Every January, it’s sometimes hard to remember that there are some moments in the year when no-one in the film industry thinks about awards season at all. But those moments come in June, when the popcorn-robot-superheroes slug it out for the biggest box office totals instead, and no-one worries about nuance. Even then, film producers are probably wondering if they’ll get nominated for a special effects gong.
But robots – even the ones who are sometimes cars – have to take a back seat in January, when the grown-up films appear in multiplexes instead. Although yesterday’s BAFTA nominations reminded me that a grown-up film doesn’t guarantee a good plot twist: it felt like you could have put your money on a nod for Benedict Cumberbatch and Eddie Redmayne, long before their respective films were even released.
Cumberbatch received a Best Actor nod for his portrayal of Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, a role which Derek Jacobi played (with a rather better script) in the BBC film, Breaking the Code, in 1996. But Cumberbatch is a fine actor, and his profile could barely be higher: he’s already Sherlock and Khan, and he’s about to be Dr. Strange. So it’s hard not to think that BAFTA gets more from nominating him – certainly in terms of media attention on the awards ceremony – than he gets from the nomination.
A grown-up film doesn’t always guarantee originality, either. Eddie Redmayne joins Cumberbatch with a Best Actor nomination for playing Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything. It’s obviously a demanding role because Hawking is that rarest of things: a living scientist who is a genuine, global phenomenon. He crosses international boundaries, having appeared in Star Trek: The Next Generation, The Simpsons and the Pythons’ 2014 stage-show. He’s also been played before by none other than Benedict Cumberbatch, ten years ago, in the BBC film Hawking. The moral of this year’s BAFTAs seems to be that any story the BBC cover as a drama will – in ten or twenty years – be remade as a successful film. The Esio Trot movie franchise is probably being dreamed up right now.
Redmayne, like Cumberbatch, is clearly having a moment: you can tell because he was named GQ’s Best-Dressed Man this week as well. It must have been a traumatic day for the man who found himself pipped into second place, which was (wait for it…) Benedict Cumberbatch. Even their most ardent fans are surely finding the words ‘Get a room,’ on the tips of their tongues. Poor Timothy Spall – sadly omitted from the BAFTA list despite winning Best Actor at Cannes last year for Mr. Turner – is probably wishing he’d worn a fancier suit on a few red carpets now.
Film award politics are notoriously dark arts, which is why Steve Carell’s incredible turn in Foxcatcher is interesting. He’s nominated for both the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards in the category of Best Actor. But the BAFTAs have nominated him as Best Supporting Actor, which makes the suspicious-minded viewer (me) think Foxcatcher’s producers are eyeing a crowded leading-man category with the Oscars just around the corner, and trying to maximise Carell’s chances by switching categories.
And despite early predictions that there were so few films featuring women in starring roles this year that the awards committees would struggle to find enough nominees, these fears were ill-founded. Nominations include Reese Witherspoon, who plays a woman suffering bereavement, Felicity Jones, who plays a woman suffering marital breakdown, Amy Adams, who plays a woman suffering her husband passing her work off as his own, and Julianne Moore, who plays a woman suffering early-onset Alzheimer’s. Hopefully next year, there might be a few roles for women who do something besides suffering a lot, but I won’t be holding my breath (it just adds to my suffering).
If there is a theme to this year’s BAFTAs, besides miserable women and a giant crush on the acting world’s poshest men, it is surely one of rewarding those who reverse expectations. Steve Carell, JK Simmons (up for a best supporting role in Whiplash) and Michael Keaton (up for the lead role in Birdman) are all renowned for their comedy chops. But this year, they are playing deeply serious, often harrowing roles, and they have been nominated accordingly.
Meanwhile, Ralph Fiennes usually takes things very seriously, whether he’s in Schindler’s List or The English Patient (or even in the Harry Potter films). But he is easily my preferred Best Actor nominee, for his glorious, hilarious turn in Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. I can’t remember the last time such a serious actor gave such a funny performance. So, although the bookies have Redmayne as the favourite, I’ll be damning the odds, going for a comedy (though they hardly ever win awards), and putting my money on Fiennes.