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Why the BAFTA Awards Should Make You Reconsider Your Oscar Picks (Analysis)

As 'Argo' solidifies frontrunner status for the best picture Oscar, best actress nominee Emmanuelle Riva ('Amour') and best supporting actor nominee Christoph Waltz ('Django Unchained') surge ahead in their categories.

Christopher Waltz Django Unchained - H 2012
The Weinstein Company

On Sunday, less than 24 hours after winning the USC Scripter Award for the year's best adapted screenplay (Chris Terrio), Warner Bros.' Argo won the BAFTA Awards for best film and best director (Ben Affleck), further cementing its status as the frontrunner for the best picture Oscar on Feb. 24.

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Though Lincoln received more total BAFTA nominations than Argo (10 to seven), it is not surprising that the latter won the organization's top two prizes based on the fact that Lincoln director Steven Spielberg was denied a best director nomination, whereas Affleck was nominated not only for best director (the category in which the Academy famously snubbed him) but also for best actor (a category in which no other awards group had opted to recognize him). The former may have just been too much of an American history lesson for European voters, whereas the latter probably benefited from its more international flavor and genre-blending plot.

The BAFTAs also brought encouraging news for best actress Oscar nominee Emmanuelle Riva (Amour), best supporting actress Oscar nominee Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained), best adapted screenplay Oscar nominee David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook) and best original screenplay Oscar nominee Quentin Tarantino (Django Unchained), each of whom home awards in their respective categories, which often presage Oscar wins. Unsurprisingly, BAFTA also awarded Daniel Day-Lewis (Lincoln) best actor, Anne Hathaway (Les Miserables) best supporting actress and Searching for Sugar Man best documentary feature, just like virtually every other awards group thus far.

Both the Scripter and BAFTA awards are of debatable value when it comes to predicting the Oscars, which are determined by the Academy, a group composed of 6,014 filmmakers from around the world.

The Scripter winner is chosen by a 43-person committee that includes some Academy members, but also a few critics and bloggers, who are not represented in the Academy. Only eight of its 24 previous winners went on to win the best adapted screenplay Oscar -- but four of those came in the last five years. The BAFTA Awards, meanwhile, are determined by 6,500 people, including many of the roughly 250 Academy members -- or 4% of the total membership -- who are reportedly based in the U.K., 155 of them in London. Only six of the 12 films that have won the best film BAFTA Award since the BAFTA ceremony was moved before the Oscars in 2000 went on to win the best picture Oscar -- but four of those came in the last four years.

BAFTA's most sterling overlap rate, of late, has come in the best actress category, which is why Riva's win should be taken very seriously. BAFTA anticipated six of the last seven best actress Oscar winners, including the two semi-upsets that SAG and many other awards groups missed, Marion Cotillard (La Vie En Rose) over Julie Christie (Away from Her) and Meryl Streep (The Iron Lady) over Viola Davis (The Help). The fact that BAFTA has once again endorsed a French-language performance by a Hollywood outsider, coupled with the fact that Riva won under the same voting system that the Academy employs (all BAFTA members got to vote for the winners in all categories this year for the first time), must give some pause to this year's SAG winner and presumptive Oscar frontrunner Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook). Riva will turn 86 on the day of the Academy Awards, and an Oscar win for her would not only be a great present, but would also make history: she would become the oldest winner of an acting Oscar in history, breaking the record set a year ago by Christopher Plummer (Beginners), who was 82 when he was named best supporting actor.

BAFTA has also predicted both the best supporting actor and best supporting actress Oscar winners in five of the last six years. Hathaway seems certain to make them six-for-seven in the latter category, but the former is more of a wide-open race, with Waltz winning the Golden Globe Award, Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master) winning the Critics' Choice Award, Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln) winning the SAG Award, Alan Arkin (Argo) potentially benefiting from the coattails of his popular film and Robert De Niro (Silver Linings Playbook) hitting the press circuit, of late, harder than any of them, but was not nominated for either a Golden Globe or BAFTA Award. (I guess non-Americans don't like him nearly as much as Americans do.)

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The BAFTA win for Waltz -- who won the BAFTA and Oscar in this same category three years ago for Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds (2009) -- may offer a clue of how that category is breaking. I, for one, have been predicting Waltz for some time now, based on my "tallest midget" theory, which has held up in recent years: the biggest performance (based on screen time) in the smallest acting category (supporting) will usually win. Waltz's character, while somewhat similar to the one he played in Basterds, is nonetheless the most colorful and interesting of the five Oscar nominees, save for perhaps Hoffman, whose film was embraced by the actors in the Academy but no other branch.

Tarantino, who also won the Golden Globe, and who I've also been predicting for the Oscar for weeks, should take heart from his BAFTA win over fellow Oscar nominees Wes Anderson (Moonrise Kingdom), Mark Boal (Zero Dark Thirty) and Michael Haneke (Amour), seeing as the best original screenplay BAFTA Award winner has gone on to win the best original screenplay Oscar in eight of the 12 years since the BAFTA ceremony was moved ahead of the Oscars.

In the same time span, the best adapted screenplay BAFTA Award winner has gone on to win the best adapted screenplay Oscar on six occasions, or half of the time. The fact that BAFTA voters gave this year's prize to Russell for Silver Linings over Chris Terrio for Argo and Tony Kushner for Lincoln -- in other words, over the scripts of the films they liked enough to awards them best film and the most nominations, respectively -- is certainly a noteworthy endorsement. Indeed, in light of this weekend's developments, Silver Linings may be more likely to score a major Oscar win in this category than any other.