In his acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actor, Lion’s Dev Patel recalled how his family used to sit and watch the BAFTAs at home. It’s hard to imagine any family, even an English one, gathering to watch the BAFTAs. Less glamorous than the Oscars, less feisty than the Golden Globes, this awards function is presumably of interest to its nominees and to film journalists who use the results to bolster their theories about someone’s Oscar chances, but it’s difficult to imagine anyone else caring about it.
This edition threw up a couple of mild surprises, but mostly served to highlight the lack of sizzle in a field in which La La Land is the only truly glamorous contestant.
Given the predictability of the awards season till now, there might have been a few who’d have hoped Arrival, Moonlight, Manchester by the Sea or I, Daniel Blake would win the BAFTA for Best Film and shake up the Oscar sweepstakes. No such luck: La La Land collected that trophy and four others – for Best Director (Damien Chazelle), Actress (Emma Stone), Original Music (Justin Hurwitz) and Cinematography (Linus Sandgren). Indeed, the biggest story of the night seemed to be that Chazelle’s film, which had 11 nominations, hadn’t won as much as expected.
Natalie Portman (Jackie) was initially tipped as an Oscar frontrunner, but Stone’s Best Actress win here suggests that the fight for an Academy Award might be between her and Isabelle Huppert (Elle).
Viola Davis, unsurprisingly, won Best Supporting Actress for Fences (credit to the BAFTAs for nominating Hayley Squires for her heartbreaking turn in I, Daniel Blake); Patel’s win over Mahershala Ali (Moonlight) was a more unexpected. Arrival deservingly won Best Sound; Hacksaw Ridge was a surprise winner for Best Editing. Manchester by the Sea picked up two big prizes: Best Original Screenplay (Kenneth Lonergan) and Best Actor (Casey Affleck). Moonlight, which critics have been trying to build up as La La Land’s main rival, went home unrewarded.
The high point of a rather desultory night came when Mel Brooks was presented with the BAFTA Fellowship. The director of Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein gave a warm, rambling speech, applauding BAFTA’s strong selections (especially him), apologizing for the American Revolution (“We were young”) and describing England as a “vast Brooklyn that just speaks better”. Babak Anvari’s nervousness while accepting the outstanding Debut Award for Under the Shadow was kind of delightful too.
But if there’s a reason why the BAFTAs need be seen as anything but a precursor to the Oscars, this edition did not provide it.