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The 67th BAFTA Awards, one of the last major awards ceremonies before the Academy Awards, took place Sunday night in London — and the results were all over the place. Among other things: 12 Years a Slave‘s lead actor Chiwetel Ejiofor and Captain Phillips‘ supporting actor Barkhad Abdi now have awards on their shelves, American Hustle‘s supporting actress Jennifer Lawrence and original screenplay are back in the winners’ circle after recent cold streaks, and Blue Jasmine‘s lead actress Cate Blanchett and Gravity‘s director Alfonso Cuaron continue their unbeaten streaks — but 12 Years, after a poor showing for most of the night, finished things with a bang, winning best film.
But, in terms of anticipating what will happen at the Oscars, does any of this mean anything? Yes and no.
BAFTA, or the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, is composed of 6,500 people, including many of the roughly 250 Academy members who are based in the U.K. For many years, its awards ceremony was largely ignored by Oscar-watchers: From 1994-2000, it took place after the Academy had already dished out its little gold men, and besides, for many years, its picks deviated considerably from the Academy’s, since it 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, quite possibly, an Oscars influencer: It moved its awards back before the Oscars in 2001 and adopted the same voting procedures as the Academy in 2012. Consequently, this year, BAFTA announced its winners roughly 48 hours after Oscar voting commenced, meaning that BAFTA members’ choices could, conceivably, sway the votes of some Academy members.
So what did — and didn’t — they choose and why?
This year, Gravity landed more BAFTA nominations than any other film, with 11, but 12 Years a Slave was only one behind, which pretty much confirmed those films’ status as the top two contenders. Both were nominated for best film. Strangely, though, 12 Years a Slave, a film with a British director and largely British cast, was not also nominated for best British film — the second top prize, in a sense — but Gravity, a film with virtually no Brits among its principal talent, but with a British producer, was. (Philomena was the only other film to score noms in both categories.) One might assume that this was a good thing for Gravity, but, in fact, I would argue that it was not, because it presented voters with a chance to recognize Gravity in one category and 12 Years in the other. 12 Years may well have won best film anyway, but this didn’t help Gravity‘s cause.
(Also worth noting: the BAFTA best film winner is not determined with a preferential ballot, while the best picture Oscar and the top PGA Award, which Gravity recently won, are.)
An even weirder BAFTA anomaly was the group’s failure to even nominate the heretofore unbeaten frontrunners for the best actor and best supporting actor Oscars, Dallas Buyers Club‘s Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, respectively. The indie AIDS drama wasn’t screened very much in London prior to the nominations — it has since opened and gone over pretty well there — which might somewhat explain its absence. But the bottom line is that BAFTA’s snubs of its stars created openings for others to step into the spotlight and perhaps pick up some momentum late in the season, which is very dangerous for a frontrunner, especially with many industry insiders and outsiders tiring of the same old storylines.
While I don’t think that Abdi, who ended up winning Leto’s category, poses much of a threat to him at the Oscars — in fact, I thought 12 Years‘ Michael Fassbender was more likely to win the BAFTA prize, but if he couldn’t win here he’s finished at the Oscars — I can’t say the same about Ejiofor for McConaughey. It’s tough to maintain frontrunner status for as long as McConaughey has, and Ejiofor makes for a compelling alternative; he carries the movie that could win best pic and he would be just the fifth black man to ever win the best actor Oscar. Also nipping at McConaughey’s heels: popular Leonardo DiCaprio (The Wolf of Wall Street) and sentimental choice Bruce Dern (Nebraska) — although today was Leo’s day to strike, as Wolf was sizzling hot at the British box office as BAFTA voting took place, and it must be said that its failure to win here, without McConaughey present, is not a good sign for his prospects. So, at the end of the day, I’m still betting on McConaughey to take home the Oscar — but it’s no slam-dunk.
Perhaps the most surprising result of the night came in the best supporting actress category, which has been won at every other major awards show by 12 Years‘ acclaimed newcomer Lupita Nyong’o, save for the star-loving Golden Globes, which opted for A-lister Lawrence. With the more Oscar-predictive Critics’ Choice and SAG awards under her belt, Nyong’o was starting to look like a safe bet. But the fact that Lawrence — whom BAFTA did not honor last year when she was en route to winning the best actress Oscar, opting for Amour‘s Emmanuelle Riva instead — pulled off a win Sunday is a statement that is pretty hard to ignore.
Few are the contenders who have won both Globe and BAFTA awards but not won the Oscar 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 for best actor Bill Murray for Lost in Translation (2003), best supporting actor hopeful Clive Owen for Closer (2004) and best actor hopeful Mickey Rourke for The Wrestler (2008).
BAFTA doesn’t always get it “right,” but they do generally read the tea leaves pretty well when it comes to close races — i.e. 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). And when they miss, it is usually by playing favorites with a British contender or a star thereof — i.e. awarding Thandie Newton best supporting actress for Crash (2005) or Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter best supporting actor and best supporting actress, respectively, for The King’s Speech (2010). Therefore, all-American girl J-Law has to feel as good as ever about her shot at being the one major winner for American Hustle — and the first person to ever bag two acting Oscars before the age of 24.
To add insult to injury, Nyong’o also lost BAFTA’s EE Rising Star Award — which is determined by the public — to Will Poulter, who is best known for We’re the Millers. Many thought she would be taking home two prizes Sunday. Instead she is taking home nothing except for perhaps a little anxiety about where her Oscar prospects now stand.
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