BAFTA Awards: 'Boyhood' Shows Signs of Life With Big Wins After DGAs (Analysis)

A shutout for 'The Imitation Game' and another loss by 'Birdman' star Michael Keaton may signal the end of the line for those contenders' Oscar hopes.
Photo by Jonathan Short/Invision/AP
Tom Cruise, Jonathan Sehring, Ellar Coltrane, Cathleen Sutherland, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke and John Sloss after 'Boyhood's' BAFTA win

A weird awards season just got even weirder.

Just hours after Birdman's big win at the DGA Awards — hot on the heels of the dramedy's PGA and SAG wins — seemed to seal the coffin on all of its Oscar competition, Boyhood, which was once thought to be the Oscar frontrunner, reached out from beneath the soil and across the pond to collect the top two BAFTA Awards and wag a finger at those who had written it off for dead.

Read more BAFTA Awards: 'Boyhood' Wins Best Film, 'Grand Budapest Hotel' Gets Five Honors

But does Boyhood's little surge come too late to make a difference, in light of the fact that Birdman has already done so well with the top guilds? (Only one film has ever won the big three and not gone on to win the best picture Oscar, and that was Apollo 13 19 years ago.) And does BAFTA actually have a good track record of predicting Oscar winners?

With regard to the first question, I would argue that it's not at all too late to make a difference — the final round of Oscar voting only began on Friday and extends all the way until Feb. 17, meaning that BAFTA members' choices could, conceivably, sway the votes of some Academy members. With regard to the second, the answer is a little more complicated.

The membership of BAFTA, or the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, is comprised of roughly 6,500 people — almost exactly the same number as the Academy — and is believed to include most of the roughly 250 to 500 Academy members who are based in the U.K

For many years, its awards ceremony was largely ignored by Oscar-watchers — because from 1994-2000, it took place after the Academy had already dished out its own prizes. The two groups rarely agreed on their winners anyway, perhaps because BAFTA invited all of its members to determine the nominees in every category but only members of its specific branches to pick the winners from those branches' corresponding categories (except the four acting categories) — the exact opposite of how the Oscars are determined.

But, in the 21st century, BAFTA implemented changes that have made its ceremony a major stop on the awards circuit and more of an Oscars influencer. It moved its awards ceremony back before the Oscars in 2001 and adopted the same voting procedures as the Academy in 2012. The biggest difference these days is that BAFTA always has five nominees for its top prize, best film, whereas the Academy fluctuates — depending on vote totals — between five and 10 for its top prize, best picture. And the best film BAFTA winner is determined by a popular vote, not a preferential ballot, as is used by the Academy and the PGA.

See more The Making of 'Boyhood' With Richard Linklater and Ellar Coltrane

So, in light of all of the aforementioned information, what should one make of the results from the 68th BAFTA Awards?

It's definitely good news for Boyhood and its director Richard Linklater, who was upset at the DGA Awards on Saturday by Birdman's Alejandro G. Inarritu. That film's backers needed to stop the bleeding, as it were, and give a sign to Academy members that they wouldn't be throwing away a vote by supporting it in the best picture and/or best director Oscar races. And they have now done that.

Indeed, at the 14 BAFTA Awards that have taken place since the ceremony was moved up ahead of the Oscars, seven best film BAFTA winners went on to win the best picture Oscar — BAFTA went with The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Pianist, The Aviator, Brokeback Mountain, The Queen and Atonement, while the Academy opted for A Beautiful Mind, Chicago, Million Dollar Baby, Crash, The Departed and No Country for Old Men. And while only seven best director BAFTA winners went on to win the best director Oscar, one of them was The Pianist's Roman Polanski, an outcome anticipated by no other major awards group. Needless to say, Boyhood has to hope that it is this year's The Pianist, at the very least.

(For the record, Birdman's sole BAFTA win was for best cinematography — making this the second year in a row that the prize went to Emmanuel Lubezki, who could pick up a second consecutive Oscar, as well.)

When it comes to the acting categories, BAFTA doesn't always get it "right," in terms of honoring people that will go on to win an Oscar — heck, last year they didn't even nominate the eventual best actor and best supporting actor Oscar winners, Dallas Buyers Club's Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, respectively — but they do generally read the tea leaves pretty well when it comes to really close races. For example, they were the only group to anticipate Alan Arkin's best supporting actor Oscar win for Little Miss Sunshine (2006) and Tilda Swinton's best supporting actress Oscar win for Michael Clayton (2007).

