Magazine article Variety

Heavyweights Still Rule at Bafta Awards

Magazine article Variety

Heavyweights Still Rule at Bafta Awards

Article excerpt

It's been 17 years since the BAFTA Awards crucially shifted their place in the awards calendar. For decades, they had taken place in the springtime, as a kind of quirky afterthought to the glossier Oscars, their voting only occasionally accounting for the trends set by other awards bodies: it was a time when such films as "Jean de Florette" and "The Commitments" could emerge victorious in the top races, after sitting out the Oscars entirely.

In 2001, however, it moved back to February, preceding Oscar night by several weeks, and the game changed entirely: the BAFTAs joined the ever-expanding ranks of Oscar precursors, eventually changing even its branch-led voting system to align more with AMPAS rules. Its choices, in the process, have grown less singular too: In the past decade, 70% of BAFTA's choices in the film, direction and acting categories have gone on to win the Oscar. Differences in collective taste may still emerge - the British and U.S. academies haven't agreed on a best film winner since "12 Years a Slave," for example - but the same front-runners, frequently American, tend to rule the roost on both shores.

This year's slate, however, sees BAFTA claiming back its Britishness. A year ago, a single U.K. production, Ken Loach's arthouse outlier "I, Daniel Blake," cracked the best film lineup; this year, it's dominated by homegrown fare. Certainly, a heavy presence was to be expected for Christopher Nolan's war epic "Dunkirk" (eight nominations) - a robustly patriotic homecoming for the British blockbuster merchant after years in Hollywood - and British- Irish firebrand Martin McDonagh's American-set but decidedly British-produced small-town tragicomedy "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" (nine nominations). Both films have long been hotly fancied in the Oscar race, with the latter emerging as the one to beat following its emphatic triumphs at the Golden Globes and Screen Actors' Guild Awards in January.

But the whopping nine-nom haul for Joe Wright's booming Winston Churchill biopic "Darkest Hour" came as something of a surprise to onlookers. Its veteran star Gary Oldman may have been marked as the lead actor front-runner since the film premiered in Telluride last autumn, but it's struggled to find traction in other categories with American awards bodies: Oldman aside, the Globes, guilds and critics' groups largely passed on its old-school prestige. …

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