BAFTA, like the Oscars… Unable To Raise The Bar. Again.

BAFTA_awardIs it wrong that I hold films up to a higher standard than the average awards ceremony? That’s a good thing, right? Film as an art form and as entertainment (they are not mutually exclusive) is something that is immensely important to me. This is why I am forever disappointed when awards season rolls around and mediocrity is celebrated as greatness on a grand scale. That’s not to say some deserving films don’t win, or great performances get recognized, but over all, the results seem to celebrate playing it safe as opposed to striving for something unique. Sameness and familiarity is oftentimes the word of the day. Always exceptions, yes, but sometimes even those exceptions seem to be instilled with a lowest-common-denominator bias.

In my imagination, I hold European awards ceremonies to a higher standard. But the BAFTA Awards remind me that my imagination is just that. To start, here’s a list of the BAFTA winners and nominees.

“Boyhood,” Richard Linklater, Cathleen Sutherland (WINNER)
“Birdman,” Alejandro G. Inarritu, John Lesher, James W. Skotchdopole
“The Grand Budapest Hotel,” Wes Anderson, Scott Rudin, Steven Rales, Jeremy Dawson
“The Imitation Game,” Nora Grossman, Ido Ostrowsky, Teddy Schwarzman
“The Theory of Everything,” Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Lisa Bruce, Anthony Mccarten

“The Theory of Everything,” James Marsh, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Lisa Bruce, Anthony Mccarten (WINNER)
“’71,” Yann Demange, Angus Lamont, Robin Gutch, Gregory Burke
“The Imitation Game,” Morten Tyldum, Nora Grossman, Ido Ostrowsky, Teddy Schwarzman, Graham Moore
“Paddington,” Paul King, David Heyman
“Pride,” Matthew Warchus, David Livingstone, Stephen Beresford
“Under the Skin,” Jonathan Glazer, James Wilson, Nick Wechsler, Walter Campbell

Eddie Redmayne, “The Theory of Everything” (WINNER)
Benedict Cumberbatch, “The Imitation Game”
Jake Gyllenhaal, “Nightcrawler”
Michael Keaton, “Birdman”
Ralph Fiennes, “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

Julianne Moore, “Still Alice” (WINNER)
Amy Adams, “Big Eyes”
Felicity Jones, “The Theory of Everything”
Reese Witherspoon, “Wild”
Rosamund Pike, “Gone Girl”

“Boyhood,” Richard Linklater (WINNER)
“Birdman,” Alejandro G. Inarritu
“The Grand Budapest Hotel,” Wes Anderson
“The Theory of Everything,” James Marsh
“Whiplash,” Damien Chazelle

J.K. Simmons, “Whiplash” (WINNER)
Edward Norton, “Birdman”
Ethan Hawke, “Boyhood”
Mark Ruffalo, “Foxcatcher”
Steve Carell, “Foxcatcher”

Patricia Arquette, “Boyhood” (WINNER)
Emma Stone, “Birdman”
Imelda Staunton, “Pride”
Keira Knightley, “The Imitation Game”
Rene Russo, “Nightcrawler”

“The Grand Budapest Hotel,” Wes Anderson (WINNER)
“Birdman,” Alejandro G. Inarritu, Nicolas Giacobone, Alexander Dinelaris Jr, Armando Bo
“Boyhood,” Richard Linklater
“Nightcrawler,” Dan Gilroy
“Whiplash,” Damien Chazelle

“Birdman,” Emmanuel Lubezki (WINNER)
“The Grand Budapest Hotel,” Robert Yeoman
“Ida,” Lukasz Zal, Ryzsard Lenczewski
“Interstellar,” Hoyte Van Hoytema
“Mr. Turner,” Dick Pope

“The Lego Movie,” Phil Lord, Christopher Miller (WINNER)
“Big Hero 6,” Don Hall, Chris Williams
“The Boxtrolls,” Anthony Stacchi, Graham Annable

“The Theory of Everything,” Anthony Mccarten (WINNER)
“American Sniper,” Jason Hall
“Gone Girl,” Gillian Flynn
“The Imitation Game,” Graham Moore
“Paddington,” Paul King

Stephen Beresford (Writer), David Livingstone (Producer), “Pride” (WINNER)
Elaine Constantine (Writer/Director), “Northern Soul”
Gregory Burke (Writer), Yann Demange (Director), “’71”
Hong Khaou (Writer/Director), “Lilting”
Paul Katis (Director/Producer), Andrew De Lotbiniere (Producer), “Kajaki: The True Story”

