Awards Season Thoughts

When BAFTA Got It Right

Examples of when BAFTA voters got it spot on.

There were rumblings of discontent when the BAFTA nominations were announced but let’s celebrate the times when the voters got it spot on.

Before we do this though we should have a moment of silence for:

On Sunday, the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden will play host to some of the world’s A-list film talent, including Brad Pitt, Martin Scorsese and George Clooney.

It wasn’t always the case.

Growing up watching the awards in the UK could be an odd affair as many of my childhood memories are of BAFTAs being won and the recipient not actually being there.

Until the early 2000s it was held after the Oscars, which frequently meant that A-list talent didn’t turn up as they saw the Academy Awards as the end of awards season.

You could almost hear the agents in LA say to their clients: “why fly all the way to London to be pipped by a Brit?”

But the UK and US have always had a strangely symbiotic relationship when it comes to films – many American productions film over here and utilise British studios and crews (e.g. The Dark Knight, Harry Potter).

The career of Stanley Kubrick almost embodies this duality – he so resented studio interference on Spartacus (1960) that he came to film every one of his subsequent productions in England, utilising our crews to create his extraordinary visions.

At the same time members of the Academy have always had a sweet tooth for English period fare (e.g. Chariots of Fire) and no-one has exploited this more than Harvey Weinstein, both in his days at Miramax and last year with The King’s Speech.

More generally, it is very rare to find a Best Picture winner that isn’t a period film, so the Academy’s tastes naturally align with the British addiction to period costume dramas.

But whilst BAFTA has suffered in the past from a ‘vote-for-their-own’ syndrome, they have also pulled out some corkers.

So, let us salute the worthier winners of the mask designed by Mitzi Cunliffe.


Dr. Strangelove (1964): In the year that the Academy gave Best Picture to My Fair Lady, the members of BAFTA went with Kubrick’s Cold War masterpiece. Ironically, the British set musical was filmed entirely on sound stages in Los Angeles, whilst the War Room in Washington was recreated at Shepperton Studios in England.

Day for Night (1973): Truffaut would have been 80 this week, so its worth remembering that in the year the Academy awarded The Sting Best Picture, BAFTA was rewarding one of cinemas great directors. Given that his comments about British cinema were often misquoted it was perhaps a surprise that BAFTA should salute him in this way.

But then again perhaps not. They were of the filmmaking generation that been affected by The 400 Blows (1959) and Jules et Jim (1962) so Truffaut’s masterful depiction of movie making was probably too much for them to resist. (The parallels with the Academy awarding a French film about movie making this year are interesting to chew on).


Stanley Kubrick for Barry Lyndon (1975): The Academy maye have never honoured Kubrick with a Best Director honour but BAFTA did. From Lolita (1962) onwards all of Kubrick’s films were shot in the UK, where he made his home and utilised the various studios just outside of London.

With his 1975 adaptation of Thackeray’s novel, Kubrick utilised the countryside in the UK and Ireland and even used lenses created by NASA for the impeccable interior lighting. No wonder this is Martin Scorsese’s favourite Kubrick film.

The 1970s are often talked of as a golden age for Hollywood, with The French Connection (1971), The Godfather (1972), The Godfather Part II (1974), One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and Annie Hall (1977) all winning Best Picture, as well as the many other classics that got nominated.

But check out the BAFTA winners for Best Director during the 1970s – it reads like a slightly more daring version of the Oscars.

(N.B. Butch Cassidy was 1969 but got to the UK a year late, as was the case with some films in the 1970s)

Peter Weir for The Truman Show (1998): The big Oscar battle in 1998 was between Shakespeare in Love and Saving Private Ryan. But BAFTA wisely chose the most prescient film of that year and rewarded a director who is still without an Oscar. It not only predicted the onslaught of reality TV during the 2000s but also managed to showcase Jim Carrey’s considerable acting chops (can someone please get him to do more dramas?).


Peter O’Toole for Lawrence of Arabia (1962): O’Toole still hasn’t won a Best Actor Oscar and there was a minor kerfuffle when he initially wanted to turn down an honorary Oscar in 2003 (so he “could win the bugger outright”) before relenting. BAFTA was awarding them to O’Toole in the early 1960s.


Samuel L Jackson for Pulp Fiction (1994): It was at the infamous ‘Letterman Oscars’ that Jackson was caught mouthing a four letter word as the Oscar went to Martin Landau for Ed Wood. When Barry Norman caught up with Jackson during a post-show interview Jackson responded with a cool “we’ll take care of that at the BAFTAs”. They certainly did.


Sigourney Weaver for The Ice Storm (1997): Whilst the Academy went with Kim Basinger for LA Confidential, BAFTA selected one of Weaver’s best performances. Ang Lee has always been a fine director of actors and this bittersweet drama was filled with great acting from Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, Tobey Maguire and Christina Ricci.


Geoffrey Unsworth for 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968): Such was Kubrick’s mastery of all aspects of filmmaking – and so total his control over his productions – that his DPs tend to get overshadowed. But Geoffrey Unsworth’s work in making outer space believable, just as the Apollo program was doing it for real, was fully deserving of a BAFTA.

Jordan Cronenweth for Blade Runner (1982): Its initial commercial failure didn’t deter BAFTA voters from rewarding the pioneering visuals in this sci-fi masterpiece. As Ridley Scott has noted the rainy city look appeared on a regular basis on MTV in the 1980s. Anecdote alert: at a London screening of the film I overheard someone who actually worked on it (almost certainly a BAFTA member) tell editor Terry Rawlings that he still thought there were ‘problems’ with it. Bollocks to that. It continues to dazzle, which is a miracle when you think that the original financiers almost ruined it (at one point they even fired Ridley Scott and producer Michael Deeley). Jordan sadly passed away in 1996, but his son Jeff is nominated this year for David Fincher’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011).


