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The BAFTA Rising Star Award, the one prize subjected to a public vote at the UK's answer to the Oscars, can be a frustrating business. More often than not, it pits a host of gifted young actors against one contender with a higher profile among Britain's youthful texting masses, rendering the competition a bit flat -- and the outcome often a bit iffy. Noel Clarke over Michael Fassbender? Adam Deacon over anyone? We may routinely complain about awards bodies' decisions, but it still beats hearing the people sing.
This year, however, the BAFTA jury charged with compiling the nominees appears to have safeguarded against that problem with a discerning, evenly matched shortlist of names, most of whom will be unfamiliar to multiplex crowds.
The 2012 BAFTA Rising Star nominees are:
The heavily female slant of this year's list is refreshing, and seems to issue a tacit apology for last year's contentiously all-male lineup. "Life of Pi" star Suraj Sharma is the lone male nominee, though he may wind up the winner, given that he's in the highest-profile film of the lot -- one that is doing robust business at the UK box office right now.
That said, Sharma also has the shortest résumé of any of the nominees. Given that the award recognizes overall star potential rather than individual performances, it's rare for the BAFTA jury to cite a debut actor -- they must have been extremely impressed by the Indian newcomer's solo shouldering of a tricky project.
The jury is usually inclined to wait to see a little more from a bright new star -- which is why Elizabeth Olsen, for example, pops up this year. Last year, BAFTA joined most major awards groups in ignoring her striking debut turn in "Martha Marcy May Marlene." This year, with her screen presence further proven, if less generously acclaimed, in "Red Lights," "Liberal Arts" and "Silent House" (in which I think she's particularly impressive), the jury decided she's ready for her close-up.
I'm pleased to see Olsen here, but that goes for all the actresses selected. Juno Temple has been steadily climbing the ranks since an early appearance in "Atonement," but a lot of critics woke up to the 23-year-old Brit following her blazing baby-doll turn in "Killer Joe," in which she's part Tennessee Williams naif, part Juliette Lewis: she cracks my hypothetical Best Supporting Actress ballot for the second year running, after similarly flavorful work in Gregg Araki's "Kaboom."
If I boarded the Temple train earlier, Swedish star Alicia Vikander was a genuine 2012 discovery for me. Months after holding her own opposite two formidable male leads in Danish Oscar hopeful "A Royal Affair," she made her English-language debut in "Anna Karenina" -- and gave, for my money, the film's strongest performance with her fragile, nuanced take on Kitty.
Riseborough seems the most advanced of this group -- and not just because, at the age of 31, she's the oldest by a several years. Between such films as "Brighton Rock," "Never Let Me Go" and "W.E.," she's been appearing on Best Newcomer lists for over two years now, and she already has a TV BAFTA nod for her turn as Margaret Thatcher in "The Long Walk to Finchley." It took me a while to warm to her, but I came round after her superb turn as an IRA informant in "Shadow Dancer," for which she recently won the British Independent Film Award for Best Actress -- there's a slim chance she could be a double BAFTA nominee this year.
Who gets your vote from this lineup? I'm torn, but I think I may spend a text's worth on Olsen. Voting details are here; the winner will be announced at the BAFTA ceremony on February 10. (The rest of the nominees, by the way, land on Wednesday.)