The 2021 Film Awards proves the BAFTAs don’t have to be a dress rehearsal for the Oscars

The nominations for tonight's ceremony are a welcome change from previous years, says Patrick Cremona.

Rocks

Since the pandemic began, there’s been a certain degree of negativity about the future of the film industry. With cinemas shuttered for most of the past year and big movies either suffering long delays or being released on VOD platforms, several commentators have written sort of pre-emptive eulogies for the big screen experience, suggesting streaming is the only way forward, and opining that cinemas were going out of fashion anyway.

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The truth is, of course, not so simple. While simultaneous release does seem like it could be normalised in the near future, figures show UK audiences are actually itching to get back to the big screen. Indeed a recent survey commissioned by the Film Distributors Association revealed that as many as 59 per cent of respondents cited filmgoing as their most missed out-of-home entertainment activity during the various lockdowns.

And there’s another reason to be cheerful, too: while cinemagoing has been largely put on hold these past 12 months, a whole host of superb films have debuted since the pandemic began, many of them produced in this country. Nowhere is the continued vitality of the industry more apparent than in the list of BAFTA Awards 2021 nominations which, by virtue of a new nomination process, has thrown up a wonderfully surprising and unpredictable selection of nominees, including the most diverse line-up of acting talent in BAFTA history.

What’s particularly heartening about the BAFTA Film Awards 2021 nominations is how different they look from the Oscars list. In past years, the nominations for the two events have basically read like carbon copies of one another – in fact, every actor who won a major prize at the 2020 BAFTAs also went on to pick up the corresponding Academy Award a few weeks later. This has often resulted in the awards becoming something of a foregone conclusion, serving as a weather forecast for the Oscars without having much weight in their own right. And while it remains to be seen which of the nominated stars will walk away with a golden mask on Sunday night, at the very least there’s a genuine feeling that we can’t predict the winner from the outset, and that this year’s BAFTAs have their own unique identity.

So let’s look at those nominations. While several of the Oscar big hitters – including Nomadland, Judas and the Black Messiah and Promising Young Woman – are still well represented in the major categories, there are also nods for films like Calm With Horses, Babyteeth, The White Tiger and His House. Most excitingly, the brilliant Rocks is deservedly up for seven awards – the joint-highest of any film on the list – with stars Bukky Bakray and Kosar Ali among those to be recognised for their excellent work. And then there’s also a welcome nomination in the director category for Jasmila Žbanić, the woman behind the Bosnian war drama Quo Vadis, Aida?. Meanwhile, the Outstanding British Film category has often been packed with excellent films, but this year’s line-up is particularly strong (partly due to an expansion of the category), with Rocks joined on the list by the likes of Saint Maud, Limbo and Mogul Mowgli.

All of the above nominations are exactly the kind of thing the BAFTAs should be doing – celebrating the best of British film while also giving due recognition to features from overseas that might have been overlooked in years gone by. While the Oscars has its merits, it’s never really been an accurate representation of the very best films of the past year, but rather a reflection of how the US film industry wants to see itself. In trying to copy that lead, the BAFTA Film Awards have become something of an after-thought, just one more step on the long road to the main event, and this year’s line-up provides an extremely welcome change from that mode, injecting the awards with some of their very own excitement and intrigue.

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So, while Sunday night’s ceremony might not be as glitzy or star-studded as previous events, owing to the ongoing impact of continued pandemic restrictions, there is still significant cause to look forward to the awards and celebrate many of the wonderful films being honoured. Despite the major challenges of the past year, there are many reasons to be cheerful about the world of film – and the BAFTAs regaining their identity is undoubtedly one of them.

Looking for something else to watch? Check out our TV Guide to see what’s on tonight. For more film news, have a look at our Movies hub.