We’re in the deep stretch now, and more categories than usual seem undetermined. Best picture will remain a mystery till the final envelope is opened. Original screenplay, thanks to WGA disqualification, can’t truly be tested pre-ceremony. In the tech areas, song and cinematography are the only categories I’d stake rent money on; that leaves a lot of guesswork down-ballot. A few other categories -- director, foreign film and animated feature -- seem locked, but doc feature is a scramble, and there are always the shorts to discombobulate predictors. Overall, it doesn’t seem the sort of year where it’ll take a 95% correct score to win your pool.
Most pre-presentation precursors still to come will have little effect on prediction. ASC is like DGA: only a wildly unanticipated upset could change the calculus of the corresponding Oscar slot. Likewise, the WGA will not answer the original screenplay question; the only way they could have impact would be to unexpectedly pass up the widely predicted BlackkKlansman screenplay for the win. (In which case, chaos.) Results from here are not likely to affect predictions.
Ah, but BAFTA. BAFTA can still throw some races into confusion, most specifically the acting categories. I know, a lot of people are ready to declare all four done and done – like we’ve all caught AwardsWatch disease. But the fact is, the TV round that tends to deflate these races 1) has not been quite as unanimous as it was last year and 2) still has one, potentially crucial round to go, at BAFTA.
A bit of recap: how BAFTA got here as precursor, and how it’s displayed its influence.
BAFTA awards have been around a long time, but only stepped into the Oscar predicting queue in 2000. Even then, I don’t think many people watched them fully seriously until roughly halfway through the decade – certainly no one much heeded choices like Bill Nighy in Love, Actually or Thandie Newton in Crash. In 1986, though, they got attention for passing on Eddie Murphy (who’d won Globes/Broadcasters/SAG) in favor of Alan Arkin…the man who went on to unexpectedly win at the Oscars. Then, in 2007, they both broke up Julie Christie’s run by picking Marion Cotillard, and pinpointed Tilda Swinton as the supporting choice…both of which selections triumphed at AMPAS shortly after. Suddenly, BAFTA was an integral part of the precursor string.
Though even then, their performance was erratic. In 2008, for instance, they were the one TV group to place Kate Winslet in lead, forecasting the AMPAS choice; this gave them bragging rights as the only group to predict both female winners that year. On the downside, they went with Mickey Rourke for best actor – where SAG had cited Oscar choice Sean Penn. (BAFTA, in fact, missed both Penn’s Oscars, selecting Bill Murray in 2003.) In 2009, they were in line with the whole world in picking Mo’Nique/Christoph Waltz, but went with the home-team in the lead categories, choosing Colin Firth/A Single Man and Carey Mulligan/An Education (Sandra Bullock wasn’t even nominated). The following year, they passed on the pair from The Fighter and honored another pair, Rush/Bonham Carter from The King’s Speech. (Melissa Leo was omitted just as Bullock had been.) Maybe owing to this seeming Brit favoritism, when, in 2011, they chose Streep in The Iron Lady over SAG winner Viola Davis, many chalked it up to native-island sentimentality and ignored the choice – until Streep semi-surprised by winning the Oscar, as well.
That became the first year BAFTA nailed all four acting Oscar winners since 2007. It’s a feat they repeated in 2014 and last year, which has led some to think they’re now just a bunch of rubber-stampers, going with the consensus established by Globes/SAG/Broadcasters. But is that true? Going against Simmons/Arquette in 2014 would have required major apostasy, and even Julianne Moore was practically running unopposed. Their only on-a-limb choice that year was Redmayne over Keaton –- in tune with SAG but contradicting the Broadcasters -– and that selection was surely influenced by Redmayne’s being a British subject. As for last year…last year was just an odd case where everyone seemed to take an oath to pick the same people no matter what. (I will say, right to the end, I thought Sally Hawkins’ native credentials might be strong enough to win, but Three Billboards’ BAFTA best picture strength proved too much to bear.)
I don’t think this constitutes nearly enough evidence to accuse BAFTA of being more concerned with following the crowd than indulging their private choices. Because, look what they did in the other years:
2012, they went against SAG in actress (Riva over Lawrence) and supporting actor (Waltz over Jones), and scored 1-for-2 with those at the Oscars.
2013, because of the oddball exclusion of Dallas Buyers’ Club, they chose Ejiofor and Abdi, and also opted for Lawrence over Nyong’o – all of whom failed at AMPAS, as Oscar endorsed SAG’s slate 100%.
