Trial by Fire
The film plods at points, trudging along, and there are a few misguided narrative "devices" tacked on, but still, "Trial by Fire" bristles with anger.
Like the often
meaningless SAG Ensemble prize, there is still an idea in some people's minds that the
British Academy of Film and Television (the BAFTAs, handed out this past weekend) is a worthy prognosticator of who will win the Academy Awards. When will
they learn? Maybe because it is the last "major" group to throw their
two cents in before the final prizes are distributed, but there is too much to
suggest that they are not the ones to use to mark your Oscar pool ballot.
In the ongoing flip-flop of whether Oscar will reward "12 Years a Slave" or "Gravity", BAFTA went with Brit Steve McQueen's film. Over the years when the group has mismatched the eventual Oscar winner, they have often gone with the British production (or co-production.) A list that has included Best Picture winners like "Atonement", "The Queen" and even "The Full Monty". Conspiracy issues aside, they also chose "Gravity" as Best British Film at this weekend's ceremony; a head-scratcher that evidently comes down to Brit David Heyman being one of the film's producers (alongside Alfonso and Jonas Cuarón.)
In BAFTA's favor their last five choices for Best Picture did go on to win the Oscar. That's a remarkable streak that began after four years of completely whiffing with two of the aforementioned British films and then on "Brokeback Mountain" and "The Aviator", which were considered favorites at the time. "12 Years a Slave" and "Gravity" fall under the pattern of the 2004 and 2005 races (when "Crash" and "Million Dollar Baby" took top prize); close ones that could go either way and will keep even the most assured of pundits glued until the final award on March 2.
("Gravity") took BAFTA's award, continuing a string of awards that
includes Los Angeles, The Golden Globes, and the BFCA. He has won more than
twice as many director trophies as McQueen, and while BAFTA is a nice addition,
it is the Directors Guild prize that continues to loom large. Only twice since
2001 has the DGA winner not won the Oscar and one of those was last year when
Ben Affleck was not even nominated by the Academy. Compare that to BAFTA only
matching five times in those 12 years and it feels like a race that was over before BAFTA joined in the chorus.
BEST ACTOR & SUPPORTING ACTOR
Flipping the script on their own numbers, each category is 7-for-12 since '01 from BAFTA-to-Oscar. Their winners this year were Chiwetel Ejiofor ("12 Years a Slave") and Barkhad Abdi ("Captain Phillips"), respectively. But there is one major asterisk as to why these victories are meaningless. Neither Matthew McConaughey or Jared Leto were even nominated for "Dallas Buyers Club". At the time of the nominations, the film had not yet opened in Britain. Voters had screeners and it was eligible, so the cloud of its omission could be attributed to either them not liking the movie (which received zero nods) or enough voters simply did not bother to watch it. Seeing as how the last nine Screen Actors Guild winners for Best Actor and five of the last seven for Supporting Actor won the Oscar, McConaughey and Leto remain your favorites despite their BAFTA "snubs".
BEST ACTRESS & SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Cate Blanchett's BAFTA win gives her a virtual clean sweep through awards season. New York, Los Angeles and Chicago all for Blanchett. BFCA, the Globes and SAG also all went for Cate. Daniel Day-Lewis ("There Will Be Blood"), Colin Firth ("The King's Speech"), Helen Mirren ("The Queen"), Mo'Nique ("Precious") and Christoph Waltz ("Inglourious Basterds") are all recent recipients of such a sweep and each closed their run with an Oscar. Blanchett's latest win is also the first in the wake of the editorial he-said/she-said involving "Blue Jasmine" director Woody Allen that some have speculated could hurt her chances. But let's keep the speculation to something as meaningless as awards and let people seek the truth in the other matter.
If BAFTA has one record that should raise some eyebrows around the prognosticators, it is in the category of Supporting Actress. Not only have they correctly matched 10 of the last 12 Oscar winners, but the last four times they missed, going back to 1996 the eventual Oscar recipient failed to even be nominated by the Brits. Kim Basinger ("L.A. Confidential"), Angelina Jolie ("Girl, Interrupted"), Marcia Gay Harden ("Pollock") and Rachel Weisz ("The Constant Gardener") were all snubbed by BAFTA. You have to go back to 1995 to see a true miss (when Mira Sorvino lost to Kate Winslet for "Sense and Sensibility"). This year's winner was Jennifer Lawrence ("American Hustle") who is in a see-saw battle with SAG winner Lupita Nyong'o ("12 Years a Slave"). If we are going to continue hearing how much the BAFTAs matter to the race for Oscar, those beating that drum should be rooting for Lawrence to settle this virtual tie.
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...