The blizzard of nominations for Atonement, There Will Be Blood and No Country For Old Men suggests a year in which the Orange British Academy Film Awards were devoid of surprises.
Atonement for one always seemed destined for BAFTA glory. It has the literary pedigree that BAFTA voters like in a best picture winner, an appealing team of past BAFTA nominees (including Joe Wright and James McAvoy) and was released in the late summer/early autumn period that has become crucial for prestige British contenders.
It never felt like a year when a feelgood musical such as Hairspray, a salty comedy such as Knocked Up or a pure delight such as Ratatouille stood a chance of making an impression on the main categories. The BAFTA voters have been drawn to serious films with weighty themes of guilt, greed, corruption, recrimination and the heavy burden of moral responsibility. Atonement is a prime contender.
But dig a little deeper and it is clear there are both surprises and what could be some interesting trends. The real shock is the lack of nominations for some of the most widely admired US films of the past year. Into The Wild, Before The Devil Knows You're Dead, Zodiac and The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford have all been ignored and the lack of a best supporting actor nomination for Casey Affleck in the latter is as astonishing as the lack of a foreign-language nomination for Palme d'Or winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days.
Something is definitely changing in BAFTA tastes when the French-language Edith Piaf biopic La Vie En Rose notches up seven nominations, Germany's The Lives Of Others is nominated five times and some of Hollywood's finest, including Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, David Fincher, Sean Penn and Tim Burton, are all snubbed.
"I think BAFTA members just vote for the films they like and both La Vie En Rose and The Lives Of Others struck a real chord with them in the way some of those other films did not," says BAFTA film chair Finola Dwyer.
The availability of screeners has certainly played a role. No DVDs of Sweeney Todd were made available and the film seems to have suffered as a consequence.
"Screeners do allow more of the membership to see more of the films," agrees Dwyer. "Films without screeners or those released late in the season may be at a disadvantage and this is something we need to work on with distributors especially once the long shortlist has been announced."
The nominations from the past two years have also shown a strong British presence. Elizabeth: The Golden Age was never likely to repeat the BAFTA success of its predecessor but a best actress nomination for Cate Blanchett and three further nominations is a considerable achievement. Nominations for This Is England, Eastern Promises, The Bourne Ultimatum and Control offer further evidence that BAFTA voters are prepared to seek out and reward excellence in British film-making, though Control's Sam Riley must feel disappointed not to have received a best actor nomination.
The success of British productions in all categories may throw some doubt on the continued validity of the Alexander Korda Award for best British film. Last year The Queen was BAFTA's best picture but The Last King Of Scotland won best British film. It is equally possible, this year, that Atonement will win best picture while another title, such as Control, will be chosen as best British film. Nominees such as The Bourne Ultimatum, directed by Paul Greengrass, and Eastern Promises may legitimately qualify as British but is there anyone who does not consider them a superior Hollywood threequel and the new David Cronenberg film respectively'
"The Korda is a very important award that focuses on the excellence of British film," says Dwyer. "The whole process of arriving at the nominations is always evolving, with the move from juries to chapter voting and the greater involvement of the membership. We always have a comprehensive de-briefing and maybe the anomalies you point out will be something we discuss."
The nominations have left us with clear front-runners in Atonement for best film, Daniel Day-Lewis for best actor and Ratatouille for animated film but BAFTA still has plenty to ponder.
Atonement - 14
No Country For Old Men - 9
There Will Be Blood - 9
La Vie En Rose - 7
The Bourne Ultimatum - 6
American Gangster - 5
The Lives Of Others - 5
Michael Clayton - 5
Elizabeth: The Golden Age - 4
The Kite Runner - 3
Control - 3
The Diving Bell And The Butterfly - 2
Eastern Promises - 2
Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix - 2
Juno - 2
Lust, Caution - 2
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street - 2
This Is England - 2
Away From Her - 1
Charlie Wilson's War - 1
The Golden Compass - 1
Hairspray - 1
I'm Not There - 1
Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End - 1
Ratatouille - 1
Shrek The Third - 1
The Simpsons Movie - 1
Spider-Man 3 - 1
Taking Liberties - 1
Scott Walker: 30 Century Man - 1
Brick Lane - 1
The Killing Of John Lennon - 1
- The Orange British Academy Film Awards takes place on February 10
- For a full list of nominations, see www.screendaily.com.