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9 January 2018

The BAFTAs: celebrating the best in British film, or predicting the Oscars?

Increasingly, the BAFTAs are used as a litmus test to judge the runners and riders for the Academy Awards.

By Anna Leszkiewicz

It’s been a big year for British film. 2017 saw the release of a number of commercially (Dunkirk, Paddington 2) and critically (God’s Own Country, I Am Not A Witch, The Levelling) successful British films. British directors have been at the helm of some of the year’s biggest releases (from Edgar Wright for Baby Driver, to Christopher Nolan for Dunkirk, and Patty Jenkins for Wonder Woman). British actors from Daniel Kaluuya in Get Out and Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water to Emma Watson in Beauty and the Beast and Lily James in Baby Driver and Darkest Hour.

Plus, 2017 was the most lucrative year in history for the UK box office, up 3.6 per cent from 2016 at £1.3 billion according to data from Comscore, thanks to three Disney blockbusters (Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Beauty and the Beast, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2) as well as British (co-)productions Dunkirk and Paddington 2.

The BAFTA nominations, released to the public this morning, partially tell that story. The BAFTAs have always been a tricky awards ceremony. Their stated purpose is “to recognise, honour and reward individuals for outstanding achievement in feature films released in the UK” – ie the British element only refers to the fact that the British public must have been able to see the films in question. But the inclusion of British-specific categories (Outstanding British Film, Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer, British Short Animation and British Short Film), as well as the fact that mainstream British films are often more prominently rewarded, suggest that they also serve the purpose of celebrating and fostering the British film industry.

Increasingly, the BAFTAs are used as a litmus test to judge the runners and riders for the Oscars. US coverage of the nominations reinforced that today: the New York Times ran their story on the “British equivalent of the Oscars” with the Twitter sell “The Bafta awards are often regarded as a bellwether for the Oscars in March”. Variety similarly opened their coverage with the phrase “The Shape of Water, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Darkest Hour lead the race for the British Academy of Film and Television Arts’ movie awards, regarded as a bellwether for the Oscars”.

Vulture used the nominations as an opportunity to run more Oscars content with their blog Why the Best Picture Front-runner Is Now Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, calling the BAFTAs “the British version of the Oscars” and noting that “the Academy shares many across-the-board members with that organisation”.

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Some British films and co-productions have been very successful in this year’s nominations, including Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour (9 nominations each), to Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk (8). Oscar favourites Call Me By Your Name and The Shape of Water also broke into the Best Film category.

British actors dominate the Leading Actor Category, with Daniel Day Lewis, Daniel Kaluuya, Gary Oldman and Jamie Bell all receiving nominations, while Lesley Manville and Sally Hawkins also received Leading Actress nods.

This marks the fifth year in a row that no women have been nominated in the best director category. The last woman to be nominated in this category was Kathryn Bigelow back in 2013 for Zero Dark Thirty.

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