For a while, as the British Film Academy was spreading out the awards today and frontrunner La La Land (which came in with a leading 11 nominations) had lost five out of the first six that it was up for, I thought maybe BAFTA was pulling their own kind of Brexit and going their own way this awards season. It certainly turned out to be a momentarily stressful situation for Lionsgate, as the musical that has scored big wins consistently with the Critics’ Choice, Golden Globes, PGA, DGA and elsewhere was not sweeping along as anticipated.
There is no question BAFTA voters were in a mood to give a little something to everyone. But in the end the headlines are the same, and La La Land is the main player in all of them with its five BAFTAs for Film, Leading Actress Emma Stone (replicating her SAG and Globe wins to become the clear frontrunner for Oscar), Director for Damien Chazelle, Music and Cinematography.
Although BAFTA did do their own Brexit for the past two years and separated from the American Academy by choosing The Revenant and Boyhood for Best Film over respective eventual Oscar winners Spotlight and Birdman, there was a six-year period before that where the two Academys matched up perfectly with their Best Picture choices. There are hundreds of voters in common in both groups, but I wouldn’t say BAFTA is a bigger indicator of Oscar success than the various guilds are, and with La La dominating all of this year’s key precursors so far, you can take it to the bank that a big night on February 26 is in store for Chazelle and company, just as it was today in jolly ol’ England.
The bigger question now is how big. Initially I was thinking that after coming in with a record-tying 14 Oscar nominations La La might pull off one of the bigger sweeps in a while — or at least since Slumdog Millionaire won eight in 2008, or Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King went 11-for-11 in 2003. But recent Oscar results suggest, and as BAFTA did today, more modest expectations should be in store and voters may be more diligent in picking and choosing where to show the love (unlike the complete 7-for-7 La La sweep at the Globes, for example). British voters wanted to give something to everyone it seems, so La La rivals Hacksaw Ridge won Editing, Arrival got Sound, Manchester By The Sea got Actor for Casey Affleck and Original Screenplay. Even lesser rivals like Jackie took costume design over La La’s contemporary fashions (which always is tough to overcome in that category). By the way, I am not sure about the adulation for Madeline Fontaine’s BAFTA-winning and Oscar-nominated Costume Design work on Jackie. Basically the film just re-creates Jacqueline Kennedy’s already famous outfits. If the category was called Best Costume Redesign, she would have my vote in a walk.
As for the BAFTA Production Design victory for local favorite Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them, there is a little silver lining there for La La Land which took the Contemporary Design win at last night’s Art Directors Guild awards, while Fantastic Beasts lost in its Fantasy category. And similarly, Tom Cross took his Musical/Comedy category at the ACE Eddies a couple of weeks ago, while BAFTA Editing winner Hacksaw Ridge did not in Drama where Arrival beat it. It seems like differences abound between the guilds and BAFTA this year, which could complicate things for Oscar prognosticators.
The biggest loser of the day in terms of momentum was clearly Moonlight, which was blanked for each of its four nominations including Best Film. Barry Jenkins wasn’t even nominated in the Director category, and lost in Original Screenplay to Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester By The Sea (Manchester and Lion was the only other multiple BAFTA winners; each had two trailing La La’s quintet).
A silver lining for this eight-time nominated Moonlight is it doesn’t have to compete at the Oscars against Manchester or La La in Original Screenplay as it was deemed by the Academy’s Writers Branch to be adapted. After a victory at last night’s USC Scripter Awards (given for adaptations), it has become the clear front runner in that category — it beat BAFTA winner Lion there. The last six victors at USC have gone on to win the Adapted Screenplay Oscar. Next week’s WGA Awards, the last of major guilds to weigh in, won’t be as meaningful in this regard as Moonlight is competing there as an Original just as it was at BAFTA. Confused yet?
SAG supporting actor winner Mahershala Ali’s loss at BAFTA to local favorite Dev Patel of Lion (he was a regular in the British series Skins) might also be a temporary blip as he is still favored to take the Oscar even though he has now lost at both BAFTA and the Globes, though to different actors (Globes winner Aaron Taylor-Johnson was up for a BAFTA, but not an Oscar). As for Casey Affleck’s expected win in Britain, he got it, and with it some renewed momentum in a tight Best Actor race with Denzel Washington who was not nominated at BAFTA but surprised Affleck with a SAG win two Sundays ago. Was SAG, usually reliably predictive in the Best Actor Oscar race, just a bump in the road for Affleck or a continuing sign of trouble?
Washington, meanwhile, picked up another honor of his own this weekend at the NACCP Image Awards where he took Best Actor. His co-star Viola Davis continued to engrave her Supporting Actress win at the Oscars by cashing in on Fences’ only BAFTA nomination. Stick a fork in it; that category is decided. Ava DuVernay’s Documentary win at BAFTA gives her chances for 13th a boost, even though perceived main Oscar rival O.J. Made In America was not a BAFTA nominee; 13th also triumphed at the Image Awards. The Kubo And The Two Strings victory for Animated Feature is a setback for frontrunner Zootopia (known as Zootropolis in the UK), but it was competing against three Disney films which may have split the vote there. Still, it is a plus for Kubo and Laika which has been nominated four out of four films for the Animated Oscar but is still looking a win. Since the BAFTA awards started the Animated Feature category in 2006 they have matched the eventual Oscar winner every time with the exception of 2014 when The Lego Movie won but was not even nominated for an Oscar.
So with Oscar balloting officially beginning Monday, will the BAFTA results mean even more momentum for the frontrunner, or a crack in the door for some of those others which helped keep it from a clean sweep? If an upset is in the cards, at this point it would be one of the biggest of all time. We will know in just two weeks.