Danny Boyle must be savouring the 11 Bafta nominations for Slumdog Millionaire but Mike Leigh is nodoubt wondering why his Happy-Go-Lucky was so resoundingly ignored.
The biggest shock of the 2009 Baftas is the lack of a single nomination for Happy-Go-Lucky in the very week Sally Hawkins won a best actress Golden Globe. Hawkins and Leigh are in good company as this seems to be the year in which an eye-catching list of British and Irish performers fell at the final hurdle, from Ralph Fiennes (The Reader, The Duchess, In Bruges) and Emma Thompson (Brideshead Revisited) to Julie Walters (Mamma Mia! The Movie), Michael Fassbender (Hunger) and Peter O’Toole (Dean Spanley).
Unpredictability is the oxygen that sustains interest among a wider audience but this also seems to have been a strangely fickle year with few double acts receiving equal recognition. Kate Winslet is nominated for Revolutionary Road but not Leonardo DiCaprio.
Brad Pitt is one of the 11 nominees for The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button but not Cate Blanchett. Frank Langella but not Michael Sheen is nominated for Frost/Nixon. Brendan Gleeson is recognised for In Bruges but not Colin Farrell. The list goes on.
Last year’s impressive Bafta showings for La Vie En Rose and The Lives Of Others suggested the broadening tastes of a membership willing to consider foreign-language fare in categories other than film not in the English language.
There is some slender evidence to support the notion this could be considered a trend, with nominations this year for I’ve Loved You So Long in the original screenplay category and for best actress contender Kristin Scott Thomas, and recognition for both Persepolis and Waltz With Bashir in the animated film category.
The widespread availability of screeners for Bafta members has helped to create a level playing field although it does seem that timing may be everything. Slumdog Millionaire has been a constant fixture of news reports and awards speculation in the months leading from its audience award in Toronto to its UK theatrical release on January 9.
The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button is only released in the UK on February 6, the deadline for Bafta qualification, and is something that will have seemed very fresh during the voting process.
Sally Hawkins’ Berlin triumph for Happy-Go-Lucky or the Cannes plaudits for Hunger and Of Time And The City may have meant they burned a little less brightly in the minds of Bafta voters.
The nine nominations for The Dark Knight underline a Bafta membership that seems increasingly willing to celebrate the merits of mainstream, blockbuster entertainment.
It is mildly surprising the crowd-pleasing Mamma Mia! The Movie did not figure more prominently or that Quantum Of Solace only received nominations for sound and visual effects when Casino Royale was nominated in nine categories.
Bafta’s move to clarify the intent of the Alexander Korda award by naming it the prize for ‘outstanding British film’ has not been entirely successful: the Working Title-produced Frost/Nixon has a best film nomination but not a Korda nomination.
The inclusion of the mega-hit Mamma Mia! The Movie among the Kordas may also raise eyebrows among those who would look to this category for recognition of Happy-Go-Lucky or Of Time And The City. The Korda seems to be becoming a prize that will never please all of the people all of the time.
However there will have been a sigh of relief from BAFTA that Man On Wire was nominated for outstanding British film and that producer Simon Chinn was also a nominee for the Carl Foreman award.
This confirms that documentaries can break through but whether that silences those seeking the addition of a best documentary category or adds fuel to their arguments will probably be a matter for any awards post-mortem.
Sally Hawkins, Terence Davies and Michael Fassbender might be allowed a pang of disappointment but Slumdog Millionaire is shaping up to be a Cinderella story. Capitalising on the Golden Globes and heading towards the Oscars, the underdog could well become the top dog when the Bafta winners are announced on February 8.