Off the Carpet: How the BAFTA Awards could actually matter this year
When Alfonso Cuarón won the DGA prize Saturday night, I laid out my thoughts on why "Gravity" should be considered the de facto frontrunner in this year's Best Picture race. With a PGA award (albeit in this case half of one) and a DGA honor in tow, it tends to be a done deal this time of year. But this isn't a typical year by any stretch.
One thing that could end up playing against "Gravity" in the end is an elongated phase two. The Winter Olympics have stretched things out and that's brutal for any film looking to maintain a certain buzz wave. At the moment, "Gravity" is cresting high on that wave (with added killer, relentless, epic new TV spots on key programming like last night's Grammy Awards). But "12 Years a Slave" has been chugging along since the Golden Globes, steadily building steam. And it could hit a real high note just two days into the final phase of Oscar voting begins this year.
Yes, for the first time in quite a while (if ever), the BAFTA Awards could make a real difference. For years the ceremony across the pond was a more singular affair. For a number of years, in fact, it used to take place after the Oscars, away from the fray. The voting system used to be an inverse of the Academy's, the entire membership voting on nominees across the various fields while the individual branches decided the winners in each category (save for Best Film and the acting categories, which were still open to the full membership).
However, all of that has slowly changed over the last decade. Beginning with the 2001 ceremony, the BAFTA Awards moved out of April and went back to taking place before the Oscars. But then that date began to creep up even more, eventually putting the show close to the start of Oscar voting in the first or second week of February. And then, finally, in the lead-up to the 2012-2013 awards season, the group completed its transition to Oscars shadow dancer by switching its process to mirror the Academy's, individual branches voting on nominees and the overall membership voting on winners.
"The BAFTAs aren't what they used to be," a production-based industry insider with BAFTA ties across the pond tells me. "'Filth' and James McAvoy would have made it in here 10 years ago, truly great British cinema. Even [Best British Film nominee] 'The Selfish Giant' had to be saved by committee."
All of that is to highlight the point that, more than ever, the BAFTA Awards seem to be in a real place of affecting the buzz wave this year as we find ourselves in a dead heat for the Best Picture Oscar, "Gravity" in one corner, "12 Years a Slave" in the other. The former led nominations with the Brits, but only just, as its Best British Film nomination sent it ahead of "12 Years" and "American Hustle" on the final tally.
That actually ended up being an interesting bone of contention for some members of the organization, though. In reporting on the nominations, our own Guy Lodge called the film "newly British," noting his surprise that "BAFTA effectively claimed it as their own" with that Best British Film nomination. As it turns out, though, it's entirely possible "Gravity" misses out on both the Best Film and Best British Film trophies as a response.
"It seems quite a few are reactionary voting for '12 Years' in Best Film and 'Philomena' in Best British Film because they feel 'Gravity' doesn't truly feel like a British film (even though it genuinely is one, unlike 'Saving Mr. Banks')," my BAFTA insider says. "And a lot of them felt they were going to vote for '12 Years' in Best British Film, but then it didn't get nominated there, hence the support in Best Film."