What will BAFTA add to the conversation?
When the Academy announced it was shifting its nomination date forward, nowhere else was the 'Simon says' effect more blatantly evident than in BAFTA's decision to move theirs up a week or so -- squeezing in just one day before the Oscar nominations call time on the first stage of the season.
Since 2000, when the British Academy rearranged their calendar to precede their American counterpart, the BAFTAs have prided themselves on their status as the last major precursor before the Oscars -- one that has, on several occasions, foretold late-breaking shifts in momentum.
Alan Arkin, Marion Cotillard and Tilda Swinton are among the come-from-behind victors who picked up the BAFTA en route to the Oscar. The nominations, even, can offer subtle clues to those willing to look for them: in 2008, for example, they foreshadowed the displacement of "The Dark Knight" by "The Reader," while in 2004, eventual Oscar nominee Alan Alda han't shown up anywhere for "The Aviator" until BAFTA gave him the nod.
Of course, the Brits can just as often be off on their own beam, sometimes with gratifyingly fresh results -- "Drive" and "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" were both Best Film nominees -- and sometimes with dubiously parochial ones. (The less said about Judi Dench's nomination for "My Week With Marilyn" last year, the better.)
Tomorrow's nominations look likely to feature a bit of both -- expect a strong showing for many of the usual Oscar suspects, but don't be too shocked if certain heavyweight contenders lose out to more left-field and/or home-grown favorites. (Remember that Martin Scorsese's "Hugo" was among the films booted out of the top category by "Drive" and "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy" last year.)
This year, the BAFTA nominations are a less predictable business than usual -- not least because, in a major shake-up of the voting system, they've done away with those tell-tale category longlists they used to reveal beforehand. (The voting changes, incidentally, are another respect in which BAFTA has moved closer to the Oscar template: nominees are now branch-determined, with the entire membership voting on the winners, where it used to be the other way round.) Here are five possibilities to look out for tomorrow morning.
A strong showing for "Skyfall": "Skyfall" may be a hit in the US, but in its home country, it's something more than that -- the 23rd James Bond adventure is the highest-grossing film of all time in the UK, recently becoming the first ever to pass the £100 million mark. Last week's PGA nomination for the film raised the possibility of major-category Oscar contention, but a major BAFTA haul seems all but guaranteed for a local production that has won over critics and audiences. After all, if "Casino Royale" could get a healthy smattering of nominations six years ago, including Best Actor, Adapted Screenplay and British Film; "Skyfall" should easily go one better, with Best Film, multiple acting nods (including one for perennial BAFTA darling Judi Dench) and across-the-board tech citations all within reach. (It helps that BAFTA, despite their slightly genteel reputation, is more genre-friendly than the US Academy.) It could even wind up as the year's most-nominated film. Ironically, one nod it can't get is one of its strongest Oscar plays: the BAFTAs have no Best Original Song award. Anyway, watch it fly.
"Best Exotic" keeps smiling: Until "Skyfall" came along, "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" was the biggest British success story of the year. Now, the crowd-pleasing achievements of the cheery geriatric comedy may pale slightly in comparison to James Bond's record-busting run, but I don't expect this profitable independent production to go unappreciated by BAFTA, which has a history of recognising upbeat Britcoms ("The Full Monty," "Four Weddings and a Funeral") and a sentimental attachment to the veteran-studded "Best Exotic" ensemble, who boast 18 BAFTAs and over 50 career nominations between them. A few months ago, when the film earned a surprising stack of British Independent Film Award nominations, I'd have put money on a Best Film nod. Now, it's possible "Skyfall" has now stolen too much of its home-crowd thunder for that to happen, but I'm betting on ample compensation: performance nods for Judi Dench (again), Maggie Smith and even Tom Wilkinson, possibly an adapted screenplay nomination and certainly one for Best British Film.
"Les Mis" sings again: Our third major British contender doesn't necessarily feel that British, given the French source material, the international cast and the global brand that the blockbuster musical has now become. But there's a lot of potential BAFTA attachment to "Les Miserables," and not just because of the nationality of its director and production company: the stage production, still going strong in London's West End 27 years after making its English-translated debut there, feels very much a local cultural property, whatever its setting. Will that translate into frontrunner status? The film hasn't opened in the UK yet, which means the heated critical conversation around it hasn't sparked in quite the same way it has across the pond -- though it doesn't yet have any box-office momentum. Expect a strong haul of nominations -- though I wouldn't be shocked if Tom Hooper (who lost the BAFTA two years ago to David Fincher, and isn't broadly loved in the local industry) misses the cut.