Though Gravity won six Baftas, 12 Years a Slave was widely ignored, winning just two of the big awards. David Gritten reflects on a baffling Baftas 2014.
Until now, this hasn’t been the most surprising of awards seasons, and for some time it’s seemed likely that two wildly different films – Gravity and 12 Years a Slave – would carve up a sizeable chunk of Bafta categories between them.
As it turned out, on a night of unpredictable results, 12 Years a Slave won two big awards – best film and leading actor (Chiwetel Ejiofor). But that was it: in the eight other categories in which it was nominated, it was surprisingly shut out.
In contrast, Gravity held up well, winning the night with six of its 11 nominations proving successful – including outstanding British film, director (Alfonso Cuarón) and cinematographer (Emanuel Lubezki), and a Bafta for its brilliant special visual effects team, who made it a unique viewing experience.
By overlooking the claims of 12 Years a Slave in category after category, Bafta voters drove a coach and horses through any absolute certainties surrounding the film. Since it premiered at the Toronto Film Festival last September, some critics and film industry insiders have been proclaiming it as the film that would sweep all before it through this entire awards season, all the way to the Oscars in a fortnight’s time. Bafta’s electorate proved rather more sceptical.
Yet the results look somewhat skewed. It seems odd that 12 Years a Slave would be named best film, but only come away with one other Bafta, with its director Steve McQueen sidelined in favour of Cuarón.
Though 12 Years a Slave is set in mid- 19th century Louisiana, and deals with slavery in America, it’s a film with strong British creative input talent: McQueen, Ejiofor, and backers including Channel 4, whose Tessa Ross is one of its executive producers. Yet it doesn’t qualify as a British film.
Gravity does, and there’s been plenty of debate, some of it specious, about whether it should. True, in Cuarón it has a Mexican-born director, and the only two actors on screen, Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, are American. But this remarkable, game-changing movie was conceived and executed in Britain, by masses of unsung but talented British craftspeople, with Tim Webber and his world-class special visual effects team to the fore. Literally hundreds of households in this country, including that of its British producer David Heyman, will be celebrating Gravity’s successes tonight because a family member played a part in its creation.
There were shocks in the supporting actor and actresses categories – and 12 Years a Slave took a hit both times. Jennifer Lawrence, hugely popular in the film industry here and in the States, took the supporting actress BAFTA for her role as an outspoken, erratic wife in American Hustle, thus beating out hot favourite Lupita Nyong’o. Barkhad Abdi, who played one of the Somali pirates in Captain Phillips, caused an even bigger upset, winning the supporting actor Bafta over Michael Fassbender, who was odds-on with the bookies to lift the award.
And when it came to the adapted screenplay category, home favourites Steve Coogan and Geoff Pope took the BAFTA for their inventive, radical overhaul of Martin Sixsmith’s book The Lost Child of Philomena Lee. The resulting film, Philomena, starring Judi Dench and Coogan, has been notably popular among BAFTA voters at screenings in recent weeks. But again the favourite, 12 Years a Slave’s screenwriter John Ridley, was shut out.
As for Dench, a perennial Bafta winner, not even she could overcome Cate Blanchett’s mesmerising performance as a latter-day Blanche du Bois in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine.
More independent-minded voting by BAFTA members made itself evident: Dan Hanley and Mike Hill, editors of the Formula One saga Rush, were victorious, though they have been overlooked for an Oscar nomination by the American Academy.
Still, the night’s two big stories were the creditable six awards for Gravity and the surprising setbacks for 12 Years a Slave, despite its two big wins. Supporters of Bafta like to claim that their awards wield real influence on the outcome of the Oscars; members of the American Academy still have nine more days to cast their votes. This looks like a good year to test that proposition.