This is all particularly good news for The Theory of Everything's Eddie Redmayne, who held off Birdman's Michael Keaton to win best actor at the SAG Awards and now at the BAFTA Awards, as well, and therefore seems right on track to win an Oscar. To that end, few are the contenders who have won both big "international" prizes — a Globe and a BAFTA, as Redmayne now has — but not an Oscar, at least in the years since the BAFTA Awards were moved back before the Oscars. That combo has predicted several recent Oscar "upset" or "even-money" winners: best supporting actor Jim Broadbent for Iris (2001), best actress Nicole Kidman for The Hours (2002), best actress Marion Cotillard for La Vie En Rose (2007), best actor Jean Dujardin for The Artist (2011), best actress Meryl Streep for The Iron Lady (2011) and best supporting actor Christoph Waltz for Django Unchained (2012). Indeed, the only times it has missed were when Globe and BAFTA prizes went to Bill Murray for Lost in Translation (2003), Clive Owen for Closer (2004) and Mickey Rourke for The Wrestler (2008), but the Academy sided with Sean Penn for Mystic River, Morgan Freeman for Million Dollar Baby and Penn again for Milk, respectively.

Read more Santa Barbara Film Fest: 'Boyhood's' Ethan Hawke, Patricia Arquette on Growing Up on Film

One must note, however, that when BAFTA has "missed," in terms of anticipating an Oscar winner, it has usually been the result of them siding in a close race with a British contender against an American — i.e. awarding Thandie Newton best supporting actress for Crash (2005), Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter best supporting actor and best supporting actress, respectively, for The King's Speech (2010) and Chiwetel Ejiofor best actor for 12 Years a Slave (2013). That should give Keaton a little bit of hope.

Other Oscar nominees who got good news at the BAFTA Awards certainly include Still Alice's Julianne Moore, who won best actress, Whiplash's J.K. Simmons, who won best supporting actor, and Boyhood's Patricia Arquette, who won best supporting actress — each has now won every major prize out there, including the Critics' Choice, Golden Globe, SAG and now BAFTA awards, and look absolutely unstoppable heading into the Oscars.

Additionally, The Grand Budapest Hotel, which went into the BAFTAs with a field-leading 11 noms, did very well. It held off both Birdman and Boyhood to win best original screenplay, and it cleaned up in the below-the-line categories with wins for its costme design, production design, makeup & hair and original music — all categories for which it is also nominated at the Oscars. (One caveat: at the BAFTAs composer Alexandre Desplat did not have to compete against himself for The Imitation Game, but he will have to do so at the Oscars.)

Whiplash, which BAFTA apparently liked even more than the Academy (i.e. giving Damien Chazelle a best director nom), had a strong showing, too, claiming not only the award for Simmons but also for [film] editing and sound. It is also nominated at the Oscars for best film editing and best sound mixing, the winners of which have corresponded with BAFTA's picks in five and nine of the last 14 years, respectively.

Citizenfour, the best documentary Oscar frontrunner, followed its best documentary direction DGA Award with a best documentary BAFTA win. (It topped last year's best documentary feature Oscar winner 20 Feet from Stardom and two of this year's other nominees, Finding Vivian Maier and Virunga.) Ida, the Polish entry for the best foreign language film Oscar, won the corresponding BAFTA prize. (It beat fellow nominee/Golden Globe winner Leviathan, but Wild Tales, which could represent an even bigger threat at the Oscars, was not nominated.) And Boogaloo and Graham, a best live-action short Oscar nominee, won best British short film, while The Bigger Picture, a best animated short Oscar nominee, won best best British short animation.

Finally, while one British historical period drama that is nominated for the best picture Oscar, The Theory of Everything, had a good day (winning not only for Redmayne's performance but also best British film and best adapted screenplay), the same cannot be said for another, The Imitation Game, which was shut out across the board. Its loss to Theory in the best British film category must have been particularly painful, since it suggests the film may have been even further away from a win in the best film category than its backers hoped it might be. Since it couldn't pull off an upset with its home crowd, it will be very hard for its backers to argue that it has a prayer going forward at the Oscars, something that the backers of Atonement were able to do seven years ago when their film beat No Country for Old Men at the BAFTAs.

It may now be incumbent upon them — and a number of others who have failed to bag major prizes, thus far — to apply a stiff upper lip for the next two weeks, until the biggest night of them all.

Twitter: @ScottFeinberg

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