Pete Hammond

If there was any question before today’s British Academy Film Awards that The Artist was the film to beat for the Oscars, the results in London just cemented it, and in an impressive sweep that portends big things. It wasn’t just the expected awards for Picture, Director, Music Score, Costumes. It was also another Best Actor notch in Jean Dujardin’s belt following his all-important SAG win two weeks ago. It also scored less obvious BAFTA trophies  for its black and white Cinematography and most surprisingly for director Michel Hazanavicius’ Original Screenplay, a category widely predicted to go to Woody Allen for Midnight In Paris. A writing award for a screenplay of a essentially dialogue-less movie surprised even Hazanavicius who has told me he expects to lose in this category to his idol, Allen.  It just goes to show the amount of love this film has gotten, not only from critics but the industry where it has also won key PGA and DGA honors. BAFTA, like those groups has a large crossover of Academy members. As much as one sixth of the entire Academy voting bloc are also members of BAFTA.

Last year’s BAFTA winners for Picture , Actor and Actress (The King’s Speech’s Colin Firth and Black Swan’s Natalie Portman) all repeated at the Oscars although oddly Social Network’s David Fincher beat hometown boy Tom Hooper in the directing contest while King’s Speech co-stars Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham Carter took Supporting awards only to lose to The Fighter’s Christian Bale and Melissa Leo (she wasn’t even nominated for a BAFTA) at the Oscars. Two years ago Oscar fave The Hurt Locker took the BAFTA Best Picture and directing award but local favorites Firth (A Single Man) and Carey Mulligan (An Education) grabbed the lead acting awards while corresponding Oscars went to Jeff Bridges and Sandra Bullock.

So even with the Academy voter crossover the correlation isn’t perfect but it is significant, and it can change the dynamics of the race.  In 2007 after losing in previous matchups both Lead Actress Marion Cotillard (La Vie En Rose) and Supporting Actress Tilda Swinton (Michael Clayton) got their first significant wins late in the awards season game at BAFTA and rode those victories straight to upset wins at the Oscars.  And like Dujardin seems to be doing this year,  Roberto Begnini in 1998 took SAG/BAFTA victories to a somewhat surprising (at the time) Best Actor Oscar win for Life Is Beautiful. And while BAFTA is the last pre-Oscar test for his category mates Brad Pitt, George Clooney and Gary Oldman, Dujardin can lock up yet another win on February 24 at the French Cesar awards giving him a quartet of major victories (SAG, BAFTA, Cesar, Golden Globe) before walking into the Kodak on the 26th.  While Clooney seemed to be ruling the Best Actor race early on, all momentum has now shifted to Dujardin who also is winning charm points from a recent Jay Leno appearance, a hilarious Funny or Die video  and last night’s surprise dancing turn on Saturday Night Live. He’s on a roll, peaking at just the right moment and part of a movie juggernaut that appears to be coasting to Best Picture. The stars are aligned , folks.

On the other hand the Best Actress race is starting to turn into something resembling the Republican primary. It’s become a real knock down-drag out battle between BAFTA, Golden Globe and New York Film Critics winner Meryl Streep vs The Help’s  Viola Davis who beat Streep head on at the Critics Choice Movie Awards and SAG. I suppose Streep held a bit of an advantage at BAFTA since she played ‘The Iron Lady’, an iconic ,if controversial , British figure in Margaret Thatcher. But it was no slam dunk as there was some question as to how the Brit contingent would welcome this American superstar playing one of their own. It didn’t seem to hurt. In fact during a Q&A I moderated last week with Streep an audience member asked if it might be more appropiate for an English actress to have been cast as Thatcher. Streep laughed and didn’t miss a beat by replying, “We all bring something very specific (to a role). I brought a lot of New Jersey to Margaret Thatcher”.

And now both Streep and Davis head to Oscars with no clear outright momentum in their seesaw battle at  the precursor awards. Hard to say and should they split the vote, could a third contender, My Week With Marilyn’s  Michelle Williams sneak in for the upset? Stranger things have happened and I have talked to numerous voters who told me they voted for Williams. Incidentally this is only Streep’s second BAFTA win ever. Of 14 previous nominations she last won 30 years ago for The French Lieutenant’s Woman.

The BAFTA supporting winners Christopher Plummer (Beginners)  and Octavia Spencer (The Help) continue their winning ways without a stumble and these BAFTA wins pretty much guarantee they will be repeating in the same categories at the Oscars, no suspense here folks.

Among chief Best Picture rivals of The Artist , the BAFTA results were downright discouraging.  Hugo, which wasn’t even nominated for Best Film but did get 9 nods won only two for Sound and Production Design. Still that was a better showing that either Moneyball, The Descendants and Midnight In Paris which all went home empty handed. Ouch.  The Help took only Spencer’s Supporting award. This was a trouncing by The Artist of such proportions that Adapted Screenplay winner Peter Straughn (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy) said upon accepting, “I’d just like to thank The Artist for not being adapted from a book”.

There is a little bit of good news on the horizon for competitors of The Artist. In the WGA awards , the last major Guild awards show of the season next Sunday, The Artist isn’t nominated due to its ineligibility since it wasn’t produced under Writers Guild auspices. But other than that  it appears the improbable contender, a French produced black and white silent film that has made less at the box office to date than all of its major competition, is looking like it just can’t lose.

Harvey Weinstein strikes again.

Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.