BAFTA Embraces Surprises After Voting Overhaul
Art and Experience:
Until last year, handicapping the BAFTA nominees was a considerably more straightforward process. Given the British film awards ceremony’s ever-closer shadowing of the Academy Awards since moving to the Oscar precursor circuit 20 years ago, voters tended to mirror the pool of contenders across the pond, with the odd home-turf favorite granted a greater presence.
Last year’s nominations, however, were an excitingly different story, as concerns about the voting body’s limited diversity and conservative taste led BAFTA to hand over several major categories to select nominating committees rather than the group at large.
Suddenly, there were no safe bets, as expected acting nominees including Carey Mulligan, Viola Davis, Olivia Colman and Gary Oldman fell away, replaced with lesshyped standouts Wunmi Mosaku, Bukky Bakray, Adarsh Gourav and Niamh Algar. Among directors, it was out with eventual Oscar nominees David Fincher and Emerald Fennell, and in with arthouse wild cards Jasmila Žbanić and Shannon Murphy. The process certainly yielded greater diversity — twothirds of the acting nominations went to people of color, while a majority of the directors nominated were women — even if the final winners’ vote, handed over to BAFTA as a whole, was less so. This year, they’ll be hoping to build on that improvement.
The return of the nominating committees for this year’s acting and directing races makes for an unpredictable outlook in those categories, though best film, where mass voting prevails, has at least a few safe bets. Look for Kenneth Branagh’s “Belfast” to lead the field on a combination of home advantage and general awards-season momentum, while Jane Campion’s universally admired “The Power of the Dog” is also assured a spot. Support across BAFTA’s craft chapters should put Denis Villeneuve’s spectacular “Dune” across the threshold, though beyond that, the waters are murkier.
All-American favorites such as “King Richard” and “West Side Story” have been more quietly received in the U.K., which could be good news for Paul Thomas Anderson’s offbeat “Licorice Pizza,” Joel Coen’s highbrow “The Tragedy of Macbeth” (well-regarded in the U.K. since it closed the London Film Festival) or Pablo Larraín’s “Spencer” (though local Diana nostalgia didn’t propel it as far at the box office as hoped). The wild card to watch out for may in fact be the brash adult soap opera of “House of Gucci,” on the strength of recent BAFTA Fellowship honoree Ridley Scott’s popularity: back in 2007, he even got the Oscar-sidelined “American Gangster” into the best film race.
It’s all but impossible to second-guess the preferences and peculiarities of a small committee, where individual passions can sometimes override blander consensus. Still, let’s say that Campion looks the likeliest nominee here, while jurors will probably want to maintain last year’s healthy female presence in the category. That could work in favor of “The Souvenir Part II” helmer Joanna Hogg, a British critics’ darling never previously recognized by BAFTA, and either or both of this year’s acclaimed, Netf lix-backed debuts from actors-turned-directors, Rebecca Hall’s “Passing” and Maggie Gyllenhaal’s “The Lost Daughter.” If they’re feeling especially daring, Frenchwoman Julia Ducournau could pop here for her flashy, Palme d’Or-winning provocation “Titane.”
Among the players with corresponding buzz in the best film race, Branagh, Villeneuve, Anderson, Coen or Scott would all be unsurprising nominees, but equally unsurprising omissions — especially if the committee looks to further diversify the category with a world-cinema favorite such as current critics’ darling Ryûsuke Hamaguchi (“Drive My Car”) or veteran Pedro Almodóvar (“Parallel Mothers”). Finally, British newcomer Aleem Khan recently swept the board at the British Independent Film Awards with his moving culture-clash drama “After Love,” and is just the kind of homegrown indie talent that the committee might like to reward.
