Until last year, the handicap of BAFTA candidates was a much more visible process. As the British Film Awards have shaded the Academy Awards more closely than at any time since moving to the Oscars circuit 20 years ago, voters have tended to reflect the pool of contestants across the pond, with the odd house favorite giving a greater presence.
However, last year’s nominations were a dramatically different story, as concerns about the limited diversity of the Electoral College and conservative taste led the BAFTA to hand over several major categories for selecting nominating committees rather than the group as a whole.
Suddenly, there were no safe bets, as would be expected of acting nominees including Carey Mulligan, Viola Davis, Olivia Colman and Gary Oldman, replacing the lesser-known Superstar and Nami Musaku, Bucky Buckray, Adarsh Gaurav and Niamh Algar. Among the directors, the film came out with Academy Award finalists David Fincher and Emerald Fennell, and Art House wild cards Yasmila Obanić and Shannon Murphy. The process certainly resulted in greater diversity – two-thirds of acting nominations went to people of color, while the majority of the directors nominated were women – even if the final winners’ vote, which was handed over to the BAFTA as a whole, was lower. This year, they will hope to build on that improvement.
The return of this year’s acting and directing races to the Nominating Committees is bringing an unexpected look into those categories, although the best movie, where mass voting reigns supreme, has at least some safe bets. Look to Kenneth Branna’s ‘Belfast’ to lead the field with a mixture of home advantage and the overall momentum of awards season, while Jane Campion’s globally acclaimed ‘The Power of the Dog’ is also guaranteed. Support across the BAFTA literal chapters should put Denis Villeneuve’s stunning ‘Dune’ across the threshold, although further afield, the water is more murky.
All-American favorites like “King Richard” and “West Side Story” have been received more quietly in the UK, which may be good news for Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Licorice Pizza”, Joel Coen’s much-acclaimed “The Tragedy of Macbeth” in the UK since it ended the London Film Festival) or Pablo Larren’s “Spencer” (although Diana’s domestic nostalgia didn’t push it to the box office as hoped). The wild card to watch might actually be the raucous adult drama “House of Gucci,” based on the strength of the popularity of the BAFTA Fellowship that Ridley Scott has been honored with: Back in 2007, he took home the “American Gangster” Oscar in best race Movies.
It is almost impossible to speculate on the preferences and characteristics of a small committee, since sometimes individual emotions can overcome the pleasant consensus. However, suppose Campion seems the most likely candidate here, while the jurors will probably want to maintain last year’s healthy female presence in this category. That could work for “The Souvenir Part II” maid Joanna Hogg, the British critics’ darling who has never been recognized by BAFTA, and one or both backed appearances by Netf lix this year from actors-turned-directors, “transient” Rebecca Hall and “daughter” The Lost” by Maggie Gyllenhaal. If they’re feeling particularly daring, French Julia Ducornu could stand out here for her flashy, Palme-winning ‘Titane’ provocation.
Among the players with similar fanfare in the Best Movie Race, Branagh, Villeneuve, Anderson, Coen or Scott would all be unsurprising nominees, but also unsurprisingly omitted — especially if the panel looked to further diversify the category with one World favorites such as current critics’ favorite Ryûsuke Hamaguchi (“Drive My Car”) or veteran Pedro Almodóvar (“Parallel Mothers”). Finally, British newcomer Alim Khan recently enticed the board of directors at the British Independent Film Awards with his culture-crushing animated drama After Love, just the kind of local talent the jury might want to reward.
After Mulligan missed the cut last year, it would be foolish to consider anyone locked in for a nomination in the acting categories. However, there’s no reason to bet a Kristen Stewart nomination for her inspiring interpretation of enduring British national treasure in “Spencer,” or against the raw, psychologically complex role of four-time BAFTA Award winner Coleman in “The Lost Daughter.” (She may have been surprisingly overtaken by last year’s The Father, but this is an even more dazzling display of her gifts.) Oscar’s names like Penélope Cruz (“Parallel Mothers”), Nicole Kidman (“Being the Ricardos”) and BAFTA Champion Frances McDormand (“Parallel Mothers”). “The Tragedy of Macbeth”) is also firmly in the mix, but last year’s results suggest the panel favors the underdogs over the big stars, which may also see Lady Gaga (“House of Gucci”) miss out on less talked-about shows.
With that in mind, long-serving personal actress and recent BIFA winner Joanna Scanlan has a solid chance of posing in her broken-down role as a white Muslim widow who reveals her husband’s double life in “After Love.” Another BIFA nominee, The Nest, made waves in the UK a year after the US awards were launched, which means Carrie Cohn could be a beneficiary. “Passing” is the kind of precision action that does best with a select voting body, so Tessa Thompson could jump some brighter turns into the name. This also gives a boost to acclaimed non-English-language shows that are lagging behind in stakes: if there’s ever been a breakout moment in Cannes, Rinat Rensev (“The Worst Person in the World”), Agathe Russell (“Titan”) or Frontier-Done Icon blackout Tilda Swinton (“Memoria”) to make a major stop for award season, here it is.
It would be a shock if hometown favorite Benedict Cumberbatch wasn’t nominated for his electric versus performance in top heavyweight contender ‘Dog Power’, while Will Smith’s elaborate portrayal of tennis dad Williams in ‘King Richard’ is likely to attract the commission, but the movie fits with BAFTA General Authority. It’s one of the biggest indicators of the cultural gulf between BAFTA and AMPAS that nine-Oscar nominee Denzel Washington has never won a BAFTA: find the committee to amend it by nominating him to finally go to Shakespearean in “The Tragedy of Macbeth.” Another Briton, Andrew Garfield, may find plaudits for his gritty musical role in “Tick, Tick…Boom!”
Unruly papers to look for? Stephen Graham is one of the country’s most respected actors, and he’s on the loose as a rising chef in the one-off restaurant drama “Boiling Point.” Adil Akhtar, who defeated GraGutter credit ham at BIFA for his role in the interracial love story “Ali and Ava,” could earn a nomination in recognition of the year that saw him appear on several high-profile UK islands. One of those, “The Nest,” can also score here for Jude Law. Other possibilities include Riz Ahmed (“Meet”), Simon Rex (“Red Rocket”), Nicolas Cage (“Pig”) and James Norton (“No Special Place”).
As with last year’s Supporting Classes, expect any surprises to come among the contestants in an already impressive season from the British indie world. So, while any combination of Ruth Negga (“Passing”), Kirsten Dunst (“Dog Power”), Unjano Ellis (“King Richard”), Ariana Deboss (“West Side Story”), Caitriona Balf and/or Judy Dench can be (“Belfast”) is on the list, with at least two of them expected to fall to the likes of Vineet Robinson (BIFA Award Winner for “Boiling Point”), Kathryn Hunter (“The Tragedy of Macbeth”), and Swinton (“The Souvenir Part”). II”) or the duo “Mass” by Martha Plimpton and Ann Dodd.
It’s probably the most open and undistorted acting race to date, though you’d expect the panel to gravitate toward Kodi Smit-McPhee’s haunting presence in “The Power of the Dog” and deaf actor Troy Kotsur in Sundance-the heartwarmer “CODA”— The kind of beloved American indie music that can totally outperform or slip through the gaps with BAFTA. “Belfast” stars Jamie Dornan and Ciaran Hinds did well in the other precursors, though one suspects that the commission, looking to distribute wealth, might not find room for both: this is a ripe opportunity for left-wing thieves including Richard Ayoade (” The Souvenir Part II”) and Colman Domingo (“Zola”), or for Jason Isaacs, the British member of the powerful “Mass” quartet.