Stylish, but shallow '1917' robbed the technically and politically audacious 'Bait' of a worthy Best British Film.
Just like the Golden Globes, it was a night for the Brits to have pride at the 2020 BAFTAS. Arguably this was unsurprising as these are the 'British Academy Film and Television Awards', but it's a very white and very male Britain it presents. The startling omissions of Cynthia Erivo ('Harriet') and Eddie Murphy ('Dolemite Is My Name') in the acting stakes along with Greta Gerwig ('Little Women') and Shola Amoo ('The Last Tree') for Best Director were backed up by the victory of '1917' (2020) which scooped up a whopping 9 trophies including Best Film and British Film.
It's not only, in my opinion, a grandly overrated movie that's all style and no substance, but needs to be critiqued for its lack of representation of non-white soldiers - its token Sikh being the butt of Laurence Fox's rather misplaced comments. Of the 5 eligible Best Film nominations, only Martin Scorsese's 'The Irishman' (2019) stood out as a potential classic; two of the other slots stolen from the likes of 'The Souvenir' (2019) and 'Dirty God' (2019) by the hollowness of 'Joker' (2019) and 'Once Upon A Time in Hollywood' (2019) although I haven't seen 'Parasite' (2020) yet.
There is some reason to cherish in 'Bait's triumph with Outstanding British Debut going to Mark Jenkin. I only hope this golden statuette gives him the necessary motif to continue making films that redefine the landscape of modern cinema. That's why I was clawing my eyes when Jenkin's modern masterpiece was robbed of Best British Film by '1917'. There really is nothing like 'Bait' playing in cinemas for 100 years whereas Sam Mendes's WW1 epic's one-long-take gimmick is as generic as 'Birdman' (2015).
Speaking of 'Birdman', those in the superhero world will no doubt be rejoicing at Joaquin Phoenix's Best Actor win for his skin-crawling performance as the Travis Bickle-esque 'Joker'. In his highly PC awards speech, the meticulous method actor called on the film industry to dismantle a "system of oppression"; criticizing the lack of diversity in the nominations that we can no longer afford shy an eye away from. It was a deserving award for one of the great screen talents of the 21st century, but I still can't get over the fact that neither Adam Sandler ('Uncut Gems') nor Robert De Niro ('The Irishman') got nods.
As far as Best Actress was concerned, Renee Zellweger was always a shoe-in for her show-stopping inhabitation of Judy Garland in 'Judy'. Not only is it a terrific turn, but it's absolutely the kind of shouty embodiement of nothing less than a Hollywood star that awards fall for year in, year out. Once again, though, it's what wasn't on the list rather than what was there that really stood out. Surely 'Sorry We Missed You's Debbie Honeywood was a better performance than Jessie Buckley in 'Wild Rose' (2019)?
The Supporting Actor stakes were similarly swamped by the lack of presence of Shia LaBeouf ('Honey Boy'), Nicholas Pinnock ('The Last Tree') and Sterling K.Brown ('Waves') amongst countless others. This perfunctory prize innevitably went to Brad Pitt who didn't so much act as he did strip-tease his drooling pectorials in 'Once Upon A Time in Hollywood'.
Laura Dern equally didn't deserve her Best Supporting Actress win as she never rose to challenging gravitas of Adam Driver or Scarlett Johansson in 'Marriage Story' (2019). Her statuette tops off a depressingly all-blonde shortlist also including the aforementionmed Scarlett Johansson ('Jojo Rabbit') and a double helping of Margot Robbie in 'Bombshell' (2020) and, again, (snore...), 'Once Upon A Time in Hollywood'. The prize should've gone to Florence Pugh who - on the basis of her fantastic work in 'Little Women' (2019) - is proving to be the next Kate Winslet.
Meanwhile Sam Mendes was admittedly a worthy winner in terms of film-making finesse in the directorial category. While '1917' failed to grab me on an emotional level, it's pure cinematic construction can't be faultered. Then neither can the "pure cinematic construction" of 'Little Women' which itself, at multiple moments, felt like one long take thanks to the seamlessness of the editing and direction from Greta Gerwig. A slot for the quite brilliant actress-turned-director should've been there in place of Quentin Tarantino's Hollywood foot fetishism.
As for Best Film Not in the English Language, like I said, I still need to see Bong Joon-Ho's 'Parasite' which won the Palme D'Or at the Cannes Film Festival back in May. However I can't help, but die a little (a lot!) inside that there was no space for neither 'Monos' (2019) (my joint-favourite film of 2019 with 'Bait') nor the sprawling 'So Long, My Son' (2019).
The final verdict? Not BAFTA's finest hour. A rather disgraceful lack of representation when it came to women or people of colour seems destined to cloud 2020's ceremony with the hashtag #BAFTASSOWHITE for years to come. A diversity problem that we've come to expect from the Globes and OSCARS, but one which I thought us Brits were above. Now roll on 2021 to see if voters have listened to critics's not unjustified gripes...
Meet Roshan Chandy
Freelance Film Critic and Writer based in Nottingham, UK. Specialises in Science Fiction cinema.
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