Perhaps unsurprisingly, James Cameron’s live action remake of Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest, aka lame CGI-fest Avatar, is top dog this year with a total of 8 BAFTA nominations. It undoubtedly deserves to win the Special Visual Effects award for mould-breaking work in that field, but it’s also fairly likely to clean up in all of the other technical categories – a shame, since its main competitor there, Neil Blomkamp’s intelligent and thrilling sci-fi drama District 9, is a much better film. And isn’t a remake of Fern Gully. Nevertheless, Avatar will probably walk away with Best Film and Best Director amongst its mountain of gold.
The most prevalent British film in the nominations list is An Education, which, though it hasn’t been a particularly visible force at the box office, is a compelling, funny and touching coming-of-age drama starring brilliant newcomer Carey Mulligan. And unlike many compelling, funny and touching coming-of-age dramas, it isn't a saccharine-powered schmaltz machine. Like Avatar, it’s managed to pick up 8 nominations, though one of these is the faintly patronising ‘Outstanding British Film’, and another is Best Make-up, which – whilst it’s very important to recognise the important work done by these skilled artisans etc. etc. – is never going to get the general public particularly fired up. Mulligan, I think, might have a fair chance of taking away the Leading Actress prize, although the likelihood is that Meryl Streep (Julie and Julia) will repeat her Golden Globe success. An Education has also provided Alfred Molina with a Supporting Actor nod, and this will be a category worth watching: he’s up against not only the terrific Christian McKay (Me and Orson Welles) but also the sublime Christolph Waltz, the smiling Nazi villain from Inglourious Basterds. Each of these chaps would be a worthy recipient of the gong, but my money’s on Christoph Waltz.
The Original Screenplay category is interesting. Alongside Up¸ Inglorious Basterds and A Serious Man – all of which are screenplays constructed with tremendous skill and originality, whether you love or loathe the final movies (and I love all three) – can be found Jon Lucas and Scott Moore’s The Hangover, which has to be the least original piece of writing to make it to the big screen last year. It’s unclear why anyone would want to nominate The Hangover for anything, but what little humour appeared in the finished product lay in performances; its clumsy structure, lame jokes and supermodel-thin characterisation deserve no plaudits. That’s right, British Academy, I called it like it is – wanna fight about it?
I haven’t seen Up in the Air, so I can only guess as to whether it’s strong enough to be a serious contender for Best Film, but I don’t think it will cause Avatar fans any concern. It could lead George Clooney to victory as Best Leading Actor, but I’m not in a position to speculate. I can only base my opinion on the trailer, which is awful. Or at least half of it is: in the first half it seems to be a smart, slick comedy, accompanied by a great soundtrack and George Clooney at his most likeably cool; the second half seems to be a humourless, schmaltzy TV movie. Watch it for yourself – the change happens at about 01:33.
I haven’t seen any films in the foreign language category, so umm... let’s move on.
It’s nice to see my two favourite films of 2009, In The Loop and Moon, get a couple of nominations each, though it’s frustrating they were buried in the subset of ‘British’ categories – you know, the remedial awards for those backwards little filmmakers without American money who’ve also – bless them – managed to come up with little films all by themselves... Both films can hold their own against Hollywood flicks, and inventing special categories so that Brits get take away something seems a touch odd.
Which brings me to a short coda on a not entirely unrelated topic: last night at the National Television Awards, Stephen Fry in America was crowned ‘Best Star Travel Documentary’. Now, Stephen Fry deserves many more awards than he could possibly have time to accept in his lifetime, but look at that title: Best Star Travel Documentary. This type of absurd specificity is only surely necessary if there’s also a gong for ‘Second-best Stationary Documentary Presented by a Minor Celebrity who Doesn’t Quite Qualify as a Star Yet’. But there isn’t. There isn’t even an award for plain old vanilla ‘Best Documentary’, a prize which, incidentally, Stephen Fry in America was also good enough to have won. Other peculiarities included the category of ‘Most Popular Talent Show’, and Ant and Dec’s winning of the highly distinct awards ‘Most Popular Entertainment Programme’ and ‘Most Popular Presenter of an Entertainment Programme’. The ‘Ant and Dec Award for Being Ant and Dec’ presumably went to Paul O’Grady. At least the BAFTAs haven’t yet become quite this silly.