Pete Hammond

Ever since the British Academy of Film and Television Arts several years ago moved their honors ceremony to coincide with Hollywood’s awards season, it’s been hit and miss as a predictor of the Oscars. Even though there is probably a crossover of about 600 members in both organizations. This year’s results giving a near-sweep, but very significantly not complete sweep, to hometown favorite The King’s Speech did little to change the status of that film’s Oscar chances in certain key categories. It already is the frontrunner for Best Picture, and for Colin Firth as Best Actor, and for David Seidler’s Best Original Screenplay. So tonight’s BAFTA wins just add to the pile of its big Hollywood Guild wins here.

In the Supporting categories winner, Helena Bonham Carter did not have to contend with Oscar frontrunners Melissa Leo and Hailee Steinfeld who weren’t nominated by BAFTA. (Steinfeld was competing in lead while Leo was snubbed.) And the absent Geoffrey Rush’s triumph over Oscar frontrunner Christian Bale also was not surprising since The Fighter found little support in overall BAFTA nominations.

But DGA winner Tom Hooper’s loss here to The Social Network’s David Fincher is intriguing. It could mean voters may be thinking about a split ballot. The facebook origins film also won Adapted Screenplay for Aaron Sorkin as well as defeated The King’s Speech in the ever-significant Film Editing category, too. That means both films collected exactly half of their BAFTA nomination total with TKS garnering 7 out of 14 bids and TSN grabbing 3 for 6. So don’t write any obits yet for The Social Network‘s Oscar chances. Especially because, earlier in the week, the London Film Critics friended Fincher, Sorkin and the pic itself. So the plot has thickened a bit.

Sure, it’s possible that the Outstanding British Film prize which went to Hooper and The King’s Speech producers was BAFTA voters’ own way of splitting the vote knowing they could reward Hooper there and spread the wealth to Fincher in the directing category. Since 1993 when the award for Best British film was reintroduced, no single film has won both that and the overall Best Film prize — until now — although it did happen eight times between 1948 and 1968 when both prizes were previously given out. The Brits usually like to make the distinction and pick a homegrown film that may not be so high profile. This year, though, it was The King’s Speech all the way in their two main Best Film categories. No matter how you cut it, that’s a very big triumph for The King’s Speech. A Best Film loss here was unthinkable and would have turned the see-sawing race on its head. That didn’t happen. Harvey can rest.

So what effect do the BAFTAs have on the Oscars. Last year, The Hurt Locker took six BAFTAs on its way to garnering the same number at the Oscars. The year before, Slumdog Millionaire swept seven statuettes before grabbing 8 at the Oscars. But in 2005, 2006, and 2007, BAFTA’s Best Pic choices of Brokeback Mountain, The Queen, and Atonement did not match the American Academy’s ultimate choices. As for the acting correlation, last year’s supporting winners Christoph Waltz and Mo’Nique matched. But BAFTA’s lead winners Firth and Carey Mulligan did not. In 2008, the BAFTAs went three for four with Mickey Rourke taking the BAFTA over Oscar winner Sean Penn. The two years previous to that, BAFTA and the Oscars were four for four in acting races.

This year, Firth is considered a lock to repeat at the Kodak on February 27th, and BAFTA (and SAG) winner Natalie Portman is a frontrunner. She became Black Swan’s only BAFTA winner out of a whopping 12 nominations. Her most fierce Oscar competitor Annette Bening had the added burden here of competing against her The Kids Are All Right co-star Julianne Moore, possibly splitting votes. She’s on her own at the Oscars. Bening won the London Film Critics’ Best Actress award earlier in the week.

Rush and Carter remain underdogs at the Oscars unless there’s a King’s Speech tsunami in the marquee categories. In the tech arena, the Academy voters are likely to spread out the below-the-line awards even though BAFTA’s final tech awards are voted by their peer groups whereas everyone in AMPAS votes in the final tally, making across-the-board votes for one movie a greater possibility.

With only a few more below-the-line Guild shows to go (the American Society of Cinematographers is tonight), the major precursors have now been heard from and The King’s Speech is still in the driver’s seat with PGA, DGA, SAG, and now BAFTA wins. But clearly The Social Network is still hanging in there, and based on my conversations with Oscar voters, so is The Fighter despite its weak showing in jolly old England.

Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.