Less than two weeks remain until the Academy Awards, and Sunday night brought the last major ceremony (excluding the Spirit Awards, which plays in a slightly different sandbox) before then: Oscar’s cousin from across the Atlantic, the BAFTAs. As you might have seen, “Gravity” won the most trophies, with six BAFTAs including Best Director and Best British Film, but it was “12 Years A Slave” that came away with the big prize of Best Film, while also picking up Best Actor for Chiwetel Ejiofor. The winners, losers, and everyone else in the British film industry are currently struggling to get over their hangovers, but for everyone else, the question lingers — how, if at all, does it affect the Oscar race?
If you’re someone who believes that the BAFTAs have little to no effect on Oscar voting, then you’re about a decade out of date. Since moving up the ceremony to before the Oscars at the turn of the millennium, the British organization have made a concerted effort to make their ceremony into an influential precursor to the Academy Awards, and the result is something that, while not doing an awful lot to support the British film industry (the days when “The Full Monty” swept the board and “Titanic” won nothing are long gone), has aligned more closely with the Oscar results. Last year, BAFTA and the Academy only differed on five categories — Best Director, Best Actress, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Music and Best Production Design.
There are of course, reasons to be skeptical here. Films with a certain home advantage are always better placed at BAFTA (see “Skyfall” and “Les Miserables” last year, for instance). Delayed UK release dates can sometimes means movies opening in February or later don’t register with voters even if they’re eligible (see the shut-out of “Dallas Buyers Club” and “Her” this time around). And perhaps most crucially, though the voting systems have become closer, there’s still enough differences that things won’t automatically line up.
But all that said, BAFTA has become increasingly proficient at showing the way towards certain surprises (see Christoph Waltz in Supporting or “Brave” for Animated Film last year, Meryl Streep over Viola Davis in 2012, Marion Cotillard and Tilda Swinton in 2008, and Alan Arkin in 2007), so it’s absolutely worth paying attention to. Not least because, this year, the late date for the Oscar ceremony means that final voting only just opened, so the BAFTA results have a real chance at impacting the final ballots of Academy members.
So, all that said, what are the key things to take away from last night? Here’s the five key things we’d take away.
1. “Gravity” will likely repeat at least five of the six wins it took last night.
With the Academy unlikely to introduce a Best British Film category any time soon, it’s impossible for “Gravity” to win everything it won in London at the Oscars in two weeks time. But of the five that it’s up for with the Academy, there’s every reason to think it’ll win those too. Visual Effects is obviously in the bag, as too is Cinematography — the film losing either would prove to be a real shocker. It’s the easy frontrunner for the Sound awards too, and probably also for Music (though “Her” could yet to be a dark horse in that category). And Alfonso Cuaron‘s victory in London also re-emphasizes what many have suspected for so long: whoever wins Best Picture (and it’s still wide open), Best Director is probably going that way too on Oscar night (Steve McQueen still has a chance, but an increasingly slim one after the DGA also went for Cuaron). “Gravity” could still also win Production Design, maybe Editing, and possibly Best Picture, so whatever happens, it’s likely to pick up the most wins on Oscar night.
2. Jennifer Lawrence struck a blow to Lupita Nyong’o last night, but it ain’t over yet.
When Jennifer Lawrence picked up Supporting Actress over anointed front-runner Lupita Nyong’o, it was one of the bigger upsets of the night, and many prognosticators are hastily changing their predictions as a result. It certainly demonstrates that it’s a two-horse race between the pair, and that Nyong’o, despite her SAG victory, doesn’t yet have the prize sewn up. But that’s always been the case, and there’s a few things that are, for now, making us stick to our guns and predict Nyong’o to pick up the Oscar. For one, Jennifer Lawrence didn’t win a BAFTA last year — unlike with the Oscars, she was beaten by “Amour” star Emmanuelle Riva. As such, BAFTA voters wouldn’t have had the same reservation that Academy voters might do, in terms of giving a second Oscar in two years to a 23-year old actress (and for a performance that’s cut from the same cloth as her turn in “Silver Linings Playbook“). Furthermore, Lawrence wasn’t at the ceremony, still knee-deep in the “Hunger Games: Mockingjay” shoot. As such, she wasn’t able to give another charmingly ditzy speech — and one of the things that precursor awards are most useful for, as we’ve said many times before, is letting winners give memorable speeches, that make voters want to reward them. But they’re also useful for revealing perceived injustices that need to be righted, and with Lawrence absence, Nyong’o remained the talk of the night (searching Twitter for “Lupita Nyong’o robbed” returned a fair few results). Oscar voters in the anti-“American Hustle” camp, who might have otherwise voted for June Squibb or Sally Hawkins, now have more reason to go for Nyong’o, as they realize that Lawrence is a greater threat than they might otherwise have believed. It’s still going to be close, but our gut is with Nyong’o for now.
