Film Comment: Second Chances at the BAFTAs

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Making their way through the pouring rain, the brightest and biggest stars gathered at the Royal Opera House for the latest in the British Academy’s award ceremonies. While the American Academy never fails to give an air of cynicism over the politics of their award choices and the frankly laughable charade that is the Golden Globes adds little to our appreciation of what cinema has achieved over the past year, the BAFTAs always manage to seem the fairest and the most well thought out.

While not wholly free from accusations of bias towards home-grown talent, it is nonetheless a great joy to see Skyfall, the first Bond film to have had a real awards appeal behind it, triumph in the Outstanding British Film category, beating worthy contenders Les Miserables, Anna Karenina and Seven Psychopaths. Skyfall stood tall as the most successful British film ever in terms of box office takings, and having been snubbed by international awards voters, marks a triumph in the art of creating commercially viable films that still allow for creative British film-making to flourish. Elsewhere in other categories however some have commented on the significant lack of British representation. BBC arts commentator Will Gompertz has remarked that despite a strength in the British cinema-going culture at present, there is still a lack of recognition in British cinematic output than there ought to be. Yet victory for Les Mis and Anna Karenina in a number of technical categories says to me the talent in the British film industry remains strong and will continue to fight for Britain’s place in the international industry.

This will be a question which will continue to be raised as we move through the decade. On this occasion it seemed to me that the Academy sought to give credit to a wide variety of films, with no single film coming through as having “swept the board” as The Artist or The King’s Speech did in previous years. The greatest award of the evening, that of Best Film, went to Ben Affleck’s brilliant political thriller Argo, not the film that I would have placed my bets on but a worthy winner in any circle. My guess is that this success will not be replicated at the Oscars, where the American biopic Lincoln will most likely have the edge, yet it was heartening to see the film so embraced and even more rewarding to see was Ben Affleck accepting his award for Best Director for the same film, a thoroughly deserving recipient. He spoke of the fact that following his hugely successful acting career, he felt as though the industry had forgotten him. With his fresh new voice as a film-maker, he said that he felt he had been given a “second chance” and he dedicated his triumph to anyone else looking for that second chance , “it is possible”, he proclaimed.

The acting awards went more or less as expected, with Daniel Day-Lewis making an amusing comment on his reputation for method acting while receiving his statue for Best Actor, claiming he had been in character as himself for the past 55 years in case he ever needed to make a speech such as this. Although shames to not have Skyfall win in any acting categories, as it was a shame not to see Daniel Craig nominated for Best Actor, the performances of Anne Hathaway, Christoph Waltz and Emmanuelle Riva were all deserving of their recognition. Victories in the writing categories were perfectly judged, with David Russell winning for Silver Linings Playbook and Quentin Tarantino for Django Unchained. Both of these films had problems but what success they did have should be attributed to their scripts. Special mention must go to Amour, The Imposter and Searching for Sugar Man, three films that haven’t been seen by nearly enough people, which will hopefully be given an enhanced breath of life with their successes.

Whatever you may feel about award ceremonies, which are in the end crafted as a way to promote films and twist our objective perceptions of what the best films of the year may have actually been. There is joy in seeing good work recognised and this was summed up for me in the “second chance” that Ben Affleck feels he has been given. Though a cruel industry at times, here we saw how rewarding it can be for a man who believes so strongly in what he does.

The EE British Academy Film Awards are currently available to watch on BBC iPlayer. 

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