“The Grand Budapest Hotel,” Alexandre Desplat (WINNER)
“Birdman,” Antonio Sanchez
“Interstellar,” Hans Zimmer
“The Theory of Everything,” Johann Johannsson
“Under the Skin,” Mica Levi

“Citizenfour,” Laura Poitras (WINNER)
“20 Feet From Stardom,” Morgan Neville, Caitrin Rogers, Gil Friesen
“20,000 Days on Earth,” Iain Forsyth, Jane Pollard
“Finding Vivian Maier,” John Maloof, Charlie Siskel
“Virunga,” Orlando Von Einsiedel, Joanna Natasegara

“Ida,” Pawel Pawlikowski, Eric Abraham, Piotr Dzieciol, Ewa Puszczynska (WINNER)
“Leviathan,” Andrey Zvyagintsev, Alexander Rodnyansky, Sergey Melkumov
“The Lunchbox,” Ritesh Batra, Arun Rangachari, Anurag Kashyap, Guneet Monga
“Trash,” Stephen Daldry, Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Kris Thykier
“Two Days, One Night,” Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne, Denis Freyd

“The Grand Budapest Hotel,” Frances Hannon (WINNER)
“Guardians of the Galaxy,” Elizabeth Yianni-Georgiou, David White
“Into the Woods,” Peter Swords King, J. Roy Helland
“Mr. Turner,” Christine Blundell, Lesa Warrener
“The Theory of Everything,” Jan Sewell

“The Grand Budapest Hotel,” Milena Canonero (WINNER)
“The Imitation Game,” Sammy Sheldon Differ
“Into the Woods,” Colleen Atwood
“Mr. Turner,” Jacqueline Durran
“The Theory of Everything,” Steven Noble

“The Grand Budapest Hotel,” Adam Stockhausen, Anna Pinnock (WINNER)
“Big Eyes,” Rick Heinrichs, Shane Vieau
“The Imitation Game,” Maria Djurkovic, Tatiana Macdonald
“Interstellar,” Nathan Crowley, Gary Fettis
“Mr. Turner,” Suzie Davies, Charlotte Watts

“The Bigger Picture,” Chris Hees, Daisy Jacobs, Jennifer Majka (WINNER)
“Monkey Love Experiments,” Ainslie Henderson, Cam Fraser, Will Anderson
“My Dad,” Marcus Armitage

“Whiplash,” Tom Cross (WINNER)
“Birdman,” Douglas Crise, Stephen Mirrione
“The Grand Budapest Hotel,” Barney Pilling
“The Imitation Game,” William Goldenberg
“Nightcrawler,” John Gilroy
“The Theory of Everything,” Jinx Godfrey

“Whiplash,” Thomas Curley, Ben Wilkins, Craig Mann (WINNER)
“American Sniper,” Walt Martin, John Reitz, Gregg Rudloff, Alan Robert Murray, Bub Asman
“Birdman,” Thomas Varga, Martin Hernandez, Aaron Glascock, Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montaño
“The Grand Budapest Hotel,” Wayne Lemmer, Christopher Scarabosio, Pawel Wdowczak
“The Imitation Game,” John Midgley, Lee Walpole, Stuart Hilliker, Martin Jensen

“Interstellar,” Paul Franklin, Scott Fisher, Andrew Lockley (WINNER)
“Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, Erik Winquist, Daniel Barrett
“Guardians of the Galaxy,” Stephane Ceretti, Paul Corbould, Jonathan Fawkner, Nicolas Aithadi
“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies,” Joe Letteri, Eric Saindon, David Clayton, R. Christopher White
“X-Men: Days of Future Past,” Richard Stammers, Anders Langlands, Tim Crosbie, Cameron Waldbauer

Jack O’Connell (WINNER)
Gugu Mbatha-Raw
Margot Robbie
Miles Teller
Shailene Woodley

I enjoyed BOYHOOD so I don’t really have a lot to complain about here. The film didn’t move me to the degree it did others, but I admired the film and I have always been a fan of Linklater’s. As for being the best film of the year, I would personally disagree, but I can understand and get behind the admiration the film is getting. What is more difficult for me to understand is the level of mediocrity of the runner-up nominees.

