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As usual, BAFTA delivered a few surprises this morning. While nothing in their nominee list is as far off the Oscar radar as, say, "Drive"'s hefty haul last year, they've muddled up the hierarchy a little among the leading awards players, as two of the three leading nominees found their directors frozen out -- and not even in favor of certain underperforming British hopefuls, as might have been expected.
Some of the inclusions and exclusions have more bearing on the Oscar race than others. For example, before you make too much of Denzel Washington's omission from the Best Actor lineup -- and yes, "Flight" was eligible -- remember that Washington has never been nominated by BAFTA. Across the pond, some films and artists simply translate better than others. With that in mind, let's run through the contenders that gained the most from today's nominations, and those that have reason to be disappointed.
Ben Affleck and "Argo": If you're merely totting up the numbers, "Argo" doesn't look like one of the morning's big winners -- seven nominations is respectable, but still puts in fourth place among the Best Film nominees. But look closer, and consider that it's not a lavish technical showcase, and it's clear that Ben Affleck's well-liked thriller actually over-performed -- indeed, BAFTA's sizeable actors' branch liked it so much they handed Affleck his first major Best Actor nod of the season. Furthermore, along with "Zero Dark Thirty," it's the only Best Film nominee to score with the directing, writing, acting and technical branches. It could well be the one to beat.
"Life of Pi": Along with "Argo," the film that arguably gained the most from this morning's announcement was Ang Lee's seafaring fantasy. It may have had a slow start to the season, with an oddly tentative campaign by Fox, but "Pi" has rallied impressively, scoring a DGA nod yesterday and now landing nine BAFTA nods, plus a Rising Star bid for Suraj Sharma. The film has been a big holiday hit with UK audiences, and unlike fellow nomination leaders "Lincoln" and "Les Mis," it nabbed a nomination for its director too. Could it come from behind and take Best Film? Yes.
"Amour": Perhaps more than any other film, Michael Haneke's critically beloved French-language drama felt the benefits of the new BAFTA voting system, whereby nominees are determined by individual branches rather than the general membership -- it seems less likely that BAFTA as a whole would have included Haneke in the Best Director category, where he edged out Steven Spielberg and/or Tom Hooper, while Emmanuelle Riva is a similarly discerning pick for Best Actress. With four top nominations, the arthouse underdog is in great shape to surprise a lot of people when the Academy announces its nominees tomorrow.
"Beasts of the Southern Wild": Can you be a winner with just one nomination? In this case, yes. Benh Zeitlin's rough-and-ready Southern tale was never likely to score in a big way with the British crowd, having generated little chatter when it opened here back in the autumn, so landing a writing nomination ahead of such big-ticket titles as "Skyfall," "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" and "Les Mis," is an encouraging indication of its crossover appeal -- and seemingly firms up the film's Oscar slot in that category after its WGA ineligibility. It's a further indication of the new BAFTA voting system having its desired effect.
"Django Unchained": A qualified win, this, since Quentin Tarantino's bloody Sou'western earned five nominations, including Best Director, but not one for Best Film -- "Inglourious Basterds" suffered a similar fate three years ago. But taking into account how late the film screened for most BAFTA members, it performed well above expectations -- with a couple more weeks, it could even have wrangled a nod for the top prize. With more slots up for grabs, this could bode well for a place in Oscar's Best Picture lineup.
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