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BAFTA Awards Offers Some Clues, Some Decoys About Oscar Race (Analysis)

THR awards analyst Scott Feinberg delves into the history of the BAFTA Awards to expose biases that keep them from predicting the Oscars more accurately.

Meryl Streep Iron Lady Car - H 2012
The Weinstein Company

The British Academy of Film and Television Arts handed out its 65th annual BAFTA Awards this afternoon across the pond, and many of the same folks who will congregate at the Oscars two weeks from today were in attendance. Of course, the question now on all of their minds -- and ours -- is whether or not the American Academy will annoint the same major winners as the British Academy: The Artist for best picture, Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist) for best director; Jean Dujardin (The Artist) for best actor; Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady) for best actress; Christopher Plummer (Beginners) for best supporting actor; and Octavia Spencer (The Help) for best supporting actress.

Here's my take...

It is important to take the BAFTA Awards seriously -- after all, studio awards strategists estimate that 20% of the Academy is composed of Brits -- but it is equally important to familiarize oneself with its history, which quite clearly reveals certain biases on the part of BAFTA voters that manifest themselves time after time, and in so doing keep them from having an even closer stronger correlation with the Academy.

PHOTOS: The Making of 'The Artist'

The BAFTA Awards used to take place after the Academy Awards, which was pretty anti-climactic, since most people value recognition at the latter much more than the former. So, starting in 2002 (the ceremony honoring from 2001), BAFTA moved up its ceremony ahead of the Oscars. Therefore, the only stats that are really relevant -- and that I refer to below -- are those from the last completed 10 awards seasons.

STORY: 'The Artist' Rules at the BAFTA Awards

1. BAFTA Award Nominations Are Much More Crucial Than BAFTA Award Wins

Over the past decade, BAFTA and the Academy have chosen the same best picture only 4 of 10 times (but each of the last three); best director 5 of 10 times; best actor 7 of 10 times; best actress 8 of 10 times; best supporting actor 4 of 10 times; and best supporting actress 8 of 10 times.

But, while plenty of films and people have lost a BAFTA Award for which they were nominated but still won the corresponding Oscar, it is virtually unheard of these days for a film or person to win an Oscar without having at least been nominated for its corresponding BAFTA Award (barring extenuating circumstances like a film not being released in time to be eliglbe for consideration) -- indeed, only twice over the last five years has a major BAFTA Award gone to something/someone not nominated for the corresponding Oscar: best cinematography for Pan's Labyrinth (2006) and best makeup for Alice in Wonderland (2010).

That, of course, does not bode well for the Oscar prospects of best picture nominees Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Hugo, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, and War Horse; best director nominees Woody Allen (Midnight in Paris), Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life), and Alexander Payne (The Descendants); best actor nominee Demian Bichir (A Better Life); best actress nominees Glenn Close (Albert Nobbs) and Rooney Mara (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo); best supporting actor nominees Nick Nolte (Warrior) and Max von Sydow (Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close); and best supporting actress nominee Janet McTeer (Albert Nobbs).

2. In Close Races, BAFTA Usually Rewards British Films and People, Whereas the Academy Doesn't

Over the 10 awards seasons since BAFTA moved its ceremony ahead of the Academy's, the tastes of the two organizations have increasingly overlapped. (This may be a byproduct of the increase in other awards shows that precede both of theirs, which tend to establish a clear set of frontrunners early in the season.) When their winners do differ, though, it tends to be the result of British voters seeking to champion their own. Consider the following examples of BAFTA choices that were subsequently reversed by the Academy...

  • Best picture: The Queen over The Departed five years ago; Atonement over No Country for Old Men four years ago
  • Best director: Mike Leigh (Vera Drake) over Clint Eastwood (Million Dollar Baby), who wasn't even nominated by BAFTA (probably due to the late release of his film)
  • Best actor: Colin Firth (A Single Man) over Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart) two years ago
  • Best actress: Imelda Staunton (Vera Drake) over Hilary Swank (Million Dollar Baby), who wasn't even nominated by BAFTA (probably due to the late release of her film), seven years ago; Carey Mulligan (An Education) over Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side), who wasn't even nominated by BAFTA, two years ago
  • Best supporting actor: Bill Nighy (Love, Actually) over Tim Robbins (Mystic River) eight years ago; Clive Owen (Closer) over Morgan Freeman (Million Dollar Baby), who wasn't even nominated by BAFTA (probably due to the late release of his film), seven years ago; Geoffrey Rush (The King's Speech) over Christian Bale (The Fighter), an example of BAFTA choosing a foreign guy for a hometown film over a hometown guy for a foreign film, last year
  • Best supporting actress: Helena Bonham Carter (The King's Speech) over Melissa Leo (The Fighter) last year

This leads me to believe that today's BAFTA Award for Streep, in particular, should be regarded with caution. Would she have won had she not portrayed a former British prime minister in a British film? I'm not so sure. (I still think that The Help's Viola Davis, who beat Streep to win the Critics' Choice Award and SAG Award, is the likelier winner at the Oscars.) I also doubt that Peter Straughan and his late wife Bridget O'Connor, who won the best adapted screenplay BAFTA Award today for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, will be even remotely as competitive at the Oscars.

3. The BAFTA Awards Have Served As a Bellwether for Some Surprising Oscar Outcomes

When BAFTA has given BAFTA Awards to non-Brits who hadn't previously been widely recognized, they have often presaged the Academy doing the same. Consider the following examples:

  • Best director: Roman Polanski (The Pianist) nine years ago
  • Best actress: Marion Cotillard (La Vie En Rose) four years ago
  • Best supporting actor: Alan Arkin (Little Miss Sunshine) five years ago
  • Best supporting actress: Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton) four years ago

There were no major examples of this sort of thing happening this year. The closest thing? BAFTA's decision to recognize Hazanavicius -- an unknown to most people until this past year -- over the legendary Martin Scorsese (Hugo), who they liked enough to present with a BAFTA Fellowship this year. With seals of approval from the DGA and now BAFTA, it seems as likely as ever that Hazanavicius will hold off Scorsese and his other A-list competition -- Allen, Malick, and Payne -- in the best director category at the Oscars.

THE BOTTOM LINE:

My guess, at least as of this moment, is that the winners of five of the eight major BAFTA Awards -- The Artist for best picture, Hazanavicius for best director, Dujardin for best actor, Plummer for best supporting actor, and Spencer for best supporting actress -- will repeat at the Oscars.

I expect, however, that Davis will manage to hold off Streep and win best actress; that Payne, Nat Faxon, and Jim Rash's script for The Descendants or Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian's script (from Stan Chervin's story) for Moneyball will top Straughan and O'Connor's script for Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy to win best adapted screenplay; and that Allen's script for Midnight in Paris will outscore Hazanavicius' script The Artist to win best original screenplay.