At the end of the Bafta-nominated Zero Dark Thirty, a bunch of intrepid Navy Seals blunder up the stairwell of a fortified compound, unsure what they’re going to find there, not knowing if they’ve even got the right place. They’re shooting at shadows, working on a hunch. In this respect they are slightly better briefed than the journalists currently preparing to climb the stairs to the Bafta press room, right at the top of London’s Royal Opera House.
Tear up the script and toss out the form guide. This year’s awards season is the most open affair that I can remember: a hazy huddle of frontrunners, all seemingly bobbing back and forth in front of the finish line. Ben Affleck‘s Argo unseats Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln at the Golden Globes – and yet Affleck isn’t even nominated at the Oscars. Lincoln leads the field at the Bafta nominations – and yet Spielberg fails to make director shortlist. The favourites all have feet of clay.
Judged on the numbers, Lincoln remains the film to beat at Sunday’s Baftas, if only because its 10 nominations put it a whisker ahead of Tom Hooper’s belabouring adaptation of Les Misérables (nine) and Ang Lee’s winsome Life of Pi (also nine). And yet for all that, the only prize Lincoln can feel truly confident of taking home is the best actor statue. Thank heavens for Daniel Day-Lewis. He’s the one sure thing in a sea of imponderables.
Best actress? I’m leaning towards Emmanuelle Riva, the 85-year-old mainstay of Michael Haneke’s Amour, although both Jennifer Lawrence (Silver Linings Playbook) and Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty) must fancy their chances. Anne Hathaway looks a decent bet to secure the best supporting actress prize for her brief, anguished eruption in Les Misérables, while Django Unchained‘s Christoph Waltz has a slight advantage in a best supporting actor race, though one can bet that Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Master) and Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln) will be running him close.
The pattern continues with the murk and muddle of the best director nominees (pattern? It looks more like a splatter painting). The heart says Quentin Tarantino but the head says Affleck – particularly in the absence of Spielberg and Hooper. Incidentally, can this be right? The directors of Bafta’s two most nominated pictures, both shut out of the best director category. What is Bafta saying here? That the only bad thing about these brilliant, brilliant movies were the idiot directors asleep at the wheel?
Moving hastily on, we come to the films themselves, which Bafta divvies up (with a few canny duplications) between six different categories: “best picture”, “outstanding British film”, “best foreign film”, “best animation”, “best documentary” and “outstanding debut by a British writer, director or producer”. In a rush, working blind, I’m picking Amour (for foreign), Frankenweenie (animation), The Imposter (debut) and Searching For Sugar Man (documentary).
Les Misérables, significantly, crops up on both the best film shortlist and in the outstanding British film category that precedes it. Keep an eye on that British award. If it goes to Skyfall (as I think it will), then I’m backing Les Misérables to take the night’s crowning prize. And if it doesn’t – in other words, if Les Mis is named best British film – then I’m switching my allegiance and calling it for Lincoln.
The EE British Academy film awards kick off at 7pm (GMT) on Sunday 10 February. As in previous years, I shall be there, live-blogging the event throughout the evening and alternately blushing and wincing at all the