Following the inaugural Academy Awards ceremony by a gap of 20 years—the former opened for business in 1929—the BAFTAs have often seemed to be a distant cousin to the Oscars’ main event. Indeed, as the event turned the corner into the early 2000s, the same question continued to be asked: what do the BAFTAs do differently? At the time, it was hard to say; for a long time the BAFTAs simply seemed to rubber-stamp whatever the Academy voted for, with the obvious nods towards a kind of heritage cinema: that is, anything with butlers, bonnets, corsets, carriages and terminal diseases (or preferably, the lot).
But in 2001 the BAFTAs took the bold step to jump forward from its usual fusty April slot and address the issue head-on. The results were surprising: BAFTA voters soon proved unexpectedly simpatico with their US counterparts and, to the industry, brought the major players a welcome, last-minute chance to assess the playing field on the last leg of the awards season. But as Pulp Fiction’s Vincent Vega would say, it’s “the little differences” that matter, and though this year comes close to the Oscar pattern, there are some surprising variations.
Take, for example, the Best Actress category. Missing from the BAFTA shortlist is one of BAFTA’s favorites: The Post star Meryl Streep, with 15 nominations and two wins since 1980, is noticeably absent from a list that otherwise mirrors Oscar perfectly. In her place, surprisingly, is another US actress snubbed in her homeland—Annette Bening, star of Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool. The story of the final years of faded Hollywood star Gloria Grahame—the kind of insider biopic, as well as talent, that normally grabs the Academy—Paul McGuigan’s film didn’t even dent the Oscars noms but, perhaps steered by respect for producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson of James Bond franchise fame, grabbed three key BAFTA nods, including one for Best Adapted Screenplay.
The third went to the film’s co-star Jamie Bell, who, in a similar situation to Bening, edged out the bookmakers’ favorite Denzel Washington for his part in Roman J. Israel, Esq. Interestingly, BAFTA voters maintained their appreciation for Daniel Day-Lewis by recognizing his performance in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread; if he wins, he will share the record (five) with the late Peter Finch, the posthumous Oscar-winning star of 1976 hit Network.
The supporting categories continue the one-in, one-out trend: in the Supporting Actor slot, The Shape of Water’s place is taken by British national treasure and Paddington 2 star Hugh Grant, whose first serious stab at the Oscar was jeopardized by original distributor The Weinstein Company’s decision to release the film in January (a move that its new owners, Warner Bros., stuck with). Meanwhile, a similar swap-out occurred in the Best Supporting Actress category, with Mary J. Blige (who appears in wartime period drama Mudbound) ceding to another triple-barrel threat, Kristin Scott Thomas (who appears in wartime period drama Darkest Hour).
The most noticeable differences occur in the documentary and foreign-language categories, which, in both cases, include only one common title each, US sports exposé Icarus and Russian entry Loveless respectively. Release date disparities in the US and UK charge a lot of these disagreements. But the Best Director category is where the BAFTA race will be most closely monitored. Failing to follow the Academy’s decision to include Greta Gerwig as a contender for Lady Bird, her solo directorial debut, the BAFTAs opted for a male-only director list, ditching also Jordan Peele (Get Out) and Phantom Thread’s Anderson. Into the mix, they’ve added Call Me by Your Name’s Luca Guadagnino and Three Billboards’ Martin McDonagh, neither strangers to the largely more cosmopolitan world of the BAFTAs.
The nearest thing approaching a shock, however, was reserved for the inclusion of Blade Runner 2049 director Denis Villeneuve. Though the film received a mixed reception critically and failed to blow up the box office, his inclusion in the Best Director list marks progress for the franchise. Despite routinely being acknowledged as one of greatest movies of all time—sci-fi, U.S. or U.K.—the 1982 original didn’t reap any rewards for its director, Ridley Scott, or even the film itself on either side of the Atlantic back in the day. If Villeneuve wins, and it will definitely be a long shot, the BAFTAs will have justify its place in the awards calendar as the one to watch: a disruptor of the traditional awards narrative.