Thursday, 17 January 2008

BAFTA 2008: The Americans are coming!

Why do our homegrown awards shows just seem like tea-stained extensions of Hollywood affairs? Can we ever get it right? Robert Duffin investigates.

There’s an air of smug self-congratulation sweeping the film world which means only one thing: Awards season is now in full swing! Yesterday saw the announcement of the nominees for this year’s BAFTA Film Awards and leading the pack with 15 nominations is Atonement, and close behind with nine apiece are No Country For Old Men and There Will Be Blood. In the wake of the Golden Globes massacre and with the possibility of the Oscars going the same way, this could be the year that the eyes of the world follow the stars and their frocks to London. God bless those striking writers.

It’s appropriate that the BAFTA statuette is in the form of a mask given the identity crisis the award has been going through for several years. They continually court the attention of the big Hollywood stars and we all avert our eyes in shame when an empty seat accompanies the announcement of another American nominee. Critical darlings Stateside like There Will Be Blood and Juno, yet to reach these shores, are heavily featured in order to seem up to date with our American counterparts.

On the flipside, sometimes they lose all sense of reality and give in to jingoistic sabre rattling. Thought Oscar messed up by favouring Forrest Gump over Pulp Fiction? Well BAFTA overlooked them both in favour of Four Weddings and Funeral, and even gave Hugh Grant best actor. Ouch. Oh and let’s not forget The Full Monty’s victory over L.A. Confidential. Double ouch.

Let’s not get too negative though; BAFTA did give Scorsese his award for Goodfellas instead of waiting fifteen years for the inferior The Departed and they actually acknowledged Almodovar at all for All About My Mother. And Bill Murray didn’t require that sourpuss mug as BAFTA gave him Best Actor for Lost in Translation. Now if he had only turned up…

So this year could belong to the team behind the ‘worthy’ British epic, Atonement. Seen as a virtual outsider in the Oscar race, this is the type of film that BAFTA loves: war, romance, passion and it’s a safe pick. Yet it pales drastically in comparison to the Coen Bros’ No Country For Old Men, which is perhaps its only real competition. American Gangster shouldn’t even be in the running, and The Lives of Others feels like last years news. There Will Be Blood is the dark horse, having received very little attention in the U.K so far. Best Director is also tricky but surely the Coens have this one in the bag. Atonement’s Joe Wright still feels like too much of a newbie and Bourne Ultimatum’s Paul Greengrass won last year for the superior United 93.

The acting categories are also an open playing field at this early stage. Daniel Day Lewis is a shoe-in, but we can’t forget the power of the posthumous award for a deserving Ulrich Muehe. Ultimately though, this and the Actress category depend on just how much voters get behind Atonement. The incredibly popular James MacAvoy has had a stellar year, and Keira Knightley actually managed to emote. However Julie Christie does have a strong sympathy vote going for her even if it didn’t do much for Peter O’Toole last year. Javier Bardem owns the supporting actor category for his chilling turn as Anton Chigurh, although the nominees in this grouping from all the awards bodies this year have been excellent. Supporting actress is Cate Blanchett’s to lose and, given her previous win just a few short years ago, she just might do that. Samantha Morton is the one to watch here.

Enough punditry for now though, it’s too early in the campaign to make a definite prediction, so let’s have a moan instead. Where is The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford? It’s possibly a victim in the Best Picture category due to Western overkill, but a snub for Casey Affleck? Ridiculous! And let’s not even get started on Best British Film aka the consolatory slap on the back. Either they can compete with the big guns or they can’t. Let’s not celebrate mediocrity or stupidity (since when were Eastern Promises or The Bourne Ultimatum British films?) The biggest slap in the face is This Is England being consigned to this category when it should have American Gangster’s spot in Best Film. If there’s only room for one Brit flick then surely this should have been given the nod over Atonement. But of course, with the eyes of the world trained on them they must support the ‘worthy’ over something that actually has something to say about the B in BAFTA.

Despite two glaring grievances, it’s a fair set of nominations this year and while I remain equivocal about my predictions until further notice I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for the Minnesota siblings. But finally, if BAFTA only grants one wish this year, please let them ditch Jonathan Ross as the host and bring back Stephen Fry! It won’t make up for Four Weddings, but it’s a start.


Joseph Wren said...

Completely baffling...I don't even know what to make of the whole thing. What constitutes a "British" film these days? And why have The Lives of Others and There Will Be Blood both nominated, when their UK openings were separate years? I don't get it, but we should totally have a BAFTA party either way.

Anonymous said...

Apparently as long as you see a shot of the Gherkin and your American actress does a pseudo-Londoner accent, it's British.