Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

What do those Baftas mean for the Oscars?

12 Years a Slave was ahead in the race for best picture. But, after under-performing at the Royal Opera House, it now looks to be level with Gravity again.

Mon, Feb 17, 2014, 22:28


Forget the Golden Globes. Pay only a little more attention to the Screen Actors Guild. The Baftas are the ones to look towards when searching for tips on the Oscars. Why? Well, with around 10 percent of Oscar voters also being members of Bafta, the British awards work as an effective Gallup poll for the gongs that really matter. Bafta does, of course, show a little bit of British bias. But, otherwise it offers a reliable finger to the wind.

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Let’s get two quick points out of the way. Dallas Buyers Club opened too late for Bafta consideration (a point many news commentators didn’t seem to understand this morning). So, neither Matthew McConaughey nor Jared Leto were nominated. Given that they are both runaway favourites for, respectively, best actor and best supporting actor Oscar, we can only take oblique messages from the victories last night by Chiwetel Ejiofor and Barkhad Abdi.

Now on to the meat. Going in to the Baftas, the situation was confusing, but not quite unreadable. As had been the case for about three months, it still looked as if only three films were capable of taking the best picture Oscar: Gravity, 12 Years a Slave and American Hustle. Following wins at various Guild awards, 12 Years a Slave seemed to have edged ahead just a tad. The situation at this year’s Baftas as regards home advantage was madly confusing. If you saw the Sky TV coverage of the Oscar nominations you may remember that all the flags were waved in the direction of 12 Years. But, according to Bafta, whereas Steve McQueen’s film is a US production, Alfonso Cuarón’s picture qualifies as British. For all that, the general feeling was that if 12 Years Failed to win at Bafta then it went right to the back of the leading trio. The film was directed by a South Londoner who has created his own unmistakable visual style. If the slave drama couldn’t win at the Royal Opera House, then it wasn’t going to win in the Dolby Theatre.

What happened confounded most observers expectation. 12 Years was, as we say, the favourite going in. But Lupita Nyong’o looked like an even better bet in the fight for best supporting actress. Michael Fassbender (with no Jared Leto about the place) also looked safe in the equivalent male race. The film was less strong in best adapted screenplay, but it was still a mild surprise when Philomena triumphed. It was not until the last 10 minutes of the show that — as Chiwetel grabbed the mask — 12 Years won an award. It ended up with just two. Gravity got six. So McQueen’s film won the prize that matters most, but it lost almost everything else.

With one swoop the Oscar race is level pegging again. Most punters (even those backing 12 Years for best film) already had Cuarón down for the director prize. So, having triumphed over a Brit on home soil, the Mexican now looks close to unbeatable. The general drift away from 12 Years hugely weakens its standing. The biggest individual loser is, alas, the excellent Lupita Nyong’o. Two weeks ago we noted her unstoppable rise. Now she has been walloped by a broad comic turn from Jennifer Lawrence. And Lawro didn’t even bleeding turn up. There’s no justice.