I have not found the BAFTAS to be, overall, a good influence on the Oscar race. While some of their choices are mildly interesting — Under the Skin here, Paddington there — for the most part they do what too many of the precursors do, with the sole exception of the National Society of Film Critics, pick the same movies they think Oscar voters will. Rather than lead, they merely confirm what we’ve suspected all along, which is really what the BAFTAs did with their announcement. No surprises, nothing particularly interesting, just another link in the chain of predictability.
What it shows is that the films that were already popular in this year’s race are still popular. The films that have tried to push through are having a harder time, most especially Selma. You can’t really fault the Brits for not caring about Selma. After all, what do they care about what is a distinctly American problem? Selma resonates here because its both revolutionary in terms of being directed and partly written by an African American woman but also because we are still knee deep in many of the problems the film represents – voter suppression, racism, police violence.
To denounce Selma is to announce not giving a damn about the cultural currents that run through our modern life, to stick to what one likes no matter if it has meaning beyond “I LOVED IT.” I didn’t expect them to go there (or anywhere outside the consensus, really) so there is no anger to be had, just resignation to what is.
There was something to celebrate. Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest leads, which gives the director overdue recognition. If you’re a fan of his you will be happy that they’ve finally found of film of his they liked. If you like Birdman and The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything, you’re equally lucky. Me, I’m ready to watch Boyhood take the season and stick a fork a fork in this year’s race.
The BAFTAs don’t match the Oscar race, but they can sometimes tell you where it’s going. For instance, last year, if you combined the Best Picture and Best Director categories you could sort of cobble together where Oscar might be going:
This race kind of feeds itself. It sets up a situation that is fulfilled by lowered expectations. It isn’t that the five films up for Best Picture at the BAFTAs are bad choices, particularly, it’s that they were so utterly predictable as to become yet another echo in an increasingly pointless echo chamber.
Like Oscar voters, the BAFTA voters look at movies as magic mirrors. They see themselves and they like what they see. They are heroes here, changing the world – Alan Turing, Stephen Hawking and Paddington. They, unlike the Americans, have pride in their culture and they use the BAFTAs to celebrate that pride, even if it means nominating James Marsh for Best Director. Yes, even that.
There isn’t any real problem with the BAFTAs as far as I can tell. It isn’t really my place to criticize them. I actually support their support of homegrown product and I wish the Oscars would reject most British product and celebrate the diverse and exciting wave of film that’s happening in THIS country. Too many of the British films in the mix this year are far too safe and traditional to help the awards race do anything but continue with the same sentence, over and over, honoring the same kinds of films, over and over again. Feels as though we’re running in a hamster wheel. I don’t know when this became the norm for the “Oscar movie” but it remains the norm after today’s BAFTA list, thus shunting the Oscars off into their happy little corner, far far away from what’s exciting about American film now.
Sure, filmmakers in other countries are kicking our ass regularly with challenging storytelling that is free from the constraints of opening weekend pressure, an increasingly branded ticket buying public, and the need to turn film into fast food — limited choices, expectations met. But so much of what’s happening in American film is, to me, very exciting — from Wes Anderson and Richard Linklater, but also to David Fincher, Ava DuVernay, Paul Thomas Anderson, Dan Gilroy, Bennett Miller — these dark, dark movies going to battle with the insurmountable feelgood movies should teach us all we need to know about how the Oscars work.
If you cover the race, it’s better to be like Scott Feinberg, Kris Tapley, Dave Karger and Pete Hammond. You don’t get your heart involved. You keep your own tastes separate from your analysis of the race. That’s hard for me to do because I know that the Oscars CAN sometimes mean something more. They don’t have to be a reflection of my personal taste (although there’s nothing better when that happens) but when they merely confirm what we suspected they would do going all the way back to September I’m not really sure what the point of any of it is. We predict, the voters confirm. Rinse, repeat.
Anne Thompson gets props for being the only pundit to really call The Grand Budapest Hotel and Whiplash. Feinberg, Tapley, Karger, Hammond, and Thelma Adams get credit for predicting Gone Girl to be not Oscar-y enough. They lose points for their sight unseen predictions of Interstellar and Unbroken for the win. At one point, Tapley had both Angelina Jolie and Ava DuVernay for Best Director. That was idealism at its very best. Me, I hope that I ruffled a few feathers, opened a few doors. Beyond that, I’m not as interested in being right about the race as I in being right about the conversation. Two of the only three movies I cared about are looking to be shut out – Selma and Gone Girl. Only Boyhood remains.
Our magic mirror really only has room for one kind of reflection. There rest of us get to stand next to it and watch the others preen. We will never see ourselves because we have been told that we don’t matter except when we can function as props for the more important white male protagonist. The BAFTAs have merely sealed the deal.