They Shoot Oscar Prognosticators, Don't They?
The BAFTAs Speak, We Listen
By J Don Birnam
February 17, 2014
The British Academy of Film and Television Arts just named 12 Years a Slave the Best Film of the Year, but gave their other Best Picture prize, Best British Film, to the UK-financed Gravity. Alfonso Cuarón’s sci-fi film also received a number of additional accolades, including Best Director and several technical BAFTAs. Today, we will walk through the main results of the BAFTA awards and what, if anything, they mean in their respective Oscar counterparts.
To start, it is clear that the BAFTA split results for Gravity and Slave cement a pattern you can count on to repeat itself on Oscar night. Voting group after voting group has showered Gravity with praise across the board, including as high as Best Director, but has simultaneously been unwilling to pull the trigger and allow Gravity to take the top prize. As we have discussed all season long, it really does seem like we are headed into a Godfather/Cabaret scenario, with the more showy movie winning multiple Oscars, including Best Director, but the more serious-looking movie winning an award or two, and then Best Picture.
This voting pattern is somewhat remarkable and arguably frustrating. How it is that a movie (Gravity) is the best across the board, including the best directed movie of the year, but is not the Best Picture of the year and the more “important” sounding movie is? With no disrespect meant to the magnificent 12 Years A Slave, if Gravity is such an achievement in so many categories, then it is fair to wonder why even the PGA could not outright name it the best movie of the year, or why the Golden Globes gave a lone prize - the top prize - to 12 Years a Slave after showering Gravity with praise. Reducing “Best Picture” to “Most Important Story” or “Best Script” in this way, in my opinion, almost trivializes the entire process and at the same time ghettoizes the technical aspect of movie-making. Worse, it sends the clear message that science fiction movies are not welcome into the “it” club of respectability, a callous message for the film industry to send in this day when such movies consistently dominate the box office and satisfy audiences. In hindsight, of course, the Academy breathes a sigh of relief that they picked The Godfather, given the phenomenon that film became. That experience, I suspect, will drive them to deliver a similar split this year among the top two films.
Let’s leave a more complete editorializing of these results aside for now and wait to see how the chips actually fall at the Oscars. For now, however, anyone predicting anything other than a 12 Years a Slave and Alfonso Cuarón split is asking for trouble.
The BAFTAs also delivered an expected victory alongside a couple of surprises in the acting races. Cate Blanchett won for her undeniable performance in Blue Jasmine and I expect her performance to carry her all the way. I am sure that in recent days you have seen the best attempts of the blogosphere to use the Woody Allen/Mia Farrow controversy to stir up rumors of an upset in this category and add excitement to an otherwise predictable year in acting categories. But Blanchett’s victory, alongside one surprising acting result at the BAFTAs, should hopefully put that issue to rest.