Luis Bunuel and Jean-Claude Carriere for The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972): It was good to see that awards for European masters weren’t just confined to the ghetto of a foreign category.

This surrealist masterpiece has some pretty wild ideas in its script, which are executed brilliantly. The screenplays that the Academy honoured that year were The Sting (Original) and The Exorcist (Adapted).


Sam O’Steen for The Graduate (1967): Whilst this was a landmark film and a gigantic hit, it wasn’t justly rewarded at the Oscars that year. Nichols won Best Director, whilst In the Heat of the Night got Best Picture. But it remains a masterclass in editing, with the pool scene being an often quoted highlight.

Steen’s wife Bobbie even wrote a book ‘Cut to the Chase‘ based their on conversations. Incidentally, Nichols’ film was pipped for the editing Oscar that year by In the Heat of the Night, which edited by future director Hal Ashby.


Art Rochester, Nat Boxer, Mike Ejve & Walter Murch for The Conversation (1974): In the days when this award was still called ‘Sound Track’, BAFTA recognized one of the most influential of all sound movies. Coppola was on a roll in 1974, managing to squeeze in The Godfather Part II that year, but it was the amazing sound design that was integral to this film’s story and power.

Murch had already done pioneering work on American Graffiti and would revolutionize sound on film further with Apocalypse Now. The Oscar that year went to Earthquake, which may have been its use of Sensurround.


Mark Herbert and Chris Morris for My Wrongs 8245-8249 and 117 (2002): Before he unleashed Four Lions on the UK, Chris Morris made this short starring Paddy Considine as a mentally disturbed man taking care of a friend’s Doberman.

Morris didn’t collect the award as he was – in the words of Herbert – “at home watching 24“.


The War Game (1966): Believe it or not, back in the Cold War when there was the persistent threat of nuclear annihilation there was actually an award for films that raised global issues. Although Dr. Strangelove (1964) had won it two years before, Peter Watkins’ The War Game was rewarded two years later for its chilling recreation of what a nuclear strike would like in 1960s Britain.

In fact it was so good, it also won the Oscar that year although it wasn’t shown on British television until 1985.

If you have any BAFTA winning films worthy of note, just leave a comment below.

> BAFTA Nominations
> More on past BAFTA ceremonies at Wikipedia

2 replies on “When BAFTA Got It Right”

One of bafta’s first best film awards was given to the neo-realist masterpiece Ladri di Biciclette (The Bicycle Thieves). An excellent choice especially considering how influential it has been through the years and that it is still cited as one of the great foreign films. It also won best foreign film oscar but it’s great that the baftas gave it the outright best film prize.

Recently though, awards ceremonies have been dire in their choices. For example it should not be such a story that a foreign film such as the artist has been nominated for best picture. It is clear that english language films get a huge huge advantage over subtitled ones due to the laziness of the judges and their lack of imagination. If judges are to take their jobs seriously they should be seeing every film that comes out and not be allowed to turn their nose up at a longer foreign language film or have to be sent a dvd in order to make sure that they have actually bothered to watch it. There is a best british film at the baftas so that they can always promote a british film but most years we see overlap of one or two films into the best picture category. This however is not the case with the foreign language category. I think there have been less than 5 foreign films nominated for oscar best picture which is a disgrace.

As a case in point, the masterful A Separation is the clear frontrunner in the best foriegn film categories of both baftas and oscars and yet hasn’t been nominated in the best film categories. I haven’t seen the likes of war horse or extremely loud and incredibly close and i don’t want to pre-judge things but i am almost certain A Separation is better made, more thought provoking and better acted than most of the nominees. People need to stop thinking of these films as “Foreign”.

Looking at the baftas in the 50s and 60s it is disappointing to see how far downhill the awards have gone. Back 50 years ago they used to nominated 10 or 15 films and the category was called best film from any source. There was a whole mix of countries represented. Nowadays it is a strict 5 and although they are much better than the oscars at giving recognition to foreign films, there have only been 5 or so nominated in the last 10 years.

the 1953 nominees for bafta best film from any source:

The Sound Barrier – Britain
The African Queen – USA
Angels One Five – Britain
The Boy Kumasenu – Gold Coast
Carrie – USA
Golden Helmet – France
Cry, the Beloved Country- Britain
Death of a Salesman -USA
Limelight – USA
Mandy – Britain
Miracle in Milan- Italy
The Young and the Damned – Mexico
Outcast of the Islands – britain
Rashomon – Japan
The River -Britain
Singin’ in the Rain- USA
A Streetcar Named Desire- USA
Viva Zapata! – USA/Mexico

as you can see there are films from japan, gold coast, britain, usa, mexico, france and italy.

the last 5 films nominated in the best film category that aren’t in english are:

the lives of others (2008 nominated)
the motorcycle diaries (2005 nominated)
amelie (2002 nominated)
crouching tiger hidden dragon (2001 nominated)
then there was a long gap until 1989 when au revoir les enfants and babette’s feast made up 2 of the 4 nominees.

pretty suprising that in 20 years the baftas have only managed to muster up 6 truly foreign films as nominees as opposed to the 50s when we saw over 2 foreign films nominated each year, some years there were 6 or 7 in one year.

baftas need to stop praising british film so much (yes it is in a great state at the moment) and praise film in general.

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