, and those that have reason to be disappointed.
Ben Affleck and “Argo”: If you’re merely totting up the numbers, “Argo” doesn’t look like one of the morning’s big winners — seven nominations is respectable, but still puts in fourth place among the Best Film nominees. But look closer, and consider that it’s not a lavish technical showcase, and it’s clear that Ben Affleck’s well-liked thriller actually over-performed — indeed, BAFTA’s sizeable actors’ branch liked it so much they handed Affleck his first major Best Actor nod of the season. Furthermore, along with “Zero Dark Thirty,” it’s the only Best Film nominee to score with the directing, writing, acting and technical branches. It could well be the one to beat.
“Life of Pi”: Along with “Argo,” the film that arguably gained the most from this morning’s announcement was Ang Lee’s seafaring fantasy. It may have had a slow start to the season, with an oddly tentative campaign by Fox, but “Pi” has rallied impressively, scoring a DGA nod yesterday and now landing nine BAFTA nods, plus a Rising Star bid for Suraj Sharma. The film has been a big holiday hit with UK audiences, and unlike fellow nomination leaders “Lincoln” and “Les Mis,” it nabbed a nomination for its director too. Could it come from behind and take Best Film? Yes.
“Amour”: Perhaps more than any other film, Michael Haneke’s critically beloved French-language drama felt the benefits of the new BAFTA voting system, whereby nominees are determined by individual branches rather than the general membership — it seems less likely that BAFTA as a whole would have included Haneke in the Best Director category, where he edged out Steven Spielberg and/or Tom Hooper, while Emmanuelle Riva is a similarly discerning pick for Best Actress. With four top nominations, the arthouse underdog is in great shape to surprise a lot of people when the Academy announces its nominees tomorrow.
“Beasts of the Southern Wild”: Can you be a winner with just one nomination? In this case, yes. Benh Zeitlin’s rough-and-ready Southern tale was never likely to score in a big way with the British crowd, having generated little chatter when it opened here back in the autumn, so landing a writing nomination ahead of such big-ticket titles as “Skyfall,” “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” and “Les Mis,” is an encouraging indication of its crossover appeal — and seemingly firms up the film’s Oscar slot in that category after its WGA ineligibility. It’s a further indication of the new BAFTA voting system having its desired effect.
“Django Unchained”: A qualified win, this, since Quentin Tarantino’s bloody Sou’western earned five nominations, including Best Director, but not one for Best Film — “Inglourious Basterds” suffered a similar fate three years ago. But taking into account how late the film screened for most BAFTA members, it performed well above expectations — with a couple more weeks, it could even have wrangled a nod for the top prize. With more slots up for grabs, this could bode well for a place in Oscar’s Best Picture lineup.
Bradley Cooper: “Silver Linings Playbook” has been greeted with muted enthusiasm by British critics and audiences alike — even the UK marketing seemed unsure of what to do with the film’s US-centric title, burying the “playbook” in microscopic type — so its misses for Best Film and Best Director were easily seen coming. While Jennifer Lawrence always had enough heat to land a nomination, Robert De Niro did not — so the fact that Bradley Cooper managed to score in a competitive Best Actor lineup is notable, and suggests an Oscar nomination for the leading man is all but cemented.
“Anna Karenina”: After underwhelming critics and fizzling at the box office way back in September, Joe Wright’s eccentric Tolstoy adaptation didn’t seem likely to be warmly embraced beyond BAFTA’s technical branches. Still, it exercised some damage control today with six nods. Five of them are in below-the-line categories, which isn’t particularly surprising, but nabbing that Best British Film nomination — ahead of far more broadly acclaimed independent care — counts as a significant coup. This will probably be the high point of the season for a film once fancied as a juggernaut, but it’ll take what it can get.
Meanwhile, these are the films and individuals less likely to be smiling this morning:
Tom Hooper: Hooper was flying high yesterday with a semi-surprising DGA nod, but as I anticipated, the Oscar-winning British director’s countrymen brought him crashing down to earth: his polarizing directorial choices may have brought “Les Misérables” nine nominations, but Best Director was not among them. (It may or may not be worth noting that, unlike the Academy, BAFTA didn’t hand him their award for “The King’s Speech.”) Put it down to a competitive category, peer skepticism over Hooper’s actual work or his slightly “difficult” reputation within the industry, but he remains a major question mark going into tomorrow’s Oscar nominations.
Steven Spielberg: Hooper can at least take comfort in the fact that he’s in august company on the sidelines. While the Brit’s omission for the Best Director lineup could be seen coming, Spielberg’s is considerably more surprising — all the more so considering that “Lincoln” wound up as the morning’s top nominee, an anomaly that has never before occurred since the BAFTAs became an Oscar precursor. I had anticipated that one of the more American-flavored political dramas in the lineup could suffer a setback, and here it is: only one film (“Educating Rita” in 1983) has ever managed to take the top BAFTA without a nod for its director.
“The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”: Earlier in the year, this genteel Britcom looked a likely BAFTA favorite, given its gangbusters box office and lineup of beloved veteran faces. But while “Skyfall” had obviously stolen some of its home-crowd thunder, it still looked likely to receive a scattering of compensatory nods. It was not to be, as the film scored a single (virtually obligatory) nomination for Best British Film. Judi Dench, usually nominated by BAFTA for the mere feat of showing up in a film, had to be content with a supporting nod for “Skyfall” — but what’s really stunning is that SAG nominee (and five-time BAFTA winner) didn’t join her in that category. The odds now favor the Academy giving the film even fewer nominations tomorrow morning.
“Skyfall”: Okay, so I missed big on this one. I had thought the combination of critical acclaim and record-breaking box office (it’s now the all-time highest grosser in the UK) would be enough to secure James Bond his first Best Film BAFTA nod, and a leading tally overall. As it stands, Sam Mendes’s classy 007 outing secured eight nominations — a good showing for a franchise effort, but a disappointment considering the hype. It didn’t even register as strongly as 2006’s “Casino Royale,” which managed nine nominations including Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay. This limited support from the British bloc puts a slight dampener on the film’s chances of a Best Picture nod tomorrow, though with more slots to play with, all is not lost.
British independents: The BAFTAs inevitably skew more mainstream than the British Independent Film Awards earlier in the season, but even so, the relative absence of acclaimed local independent fare on the nominee list is striking. A few years ago, left-field titles like “Berberian Sound Studio” and “Sightseers” would have featured at least in the Best British Film lineup, while BIFA winner Andrea Riseborough might have made the Best Actress cut for “Shadow Dancer” — here, they’re nowhere to be seen, ditched for the bigger but less beloved likes of “Anna Karenina” and “Seven Psychopaths.” Even the Carl Foreman Award (for first-time writers, directors and producers) was slightly less indie-friendly than usual, citing “The Muppets” director James Bobin over “Sightseers” scribes Alice Oram and Steve Lowe, and festival favorite Sally El Hosaini for “My Brother the Devil.”