After Mulligan missed the cut last year, it’d be foolish to think of anyone as locked for a nomination in the acting categories. Still, there’s no reason to bet against Kristen Stewart being nominated for her inspired interpretation of an enduring British national treasure in “Spencer,” or against four-time BAFTA winner Colman’s raw, psychologically complex turn in “The Lost Daughter.” (She may have been surprisingly passed over for “The Father” last year, but this is a more dazzling showcase for her gifts.) Oscarbuzzed names like Penélope Cruz (“Parallel Mothers”), Nicole Kidman (“Being the Ricardos”) and reigning BAFTA champ Frances McDormand (“The Tragedy of Macbeth”) are also firmly in the mix, but last year’s outcome suggests the committee favors underdogs over megastars, which could also see Lady Gaga (“House of Gucci”) miss the cut in favor of less talked-about performances.
With that in mind, long-serving character actor and recent BIFA winner Joanna Scanlan has a strong chance of showing up for her shattering turn as a white Muslim widow uncovering her husband’s double life in “After Love.” Another BIFA nominee, “The Nest,” made waves in the U.K. a year after its U.S. awards run, meaning Carrie Coon could be a beneficiary. “Passing” is the kind of delicate work that fares better with a select voting body, so Tessa Thompson could well leapfrog some flashier turns to a nom. This also gives a boost to acclaimed non-English-language performances lagging behind in the buzz stakes: if there’s a moment for Cannes breakouts Renate Reinsve (“The Worst Person in the World”), Agathe Rousselle (“Titane”) or border-blurring icon Tilda Swinton (“Memoria”) to show up at a major awards-season pitstop, it’s here.
It’d be a shock if hometown favorite Benedict Cumberbatch isn’t nominated for his electric, against-type performance in heavyweight best film contender “The Power of the Dog,” while Will Smith’s ingratiating portrayal of tennis dad Williams in “King Richard” will likely charm the committee, however the film fares with BAFTA’s general body. It’s one of biggest indications of the cultural chasm between BAFTA and AMPAS that nine-time Oscar nominee Denzel Washington has never been up for a BAFTA: look for the committee to make amends by finally nominating him for going Shakespearean in “The Tragedy of Macbeth.” Another Brit, Andrew Garfield, may find favor for his bravura musical turn in “Tick, Tick … Boom!”
Wild cards to look out for? Stephen Graham is one of the country’s most revered character actors, and he’s on roaring form as a spiraling chef in the one-take restaurant drama “Boiling Point.” Adeel Akhtar, who defeated GraGutter Credit ham at the BIFAs for his turn in the interracial love story “Ali and Ava,” could land a nomination in recognition of a year that saw him show up in multiple high-profile U.K. indies. One of those, “The Nest,” could also score here for Jude Law. Other possibilities include Riz Ahmed (“Encounter”), Simon Rex (“Red Rocket”), Nicolas Cage (“Pig”) and James Norton (“Nowhere Special”).
As with last year’s supporting categories, expect any surprises amid the already fancied season front-runners to come from the British indie realm. So while any combination of Ruth Negga (“Passing”), Kirsten Dunst (“The Power of the Dog”), Aunjanue Ellis (“King Richard”), Ariana DeBose (“West Side Story”) and Caitriona Balfe and/or Judi Dench (“Belfast”) could make the list, expect at least a couple of them to fall to the likes of Vinette Robinson (a deserved BIFA winner for “Boiling Point”), Kathryn Hunter (“The Tragedy of Macbeth”), Swinton (“The Souvenir Part II”) or the “Mass” duo of Martha Plimpton and Ann Dowd.
Possibly the most open and unformed of all the acting races so far, though you’d expect the committee to gravitate toward Kodi Smit-McPhee’s haunting presence in “The Power of the Dog” and deaf actor Troy Kotsur in the Sundance-lauded heartwarmer “CODA” — the kind of beloved U.S. indie that could overperform or slip through the cracks entirely with BAFTA. “Belfast” stars Jamie Dornan and Ciaran Hinds have been performing well in other precursors, though one suspects the committee, looking to spread the wealth, might not find room for both: this is a ripe opportunity for left-field scene-stealers including Richard Ayoade (“The Souvenir Part II”) and Colman Domingo (“Zola”), or for Jason Isaacs, the British member of the powerhouse “Mass” quartet.