2015, again disqualifications made a difference, as Globe/Broadcasters winner Stallone wasn’t nominated, and SAG/Broadcasters winner Vikander was bumped to lead. SAG winner Elba WAS there, but fell to local boy Mark Rylance -- who later pulled the upset win at AMPAS -- while Kate Winslet won her second BAFTA, but didn’t make it to a second Oscar.
2016, BAFTA was smarter than SAG for actor, favoring Oscar winner Casey Affleck over SAG champ Denzel Washington…but mis-stepped by also opting for Dev Patel over SAG/AMPAS choice Mahershala Ali.
The overall take from this blizzard of data? 1) BAFTA fairly often dissents from SAG acting choices – close to an average of 2 a year. 2) It’s very hit-and-miss whose choices do better at AMPAS. 3) A goodly number of the BAFTA dissents are British subjects (Bonham Carter, Rylance, Winslet, Patel, etc.) or other Europeans (Waltz in ’12, Riva). That last point plays out especially this year, as there are some wobbly front-runners out there -- and a striking number of close competitors fit under the British subject umbrella.
Let’s stipulate from the start: if Malek, Close and Ali all win BAFTA next Sunday, they’ll turn into Oscar locks, and another promising year will have lost its juice. But if they don’t, here’s how it might play out.
Begin with the one category where BAFTA is assured of throwing a curve, supporting actress. With neither the Globe/Broadcast winner nor the SAG no-hoper on the ballot, BAFTA is guaranteed to provide fresh material. If, like SAG, they choose to effectively pass on the race, they could go for non-AMPAS nominees like Foy or Robbie. But most likely they’ll pick among the other three, and the home-field edge would seem to go to Rachel Weisz, who didn’t win here in her Constant Gardener year (she was nominated as lead, and lost to Reese Witherspoon). What effect that would have on the Oscar match-up with Regina King is best left to a one-by-one thread…but I will say that Weisz’s Academy win might be far enough in the past to make her a credible repeat winner.
Supporting actor obviously lays out quite differently. Mahershala Ali is the only person this year to sweep the three TV prizes with no ties; if he takes this award, there’s not much sense in the other nominees even showing up at the Oscars. And Ali’s got solid advantages in this match-up: Green Book’s status as a best picture contender (though a soft/director-less one, as at AMPAS), and the fact that BAFTA was one of the venues where he didn’t win in 2016. The cons: well, mostly, it’s Richard E. Grant –- a British favorite of long-long standing, in a role that won him considerably more citation from critics than Ali received. Can You Ever Forgive Me? doesn’t have the best picture support of Green Book, but its consistent actress/screenplay nods make it a film that will be seen. I think this is pure toss-up at BAFTA. Should Grant pull it out, though… Ali’s “didn’t you just win?” status with Oscar might inject some life into the race in the final lap.
I barely have to explain the gestalt in lead actress. Either Glenn Close will continue her victory rampage, or Olivia Colman, winner of a vast number of critics’ prizes, associated with a strong best film contender, will take this lead-in award on her most favorable turf. Something to consider: Glenn Close has obviously been more famous for a far longer time…but, in Britain, I’m not sure Colman, hugely popular TV performer, isn’t equally well known at this point. The BAFTA that went for Imelda Staunton in 2004 might well bring Colman home. We’ll see if Close’s career karma is enough to overcome that. (Were Colman to win, I’d still make Close the AMPAS favorite, but not quite as overwhelming a one.)
In best actor, we have a fascinating duality: Rami Malek is an American-born actor, but he plays a beloved British celebrity icon. Christian Bale plays a world-famous (and loathed) American, but is a Welshman by birth. Does that make either the theoretical hometown favorite? The films seem fairly evenly matched in this arena: neither is best picture-nominated, but both did well enough in other categories to qualify as top-tier. I wonder if the fact that Bale was passed over when he won the Oscar for The Fighter might come into play? Bale in fact has been BAFTA-cited for all four films that got him Oscar attention but never won -- he might be perceived there as due. If he should win, I’d say it’d make the race feel considerably more level than it’s perceived at this moment.
As for how deep BAFTA’s influence on the Oscars might go – nowhere (like 2013), all the way (like 2007), or someplace in-between (2015) – I note something Mark Harris mentioned after nominations were announced: all our attention in this membership push has been on women and non-white voters -- but there was also significant opening up the rolls to foreign filmmakers and performers. You could argue that, with Cold War’s strong showing, the Roma ladies, the surprise Deschanel nomination, and The Favourite’s massive nomination total, that latter group made the strongest impact on this year’s slate, and their influence might carry over to the final results. Which is to say, maybe BAFTA will be more indicative of Oscar taste this year than our home-grown groups. Watch and see.