THE IMITATION GAME and THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING, while both moderately entertaining with good performances, exhibit that all-too-familiar style and approach that seems to be the formula for these types of biopics. There is nothing remarkable here, nothing that comes close to being cinematically exceptional or daring in terms of story or character. To celebrate these films to such an extent limits my ability to have any trust in the voting members of an organization like BAFTA. Of course, this isn’t limited to BAFTA as most awards given and most nominees nominated are pretty similar across the board from ceremony to ceremony. It’s a global celebration of average and slightly above average.

under_the_skin_us_posterThat THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING could win outstanding British film over Glazer’s daring and original UNDER THE SKIN is something that film scholars should already be remarking on with disgust. Like when OLIVER! won Best Picture at the Oscars over 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. It simply defies logic.

I’m also a little baffled by the degree of award-love Patricia Arquette is receiving for her performance in BOYHOOD. Don’t misunderstand me, I love Patricia Arquette and thought she did a fine job in this film. But there was nothing outstanding there for me. Same goes for Ethan Hawke. Was it that they let themselves age? Was it that Patricia Arquette didn’t wear makeup and let herself gain some natural weight? Are we that shallow?

Don’t answer that.

I feel guilty coming down on performances I thought were good from actors I admire, but again, there’s a level of depth, of layering, of nuance that I look for when it comes to separating one performance from another, which is what these types of awards are, by their very nature, doing. Where’s Timothy Spall, Agata Trzebuchowska, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Agata Kulesza, Tilda Swinton, Stellan Skarsgård, Scarlett Johansson or even Katherine Waterston?

And as for directors and their films, where’s Lars von Trier, Mike Leigh, Pawel Pawlikowski, Jonathan Glazer, or Jim Jarmusch?

mrturner500Luckily, the Polish film IDA won for Best Film Not In The English Language. But why not just Best Film? And where’s MR. TURNER? Not even nominated as a Best British film? Here’s a movie that is the cream of the crop by a filmmaker who always pushes boundaries and creates emotional landscapes unlike any other. Here is a biopic that isn’t every other biopic. It’s not a glorified made-for-TV-movie. It does everything THE IMITATION GAME and THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING avoid. It succeeds in all the areas those other films fall regrettably short. BAFTA’s 6,500 voting members didn’t even find MR. TURNER strong enough competition to edge out PADDINGTON! Ironic that a film about a misunderstood and incredibly human artist would be overlooked by those whose job it is to recognize such artistic works. How is this film, filmmaker and its performers not acknowledged? It is a colossal failure on the part of BAFTA’s membership and nothing short of artistic blindness –a bad thing for any award-giving organization to flaunt. To read more on this, check out Ryan Gilbey’s piece in The Guardian,The Baftas vs Mike Leigh: why is our greatest auteur continually snubbed?”

I get the sense –and this may be completely off– that the only reason deserving films like BIRDMAN and BOYHOOD get any recognition at all is because they have a technical hook, something that could be seen as an appealing gimmick, even though I think in both films those “gimmicks” actually do greatly enhance the experience and are appropriate to the storytelling. BIRDMAN is made to look as if it were all filmed in one take, and BOYHOOD was shot in chronological order over the course of 12 years so that the characters would realistically age (both emotionally and physically). Am I being too cynical to say that voters may have been more taken in by these interesting technical approaches than by the actual substance of the films and performances themselves? Perhaps.

I know this is an old tirade for me and that my time would be better spent writing about what I like instead of what I don’t like. And yet, I feel there’s room for both. I want to see an elevation in expectation. I want to see the standard raised so that truly incredible films can find the funding and recognition they so desperately deserve. The alternative is that these films will slowly disappear or, at the very least, be much harder to find, and all that will remain in the spotlight will be those films backed by corporations and advertisers who decide what the audience will like and not like, what is quality and what is not quality, by simply limiting the playing field and, quite directly, the expectations of the audience. Meanwhile, the media will continue to play its part in promoting the gravitas of such awards and the movies they so generously celebrate. BAFTA, like the Oscars, sends a direct message to financiers, as well as to future filmmakers. And that message troubles me.

I do, however, recognize that awards ceremonies have always sported these types of artistic blinders, but I fear we are now tumbling even more deeply down this particularly cavernous rabbit hole. While Hollywood slowly transforms itself into Marvelwood, the Oscars reflect a membership that prefers to bestow their admiration on the easy, the undemanding, instead of the groundbreaking, the insightful. And BAFTA follows in the footsteps of the Oscars, always striving to match the level of popularity via unexceptionableness that the Oscars are known for. So I accept that I may never stop feeling the need to want to see that bar raised. Or to write about it. At least until my brain starts to go and I can then comfortably join the ranks of award voters around the world and collect my own name-engraved drool bib.

BAFTA, like the Oscars… Unable To Raise The Bar. Again.

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