Atonement has always seemed destined for BAFTA glory (it leads with 14 nominations). It has the kind of literary pedigree that BAFTA voters have responded to in Best Picture winners like The English Patient, ThePianist and The Lord Of The Rings.
It is beautifully crafted by a team with a BAFTA track record in nominations and wins for Pride & Prejudiceand it was released in the late August/September time frame that is becoming a crucial window for prestige British contenders. BAFTA Best Picture winner The Queen was released at exactly the same time period in 2006 and Brideshead Revisited is likely to occupy that slot in 2008.
The staggering tally of fourteen nominations for Atonement gives Keira Knightley her first Best Actress nomination and confirms the meteoric ascent of UK actor James McAvoy who has made the journey from Orange Rising Star winner to Best Supporting Actor nominee (The Last King Of Scotland) to Best Actor contender in just two years.
In the past it sometimes felt as if British films had to try twice as hard to win the recognition of BAFTA voters but the last couple of years have finally laid that perceptions to rest.
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 filmmaking although Sam Riley must feel disappointed not to have received a Best Actor nomination.
There is also the lingering issue of whether Atonement’s nomination for the Korda Award is made redundant by its Best Film nomination, a seemingly unavoidable situation in any year where one of the best British films is also considered one of the year’s finest. The Korda Award for Best British FIlm may be the one area of concern for BAFTA.
The Bourne Ultimatum and Eastern Promises may legitimately qualify as British but does everyone not really consider them a superior Hollywood threequel and the new David Cronenberg film, respectively’
The one area of genuine surprise among the nominations is the absence of some of the most widely admired US contenders. Into The Wild, Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead and The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford were among the most critically lauded films of the past year and the lack of a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Casey Affleck may be the biggest shock of all.
History shows that BAFTA voters have clear favourites that they like to reward time and time again which has resulted in two nominations for Cate Blanchett this year, a Best Actor nomination for George Clooney (Michael Clayton) and a Best Actor nomination for Daniel Day- Lewis (There Will Be Blood) who must now be considered the front runner in the category.
Playing favourites may be an attractive theory but can’t explain the snub of Sweeney Todd only being nominated for make-up and costume design when Tim Burton and Johnny Depp might have considered themselves BAFTA favourites. Could the lack of a screener have damaged its chances’ Could early campaigning by Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass and a screener sent to voters have helped to elevate The Bourne Ultimatum to its robust tally of six nominations’
It never felt like a year when a feel good musical like Hairspray, a salty comedy like Knocked Up or a pure delight like Ratatouille stood a chance of making an impression on the main categories. The BAFTA membership this year was drawn to serious films with dark themes of guilt, recrimination and the heavy burden of moral responsibility in a world increasingly adrift from decency or goodness. If they were seeking to reward films that reflect the times in which we live then Atonement, There Will Be Blood and No Country For Old Men had to be the main contenders.