Rules, Britannia

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When the Orange British Academy Film Awards are presented Sunday, it will be no surprise if British front-runner "Slumdog Millionaire" is named best picture. But will that automatically mean it's a slam dunk for an Oscar?

The answer is no -- first, because in recent history BAFTA (the British Academy of Film and Television Arts) has not always been in sync with the Oscars, and indeed seems to have grown further apart from them; and second, because BAFTA's rules mandate a voting process somewhat

different from the Oscars. Most Oscars

are chosen through a two-step procedure, with five nominees selected by each of the individual branches (actors choose actors, directors choose directors, etc.), after which the entire membership votes on the winners.

But BAFTA has a far more complicated methodology.

There are three steps in the BAFTA process. In the first, unlike the Oscars, registered voting BAFTA film members create a "long list," with 12 names chosen for each award. For most major categories, all members are allowed to submit up to 12 names. The ones with the most votes go through to the next stage.

In the second stage, each member is allowed to pick five names from this pool. Again, the candidates with the most votes become the official nominees.

In the third round, members vote for the winner.

Where BAFTA and the Oscars differ is not just in having a three-step process as opposed to two steps, but also in the matter of who votes when. For the Oscars, each individual branch puts forward its nominees; then the entire membership chooses the winner. With BAFTA, for the major categories -- best film, leading actor, leading actress, supporting actor, supporting actress and film-not-in-the-English-language -- the winner is chosen by the entire film voting membership.

But for other awards, it is the individual branches or "chapters" -- and in certain categories, a jury -- that pick the eventual winner from the nominations. That's even the case with the writer and director awards.

This procedure is one reason why BAFTA and the Oscar frequently part ways on the winners; another, of course, is that BAFTA is mainly made up of British nationals who inevitably favor home-grown films over Hollywood product -- such as "Slumdog Millionaire."

A glance at recent winners shows a heavy tilt toward European and British product, especially in the best picture category. Only four times in the past 11 years have the two organizations agreed on best picture, with 1998's "Shakespeare in Love," 1999's "American Beauty," 2000's "Gladiator" and 2003's "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" named the winner by each group. Three of those were directed by Brits, giving the lie to some insiders' belief that the British are more cynical when it comes to their own.

"It's unusual for a British film to get such a big 'we like it too' from BAFTA voters (in the main category)," says Jason Solomons, a critic and film commentator for the Observer, commenting on "Slumdog."

But recent history doesn't fully bear him out. Over the past four years, BAFTA (comprised, like the Academy, of around 6,000 members, including 1,500 voting members in the U.S.) and the Oscars have parted ways every time, with BAFTA favoring the British-made "Atonement" over "No Country For Old Men" in 2008 and the very British "The Queen" over "The Departed" (2007). It also opted for "Brokeback Mountain" over "Crash" (2006) and "The Aviator" over "Million Dollar Baby" (2005).

"Slumdog Millionaire," which tied "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" with 11 nominations this year, would therefore seem to have a clear edge, especially coming from British helmer Danny Boyle. But its popularity in the U.S. indicates this may be the first time in years that both organizations choose the same film.

Whoever wins, all the pictures are likely to benefit from their nominations. U.K. box-office for "Slumdog" shot up 44% in its second week of release after the BAFTA noms were unveiled; "Button," "Milk," "Frost/Nixon" and "The Reader" were all scheduled for general release near or after the BAFTA voting closed.

How the BAFTAs and the Oscars have stacked up against each other in the best picture race since 1998:

  BAFTA Oscars
2008 "Atonement" "No Country for Old Men"
2007 "The Queen" "The Departed"
2006 "Brokeback Mountain" "Crash"
2005 "The Aviator" "Million Dollar Baby"
2004 "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King"
2003 "The Pianist" Chicago"
2002 "The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" "A Beautiful Mind"
2001 "Gladiator" "Gladiator"
2000 "American Beauty" "American Beauty"
1999 "Shakespeare in Love" "Shakespeare in Love"
1998 "The Full Monty" "Titanic"
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