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Some BAFTA 2023 Thoughts



The BAFTA Film Awards take place this Sunday, and I will be in the thick of it, representing Movie Marker. It’s only February, but Movie Marker will have been at three major, star-studded award shows this year alone. You can read my account of the Palm Springs Awards Gala, along with a summary below of the London Film Critics Circle Awards held last week, and you’ll be able to read my account of the BAFTAs next week.

The Baftas have a new home this year and a new host. Richard E Grant will be charming the Hollywood and local A list at the Royal Festival Hall instead of the Royal Albert Hall, where the ceremony has been held since 2017. Hopefully, Grant will bring some of his searing wit from Withnail and I to the event, which in recent years has suffered from hopelessly miscast hosts who failed to employ scriptwriters capable of writing a single funny line. An entertaining and funny host can elevate even a tedious ceremony, while one whose jokes fall flatter than bulldozed pikelets can get viewers switching over in droves. Television viewership of awards shows has plummeted in recent years, and Bafta seems to be pulling out all the stops to make this year’s show a must-watch.

For the first time, the final four category winners will be announced live on BBC One, which will make for some excitement. The four categories will be EE Rising Star, Leading Actor, Leading Actress and Best Film.

There will be a special tribute to the late Queen, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, led by Dame Helen Mirren, who won a Bafta and Oscar for playing her in Stephen Frear’s The Queen. The tribute will be in front of the Queen’s grandson, Prince William, the Prince of Wales, who is also the President of Bafta. The BAFTA Fellowship will be awarded to costume designer Sandy Powell whose work has dazzled in films such as Scorsese’s The Aviator and The Favourite.

Instead of the impressive but out-of-place acrobats Bafta has had in the past, the entertainment this year will come from Mercury Prize-winning artist Little Simz.

Generally, BAFTA knows better than the Oscars, which awards bore people. No dreary song category, no interpretive dance numbers, no toilet break time awards for best animated short in a foreign language made on an iPhone, or whatever eye-glazing categories keep the Oscars going longer than the runtime of the director’s cut of Titanic.

Bafta fashion can be hit-and-miss. I don’t know if it’s the unpredictable weather or just the English desire not to make a fuss, but I’ve seen many a guest sashay up the London red carpet, having ingeniously doubled the family tablecloth or curtains as a party dress.

It’s not that the Baftas can’t do glamour. It’s how the glamour is so often juxtaposed with downright clunky frump that gives the show its unique character.

Nevertheless, I can’t help but love it. Bafta and I go back a long way. The show used to be held in April to hand out consolation prizes to Brits who had lost out at the Oscars the previous month. It took place at the Odeon Cinema in Leicester Square, and there was always a fabulous shot of a pizza place or a kebab shop just over the shoulder of Kate Winslet or Colin Firth to keep you amused. But after a major makeover, the February date now makes it an important landmark on the road to the holy grail of film awards, that golden bloke called Oscar.

So, the ceremony now attracts the cream of the international movie crop. The list of this year’s presenters and confirmed attendances is pretty impressive and should keep viewers glued to their television sets.

To get you in the mood for all that cinematic magic, here’s a short account of last week’s London Film Critics Circle Awards held in Mayfair.

The Critics Circle event is probably the most relaxed, informal affair of awards season, although suitably glamorous, as befits a movie event. The big-name power varies from year to year. This year was a particularly great one for star wattage. Cate Blanchett, Michelle Yeoh, Florence Pugh, Bill Nighy, and Paul Mescal, to name just a few, were all present and mingling with the non-celebrity guests. Florence even joined the after-party. Looking, in her words, like ‘a bottle of Tabasco with a Puss in Boots hat’, she seemed to be enjoying herself immensely, not least when she picked up the award for best British actress of the year. She looked stunning. And for the record, she also has a very handsome brother.

Cate Blanchett continued her inexorable march towards her third Oscar by picking up yet another best actress gong for Tár. It’s undeniably deserved. She carries the film and cinema in general with a performance that will be studied in acting classes for decades to come. Like Florence, she, too, chatted with the guests, not just the other actors, took selfies with everyone who asked and looked to be having a good catchup with friends. 

Michelle Yeoh was the third point of the glamorous and friendly trio. She is having a ball, finally getting her due with Everything Everywhere All at Once as she approaches 60.

Paul Mescal didn’t win a best actor award but collected one for his Aftersun director Charlotte Wells for her best debut win. Wells sent in a written acceptance speech which Mescal readout without having seen it first. It referred to him as ‘Academy award nominee, Paul Mescal’, which embarrassed him no end as he read it and brought on huge cheers from the guests. Wells serenely continued her note, adding ‘at this point, Paul will, no doubt, be squirming!’

Bill Nighy, picking up his best British actor for Living, likened the great response to the film as “a bit like observing your own funeral. And it’s going quite well!”

Tár was the big winner of the night, picking up the main Best film award. A sign of things to come at Bafta? Or will the British Academy plump for the highly regarded German war epic All Quiet on the Western Front, as was the gossip among the critics?

Let’s see.

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