This Sunday is the biggest night in the British cinema calendar, where the best and brightest of the industry come together for the British Academy of Film and Television Arts awards. This year’s cinematic accolades have been dominated by the return of three seasoned pros (Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Sam Mendes) and this is reflected in the BAFTA nominations. The Irishman, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and 1917 each have a commanding presence, snatching 29 nominations between them (receiving recognition in every area awarded - acting, technical and directing & writing). It's likely that one or more of these will not receive their expected moment in the spotlight, thanks to the frontrunner of the night, and an award season black sheep, Joker. I can certainly understand the nominations for Hildur Guonadóttir's remarkable score and Joaquin Phoenix's potent lead turn but for the film to be such a presence is curious and a remarkable statement of the impact it has had. There have been comic book movies nominated before but none have been so richly rewarded as Joker, a cynical scream of anguish projected out for the world to see.
One film that has proved a wonderful dark horse is Parasite. Bong Joon-Ho is one of the great cinematic voices currently working and is simply marvellous to see his film receiving recognition, gaining four nominations (including screenplay, director and film). Other selections that bring Daily Info joy include the terrific Jessie Buckley for the fabulous Wild Rose, Taron Egerton's powerful turn in Rocketman, Oxford own's Florence Pugh (for her film-stealing turn in Little Women) and a raft of talent for the EE Rising Star award. There is also brilliance amongst some of the movies picked in specific categories: the likes of Bait and For Sama in Best British film, Maiden and Only You in Outstanding debut, The Farewell and Portrait of a Lady on Fire in Film not in the English language, Apollo 11 and Diego Maradona in Documentary, and Klaus and Shaun the Sheep: Farmageddon in Animated film. All of these are worth seeking out and, frankly, should have had a larger presence amongst the nominees.
And this seems to be the story of the night. Outside of the top four films there is a real lack of recognition for some of the very best films of the past year. Once again we have an all-male roster of directors and a noticeable absence of POC in the acting categories. 2019 was a golden year for women-directed films and yet there was no room for the likes of Greta Gerwig (Little Women), Céline Sciamma (Portrait of a Lady on Fire), Lulu Wang (The Farewell), Olivia Wilde (Booksmart), Lorene Scafaria (Hustlers), Marielle Heller (A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood), Jennifer Kent (The Nightingale) or Joanna Hogg (The Souvenir). To have acting categories that contains none of the following is mind-boggling: Lupita Nyong'o (Us), Awkwafina (The Farewell), J Lo (Hustlers), Eddie Murphy (Dolemite is my Name), Cynthia Erivo (Harriet) and Antonio Banderas (Pain & Glory). It is an uncomfortable fact that two-time Oscar winner Denzel Washington has never been nominated for a BAFTA. And finally for a British-centric award ceremony, the BAFTAs have this year failed to properly elevate British-made films, with the likes of Bait, The Souvenir and The Personal History of David Copperfield all struggling to break out beyond specialised categories.
So who would Daily Info’s movie guru like to win on the big day:
Best Film - A tough category to pick from, with it coming down to 1917 and The Irishman for me. Both are technical marvels, with one a personal tribute to the stories told by the director's grandfather and the other feeling like the culmination of a career spent exploring the gangster genre. For me The Irishman just edges 1917, thanks to its truly devastating final act and a raft of outstanding performances.
Best Director – Brilliant work from Mendes and Scorsese would make them worthy winners. But if I can’t champion Greta Gerwig I will join the Bong Hive and go with Bong Joon-ho for a staggering directorial career (Memories of Murder, The Host, Snowpiercer, Okja). He is truly a directorial genius and a very worthy winner.
Best actress – Jessie Buckley in Wild Rose is a marvel and Saoirse Ronan is so very brilliant in Little Women, but I believe this category should go to Scarlett Johansson for her heartbreaking role in Marriage Story.
Best Actor – this category is a battle between my heart and my head. My heart says Taron Egerton for his wonderful, all-singing, all-dancing turn in Rocketman. But my head says that Adam Driver is the more deserving winner, his performance entirely exemplary and the perfect compliment to Johansson’s.
Best supporting actress – the deserving winner here would be Florence Pugh, for both her ability to steal Little Women from one of the most talented ensembles of the year and as an acknowledgement that she has been on an amazing run of late, exhibiting brilliance in the likes of Lady Macbeth, Fighting with My Family and Midsommar.
Best supporting actor – it would be wonderful to see Joe Pesci rewarded on the night. Pesci came out of retirement for The Irishman and delivered a quiet, complicated performance that is perhaps the best of his career. He is remarkably good.