The BAFTA surprises weren’t major surprises, except for one: the Outstanding British Film was Andrea Arnold’s gritty Fish Tank instead of the more internationally recognized An Education. Nominated for eight BAFTAs, An Education ended up winning only one: Best Actress for Carey Mulligan, whose victory could be considered "a surprise" only in the sense that across the Atlantic she has no chance — or almost no chance — of winning the Oscar.
But in her home turf, Mulligan’s chances were anything but nil. An Education has been widely praised and the same goes for Mulligan’s performance as a schoolgirl involved with a man twice her age. Admittedly, Meryl Streep was a formidable competitor for her star turn in Julie & Julia — Streep’s one and only BAFTA win took place in 1982 for The French Lieutenant’s Woman — but since the British Academy tends to ignore British talent in its nominations, it’s understandable they’d at least want to honor some local industryites with actual trophies. Perhaps less a matter of nativism than just plain survival.
That also explains Colin Firth’s Best Actor win (his first) for his bereaved gay college professor in Tom Ford’s A Single Man. Like Mulligan, Firth has almost no chance at the Oscars, but he’s both British and an "underappreciated" veteran. Jeff Bridges, the favorite to win the Academy Award for Best Actor is hardly a stellar attraction in Britain and there’s no sentimental reason to honor him as his "underappreciated" career has been decidedly based on the other side of the Atlantic. Come to think of it, see Colin Firth’s BAFTA Award as the mirror image of Jeff Bridges’ Academy Award — which he’ll surely win next March 7.
Jacques Audiard’s prison drama A Prophet beat Michael Haneke’s sociopolitical drama The White Ribbon — again. And for that, it received the most enthusiastic applause of the evening, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Just a few days ago, the London Film Critics’ Circle chose A Prophet as the best film of 2009, defeating not only The White Ribbon, but also The Hurt Locker and Avatar. Could A Prophet surprise at the Oscars as well? Stay tuned — though its tough, brutal atmosphere may turn off the usually conservative voters in the Academy’s Best Foreign Language Film category. But then again, The White Ribbon is no walk in the park…
By the way, Sandra Bullock wasn’t in the running as The Blind Side will only qualify for the 2011 BAFTAs. By then, Bullock and her sleeper blockbuster will likely have been long forgotten. Old news. Passe.
Come next January, when the BAFTA nominations are announced, we shall see if it’s indeed all about timing and having the right p.r. momentum.