This year's nominations make the Baftas seem stupid and outdated

With nominations for some of the worst movies of this awards season, as well as a stubborn omission of most non-white talent, Bafta has some claim on being the most clueless awards body.

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The Baftas are not the biggest laughing stock on the awards circuit. That title continues to be held by the utterly meritless Golden Globes, which are voted on by a mysterious cabal of bloodsucking freeloaders – the Hollywood Foreign Press Association as they’re known officially – who nominate only those actors with whom they want to grab selfies at the awards bash.

But after the announcement this morning of its 2020 nominations, Bafta has some claim on being the most clueless awards body out there. It’s enough to make you pine for the days when the worst you could say about the Baftas was that they were the Poundland Oscars. Now, with a stack of nominations for some of the worst movies of this awards season, as well as a stubborn omission of most non-white talent, they appear stupid and outdated if not actively racist.

What’s grimly funny is that you can see the outlines here and there of Bafta’s good intentions. Take the one new award, Best Casting, designed to put the spotlight on the long-overlooked skill of the casting director. It is in this category that Armando Iannucci’s Dickens adaptation The Personal History of David Copperfield has received its sole nomination. But what is the film being rewarded for here if not its diverse approach to period casting, with a line-up that includes Dev Patel in the title role and Benedict Wong, Rosalind Eleazar, and Nikki Amuka-Bird further down the cast list? None of those performers made the all-white list of acting nominees, which can only mean that Bafta members want to applaud the importance of diversity in casting without going so far as to praise any of the actors involved.

The rest of the nominations represent an embarrassment of glitches. Where to begin? Perhaps with the frontrunner: a staggering eleven shout-outs for the laughable Joker. This example of derivative pseudo-serious filmmaking transmits to upcoming directors the clear message that ripping off early Scorsese films, and applying a hefty garnish of controversy (lip-smacking vigilante violence, a convicted paedophile on the soundtrack) is the quickest way to the hearts of awards voters. The film deserved a single nomination – for Joaquin Phoenix in the Best Actor category – and the additional ten has tarnished any reputation Bafta members might have had for recognising and rewarding great cinema. All pretence of their judgement and authority is dispelled entirely by the six nominations doled out to Taiki Waititi’s wretched, misjudged and unfunny Hitler Youth comedy Jojo Rabbit. Bafta voters liked it so much that they even handed a nomination to Scarlett Johansson, who gives one of her only existing bad performances as the main character’s mother.

Thankfully they also nominated Johansson for her excellent work in Marriage Story, one of several nods to that wise and poignant picture. And even Bafta couldn’t mess up the business of nominating Scorsese’s magnificent The Irishman, though let’s wait and see if it loses the Best Film award to Sam Mendes’s World War One drama 1917 (which I’ll be reviewing in this week’s NS), as it did at the Golden Globes on Sunday. It was encouraging to see the wrenching documentary For Sama properly recognised, and while we’re accentuating the positive it is worth pointing out the two nominations for Bait, the visually daring story of a Cornish fisherman in crisis. Shot on black and white 16mm, processed by hand and with all sound added in post-production, it went on to become a word-of-mouth hit – as well as a double Bafta nominee.

 Here are five films and actors that weren’t so lucky:

The Souvenir in any category

The mother of all snubs: Joanna Hogg’s tale of a doomed romance in 1980s London didn’t get so much as a sniff of a nomination, not even in the Consolation Prize category of Best British Film. Incredible to think that Todd Phillips, director of Joker, has a Best Director nomination this year but Hogg doesn’t. Hardly an oversight, more a full-blown insult.

Florence Pugh, Best Actress, Midsommar
Lupita Nyong’o, Best Actress, Us

Though there may be cries of “racism!” at the absence of Nyong’o from the nominations, it should also be remembered that both she and Pugh are likely to have been casualties of that old awards season prejudice against horror films, which tend not to be nominated unless there is another element – satire (Get Out) or police procedural (The Silence of the Lambs) – to lift it out of the perceived genre ghetto.

Blue Story, Best British Film

Michael Ward is in the running for the Rising Star award, but the director Rapman was justified in taking to Twitter to rail against the lack of recognition for his thriller: “BAFTA’s done Blue Story dirty!! Numbers, Impact, Critic reviews we ticked all boxes but we were still snubbed from all nominations. Minus the rising star list. The lack of black faces is ridiculous.”

Jennifer Lopez, Best Supporting Actress, Hustlers

An Oscar nomination seems like a dead cert for Lopez so it’s baffling that Bafta voters plumped instead in this category for Johansson’s non-performance in Jojo Rabbit and Margot Robbie’s non-role in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Lopez, by contrast, gives a commanding performance as a lap-dancer-turned-swindler which holds the film together. Has Bafta still not forgiven her for Gigli?

Ryan Gilbey is the New Statesman's film critic. He is also the author of It Don't Worry Me (Faber), about 1970s US cinema, and a study of Groundhog Day in the "Modern Classics" series (BFI Publishing). He was named reviewer of the year in the 2007 Press Gazette awards and is Film Critic in Residence at Falmouth University.