Bafta nominations 2019: Fascinating Favourite continues its journey
Given that the Baftas always have an Oscar-shaped shadow looming over them, it was fitting that this year's nomination list includes a little bit of transatlantic tit-for-tat: the American Golden Globes had shortlisted John C Reilly's Oliver Hardy for a best actor prize for Jon Baird's Stan & Ollie - but not Steve Coogan's Stan Laurel. Now Bafta has nominated Coogan, but not Reilly.
Otherwise, there were no real surprises, other than the inevitable mosaic of snubs, now a fixed talking point of almost any prize occasion: the list of nominated directors, though formidable, is all-male, with nothing for Lynne Ramsay and Debra Granik (although Ramsay's You Were Never Really Here makes it onto the Best British film list). Elsewhere, Barry Jenkins is unrewarded for If Beale Street Could Talk and Steve McQueen is also bafflingly overlooked as director for his terrific heist thriller Widows, although Viola Davis's sledgehammer performance puts her onto the best actress list. Perhaps residual snobbery explains Bafta's indifference to one of the year's best films, Ari Aster's excellent horror Hereditary, with a glorious leading turn from Toni Collette.
But of course the leading contender is Yorgos Lanthimos's absurdist nightmare of the Restoration English court, starring the incomparable Olivia Colman: The Favourite. It's a title which might under other circumstances invite hubris, but not now. (The same thing very much can't be said, incidentally, for Jason Reitman's very mediocre awards-bait political drama The Front Runner, scoring zilch.)
Olivia Colman is wonderful as the emotionally damaged Queen Anne, playing off two politically ambitious noblewomen against each other (played by Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz, both nominated as best supporting actress); the queen is of course being played by them, and perhaps all three are being played by some toxic groupthink dysfunction that hovers in the polluted air. Anne and her favourites are in the grip of some malign madness that exists independently of each. Apart from everything else, The Favourite is a fascinating test case of auteurism. The tremendous and now Bafta-nominated screenplay by Deborah Davis and McNamara had its own kind of chemistry with Yorgos Lanthimos's bold interpretation. With a more conventional director, it might have looked like a very good, but essentially trad period comedy.
Bubbling under, to the dismay of some, is Bohemian Rhapsody with seven Bafta nominations, the same as the frankly superior A Star Is Born. Rami Malek gets a nod as best actor for his undoubtedly exhilarating impression of Freddie Mercury, although Bohemian Rhapsody doesn't rate a best film mention. This amiable, undemanding entertainment might yet snaffle a lot of silverware, by pulling off the vital trick of getting itself talked about: it might even dislodge The Favourite as the topic of industry conversation, and for some it goes down easier than Yorgos Lanthimos's dark, complex, brilliant comedy-horror. We all know about underdog films which became loved when they came out on home entertainment. Maybe film historians need to talk about the films which became powerhouse contenders when they were distributed on screener discs, those mouthwatering presents which come through the letterboxes of privileged Bafta voters (full disclosure: I'm one). Over the Christmas and New Year break, Bafta constituents have been pondering which of their discs to slide into the DVD player - and Bohemian Rhapsody is a very relaxing watch. But the fact that Bryan Singer, controversial for alleged abusive behaviour, is the credited director, might in the end count against it. In any case, I can't see it outpacing The Favourite in the Baftas. The Oscars is something else.
A Star Is Born is justly rewarded with seven nominations, and also Alfonso Cuarón's masterpiece Roma. And now, interestingly, Damien Chazelle's First Man has re-emerged in the awards race with seven nominations, the story of Neil Armstrong's personal journey to the moon - a film which, to return to the "disc" factor, I have been wondering may specifically be ill-served by the smallscreen format, withholding from voters the sheer gasp-factor of Chazelle's stunning images of space and lunar landing. Bafta is clearly warming to this heartfelt, fiercely intended, beautifully filmed account of America's greatest 20th century moment. The Russian critic Katya Mtsitouridze interestingly said that in its earnest patriotism, First Man struck her as a tiringly "Soviet" film, like movies from her homeland that praised the cosmonaut heroes.
The other players are Adam McKay's Dick Cheney satire Vice, Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansman, Peter Farrelly's Green Book and Pawel Pawlikowski's Cold War with six, five, four and four and there is scope for a groan that Pawlikowski's wonderful film is not doing better than that. It certainly seems better than Green Book, the true-life (but embellished) story of Mahershala Ali's brilliant African-American musician being ferried around by his Italian-American driver, played by Viggo Mortensen. It perhaps looks like another exercise in liberal timidity, a white-black odd-couple pairing which arguably suggests that the growing pains of the white character are equivalent in importance to the black man's injustices.
Perhaps the most interesting category list, and certainly the most important for its nominees is the outstanding British debut, which includes Daniel Kokotajlo's searing Apostasy, Michael Pearce's Beast, Chris Kelly's Cambodian Spring, Leanne Welham's Pili, and also Richard Billingham's Ray & Liz, starring Justin Salinger, a film which has been quietly picking up international festival love. My tip here is Apostasy.
So The Favourite continues its awards season in the sun, spearheaded by Olivia Colman's classic, unique acting performance: and I for one wouldn't argue with it. -The Guardian