It’s been 20 years since the BAFTA film awards shifted their place in the awards calendar, preceding the Academy Awards rather than following them a few months later.
It’s a change that has significantly altered how the British ceremony is perceived within the industry. What was once viewed as an isolated event, marked by particular, Anglocentric tastes that often diverged from those of AMPAS — the 1990s, for example, featured big wins for such local favorites as “The Full Monty,” “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and “The Commitments” — has grown into one of the most keenly scrutinized Oscar precursors.
That’s not to say you should place your Oscar bets on BAFTA’s say-so.
The British and American academies are still often on very different pages: It’s been seven years, in fact, since the two agreed on the year’s best film (Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave”), a discrepancy probably abetted by the two institutions’ different voting systems for the top category. (AMPAS switched to preferential balloting; BAFTA favors first-past-the-post.) Yet Olivia Colman, Marion Cotillard, Alan Arkin and Tilda Swinton are among the underdog Oscar victors who can attest to how a BAFTA win signified their surging momentum over established frontrunners, even as major stateside precursors pointed the other way; the crossover bloc of Academy members who are also BAFTA voters is not to be discounted.
This year, however, saw BAFTA attempt to re-identify itself separately from its place in the Oscar race, handing over several major categories to nominating committees more concerned with artistry and diversity than following awards buzz from across the pond. The result is the least Oscar-corresponding slate of BAFTA nominees since the calendar switch — though it still gives awards-season soothsayers plenty to pore over. Indeed, one might view those contenders on which BAFTA and Oscar voters have overlapped as being in an especially strong position.
With that in mind, it’s looking increasingly likely that “Nomadland” will end the two groups’ run of mismatched winners in the top race. Long seen as the Oscar frontrunner, Chloé Zhao’s socially conscious road movie is one of two films leading the BAFTA nominations with seven noms apiece. (The other, “Rocks,” is not up for best film.) It is also the only best film contender with nominations for acting, directing, writing and craft, suggesting the broadest spread of support across BAFTA branches.
Meanwhile, as the only director nominee whose movie made the best film cut, Zhao looks likely to prevail there too, shoring up her Oscar prospects in both categories. “Minari’s” Lee Isaac Chung and “Another Round’s” Thomas Vinterberg are her only competitors with corresponding Oscar nominations. They also happen to be the category’s only male nominees; though AMPAS made history this year with two women in the category, BAFTA doubled that breakthrough with four.
Three of “Nomadland’s” fellow best film nominees (“The Father,” “Promising Young Woman” and “The Trial of the Chicago 7”) are also nominated in the corresponding Oscar category; with nominees in the top category left to a popular vote rather than a jury one, consensus favorites largely prevailed.
But it’s in the acting categories that things get interesting: only 10 of BAFTA’s 24 nominated performances went on to receive Oscar nominations. In the lead actor field, that hasn’t changed things much: the race on both sides of the pond looks to be led by sentimental favorite Chadwick Boseman, with “The Father’s” Anthony Hopkins and “Sound of Metal’s” Riz Ahmed seeking to upset.
(That Boseman’s film, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” wasn’t all that warmly embraced by BAFTA and Oscar voters alike means it could be close.) The supporting categories might also mirror general voting trends across the pond, despite the surfeit of alternative options raised by the acting jury. It’s hard to imagine anyone but Britain’s own Daniel Kaluuya winning the BAFTA and Oscar alike for his electric turn in “Judas and the Black Messiah,” despite competition from Leslie Odom Jr. and Paul Raci. For supporting actress, meanwhile, Oscar nominees Maria Bakalova (“Borat Subsequent Moviefilm”) and Youn Yuhjung (“Minari”) look likeliest to fight it out for the BAFTA.
Lead actress, however, is where BAFTA truly upsets the apple cart, by failing to nominate hotly fancied Oscar contenders Carey Mulligan and Viola Davis. Two of BAFTA’s choices were also tapped by the Academy, and you could make a case for either of them winning in London: Frances McDormand has “Nomadland” momentum on her side, while Vanessa Kirby has hometurf advantage for her tour-de-force in “Pieces of a Woman.” Yet this category could be BAFTA’s most exciting opportunity to go off-script, by honoring one of the four Black performers selected by the jury: belated recognition for Alfre Woodard, perhaps, or a heartwarming, against-the-odds coronation for 18-yearold Londoner Bukky Bakray. If BAFTA truly wants to brand itself this year as more than just another pit-stop in the Oscar race, this is the place to do it.