BAFTA Awards: 'Revenant' Wins Don't Seal the Deal for Oscar (Analysis)

Alejandro G. Inarritu and Leonardo Dicaprio at BAFTAS - H 2016

Nearing the end of an awards season in which the three highest-profile guilds awarded their top prizes to different films — the Producers Guild of America went for The Big Short, the Screen Actors Guild went for Spotlight and the Directors Guild of America went for The Revenant — many Oscar-watchers on Sunday turned to the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, or BAFTA, hoping for some sort of a sign about which film might be out front.

Why? Because the BAFTA Awards, the U.K.'s equivalent of the Oscars, were being handed out; some 500 Academy members also vote for the BAFTAs (the whole group's membership is roughly the same size as the Academy's); all three of the aforementioned contenders was nominated for best film; and the final round of Oscar voting, which began on Friday, extends all the way through 5 p.m. PT on Feb. 23, so even if BAFTA's picks do not correlate with the way many Academy members currently plan to vote, they could conceivably sway some Academy members to vote differently.

So what happened? The Revenant won for best film, best director (Alejandro G. Inarritu), best actor (Leonardo DiCaprio), best cinematography and best sound — while The Big Short and Spotlight won for just best adapted screenplay (Adam McKay and Charles Randolph) and best original screenplay (Tom McCarthy and Josh Singer), respectively.

The fact that a film that tells a quintessentially American story won the top prize of both this British organization and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association — and that its two chief Oscar rivals performed so poorly — would seem to suggest, at this point, that it can't lose at the Oscars. But before you bet the farm on it, keep one thing in mind: Another film that tells a quintessentially American story, Boyhood, won those same awards just last year en route to a best picture loss at the Oscars.

Let's take a moment to look at how BAFTA voting works and the degree to which it has correlated with Oscar voting in the past.

For many years, the BAFTAs were largely ignored by Oscar watchers. That's because from 1994-2000, they 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 the BAFTAs before the Oscars in 2001 and adopted the same voting protocol as the Academy in 2012 (meaning nominees are chosen by branches but winners are chosen by everyone). The biggest differences 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.

So what should one make of the results from the 69th BAFTA Awards?

Winning is obviously better than losing for The Revenant, but it doesn't guarantee anything. In the 15 years since the BAFTAs moved in front of the Oscars on the calendar, only seven best film BAFTA winners went on to win the best picture Oscar. The eight discrepancies: BAFTA went for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Pianist, The Aviator, Brokeback Mountain, The Queen, Atonement and Boyhood, while the Academy opted for A Beautiful Mind, Chicago, Million Dollar Baby, Crash, The Departed, No Country for Old Men and Birdman.

The best director category has the same mediocre track record (although BAFTA was the only group to anticipate Roman Polanski's best director win for The Pianist). As for the acting categories, BAFTA doesn't always get it "right," in terms of honoring people that will go on to win an Oscar — heck, two years ago they didn't even nominate the eventual best actor and best supporting actor Oscar winners, Dallas Buyers Club's Matthew McConaughey and Jared Letobut it does generally read the tea leaves well when it comes to 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 nod for Michael Clayton (2007).

Unfortunately, the results of this year's BAFTA acting categories, apart from best actor (which DiCaprio has in the bag), don't really tell us much because each was missing someone who is competing in the corresponding Oscar category. Room's Brie Larson topped Brooklyn's Saoirse Ronan to win best actress, but they didn't have to compete against 45 Years' Charlotte Rampling, who was snubbed by BAFTA. Bridge of Spies' Mark Rylance won best supporting actor, but he didn't have to face Creed's Sylvester Stallone, who was snubbed by BAFTA. And Steve Jobs' Kate Winslet won best supporting actress, but she didn't have to face Alicia Vikander, at least for the performance in which Vikander is nominated at the Oscars — BAFTA nominated Vikander for Ex Machina, while the Academy backed her for The Danish Girl.

The Winslet win is the most interesting to me. Few are the contenders who have won both big "international" prizes — a Globe and a BAFTA, as Winslet now has — but not an Oscar, at least in the years since the BAFTAs were moved 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), Mickey Rourke for The Wrestler (2008) and Jennifer Lawrence for American Hustle (2013), but the Academy sided with Sean Penn for Mystic River, Morgan Freeman for Million Dollar Baby, Penn again for Milk and Lupita Nyong'o for 12 Years a Slave, respectively. Could Vikander, who is known on the awards circuit but perhaps not to rank-and-file Academy members, actually lose? This makes me wonder.

One must note, however, that when BAFTA has "missed," in terms of anticipating an Oscar winner, it has usually been the result of the group siding, in a close race, with a British contender against a non-British contender — i.e. awarding Thandie Newton best supporting actress for Crash (2005), Helena Bonham Carter best supporting actress for The King's Speech (2010) and Chiwetel Ejiofor best actor for 12 Years a Slave (2013). So that may account for some of Winslet's support.

Mad Max: Fury Road did very well in below-the-line categories, picking up four wins: best costume design, best film editing, best makeup and hairstyling and best production design. Additionally, Inside Out won best animated film, Amy won best documentary, Star Wars won best visual effects and The Hateful Eight's Ennio Morricone won best original score. All of those seem like results that could be repeated at the Oscars.

One oddity of this year's BAFTAs: Jordan's Theeb, a nominee for the best foreign-language film Oscar, lost out on best non-English film BAFTA honors to a film that was Oscar-eligible last year — but its director, Naji Abu Nowar, won outstanding debut by a British writer, director or producer. Go figure.