3. Chiwetel Ejiofor and Barkhad Abdi probably won’t win, but they made good cases for why they should.
With “Dallas Buyers Club” going unloved from BAFTA, it meant that Oscar frontrunners Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto couldn’t win, so there was always going to be a chance for someone else to shine here. Barkhad Abdi was something of a surprise (Michael Fassbender had been tipped by many to take the BAFTA), but clearly a popular one when he won: there was a palpable love for the first-time actor in the room when he took the trophy. His sweet, modest speech made him even more likable, and gave a real reminder to Oscar voters of his remarkable rags-to-riches story. Jared Leto is still the frontrunner, but anyone looking for an excuse not to vote for him, has found one with Abdi. The Best Actor category is tougher. It’s arguably a four-way race at this point, with Matthew McConaughey remaining out in front, with the hype around “True Detective” going a long way to remind people of his remarkable career transformation. And had Leonardo DiCaprio, who’s been gathering steam in recent weeks, won the BAFTA, McConaughey might have been in more trouble. As it was, London boy Chiwetel Ejiofor took the prize, and while he certainly has a home advantage that puts him in a better place with BAFTA than the Academy, he also gave the best, and most moving speech of the night. His Oscar competition is stiff, but this keeps him very much in the race.
4. Don’t expect the Screenplay winners to necessarily match up.
If there’s likely to be a huge gulf between Oscar and BAFTA this year, it’ll be with the writing awards. “American Hustle” and “Philomena” took the prizes in London, and both are certainly viable as winners with the Academy too. But “American Hustle” had the advantage of not competing against “Her,” which wasn’t nominated by BAFTA, and which won the WGA and several other precursor awards. As is often the case, the screenplay categories can be something of a consolation prize for movies that people like, but not enough to win in other categories, and Jonze’s script fits that description perfectly when it comes to the Academy. That said, it’s possible that a win for “American Hustle” could also fit that description — aside from Lawrence, it’s a dark horse at best in most of its other nominated races, so it could be that voters honor its script in lieu of anything else. Again, it remains a tight race between the two. Meanwhile, “Philomena” is a well-liked script (also a winner at Venice), and very much a contender, but definitely had the home advantage, given Steve Coogan‘s star status in the UK. But at the Oscars, the script will have to beat WGA-winner “Captain Phillips” (penned by the well-liked Billy Ray, and again a possible consolation prize for a film that may not pick up anything else on the night), and “12 Years A Slave,” with “The Wolf Of Wall Street” also in the hunt. Our gut says that Alan Partridge won’t quite be an Oscar winner yet.
5. “12 Years A Slave” had an advantage with BAFTA that it doesn’t have with the Academy.
Last night was a nervous evening for those of us who believe that “12 Years A Slave” is a deserving Best Picture winner, as the film lost almost everything it was nominated for before taking the big prize (as it did at the Golden Globes). Fortunately, BAFTA voters came through, but differences in voting systems means that it might not be repeated. It’s true that BAFTA have matched up the winner of their top prize every year for the last five (though got it wrong the four before that). But BAFTA judge Best Film by only tallying up the first-choice votes, while the Academy now use a preferential voting system, where voters rank the films, and second and third and fourth choice votes from ballots that went with another movie first also make a difference. It’s a system that favors broad support, rather than the movie with the most passionate supporters. With “12 Years A Slave” being a tough watch, perhaps respected more than loved could it lose to something that’s more widely liked, like “Gravity” or “American Hustle?” Or will the system actually work in its favor — those who picked another film first wanting to lend some support to the movie, if only for the message it sends?
We’ll be finding out the answer to that, and many other questions, just under two weeks from now. But we’ll have lots more Oscar coverage between now and then for you. And as always, let us know your thoughts below.