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Are the BAFTAs the new Golden Globes?

The BAFTAs may be poised to be the new Globes: a pre-Oscar party the world watches

Emma Stone poses for photographers at the 77th British Academy Film Awards. Photo by AP

By Raja Sen

LAST PUBLISHED 22.02.2024  |  04:24 PM IST

They had me with the first bad joke.

The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) has always hosted a typically British award night: chummy, understated, with that peculiarly British blend of pompous and self-effacing. Yet they have been an oddity, something the British do for their own amusement—hosted for years by the venerable Stephen Fry, giving out awards tastefully in a function that lasts less than two hours. It feels basically like a particularly star-studded show of long-running trivia series QI, and while the awards are always credible, the world hasn’t really been watching.

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This year’s ceremony—held on 18 February and streaming in India on Lionsgate Play—was a glossier, more immediately memorable affair. These BAFTAs reminded me of the now irrelevant Golden Globe Awards: a place for the shiniest people in entertainment to let their hair down, wear cool outfits, tell some jokes. A few nudges, a few winks, and Bob’s your uncle. The BAFTAs used to reward excellence in film and British television on the same night, but now, rebranded as The BAFTA Film Awards, they may be poised to be the new Globes: a pre-Oscar party the world watches. (And makes Instagram reels from.)

This year’s host was David Tennant. You may know the charismatic, rubber-faced but handsome actor from Doctor Who, Staged, Good Omens and Daredevil, and I’d love to recommend a particularly superlative audiobook of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (available on Audible) where Tennant reads out Ian Fleming’s words with true secret-agent brio. He kicked off the ceremony with a lovely gag about dog-sitting and then went on to the famous faces. “Tonight," he promised, as the camera cut to Barbie star Ryan Gosling, “is going to go smoother than Ken’s chest."

“It has been a tumultuous time in the film industry with the Writer’s Strike and the Actor’s Strike," Tennant forged on, “but I’ve been chatting to BAFTA and asking: is the future for screenwriters and actors looking rosy? And they said ‘Aye!’" He paused briefly for applause that didn’t come, and explained: “Although they do spell that AI, so…" The camera cut to an unamused Rosamund Pike, and that groan-worthy pun instantly endeared the ceremony to me. The best thing about British panel shows is that no matter how well-oiled, there is still a hint of amateur hour to them. And here it was.

I must here personally confess that this year, after decades of setting unearthly Monday morning alarms to watch Sunday night award shows held on the other side of the world, award season has lost something for me. Last year, you see, felt particularly heart-in-mouth. My cousin Shaunak Sen’s film All That Breathes (streaming in India on JioCinema), was nominated for an Oscar for Best Documentary. I wasn’t prepared for how suddenly personal it would make the awards feel—even more than rooting for Birdman over Boyhood. Cheering on mostly white strangers, I must say, doesn’t quite feel the same.

Yet I will always get behind a good-natured movie themed party, particularly one with a somewhat sloshed vibe. The BAFTAS were casual yet, in this world of memes and isolated moments, immediately memorable: the image of the night may have been Gosling in the audience, winking exaggeratedly at his La La Land co-star Emma Stone, as she approached the stage to pick up her Best Actress trophy for Poor Things.

The arthouse champs were as memorable. Justine Triet—picking up the Best Original Screenplay award with Arthur Harari for the remarkable Anatomy Of A Fall—said she had been thanked by a woman who watched the film and called her ex to watch it to understand why she dumped him. “You never know, really, why you make a movie," Triet said, “but I don’t think it was our intention to encourage people to share their intimacy with us, no?" Harari, who has been in a relationship with Triet for years, said he had recently found himself near the attic of a house—a perilous position within the film. “I thought, initially, this film is not an auto-fiction, but what if it’s becoming one?", he asked the crowd. “I want this room to be my witness if anything happens to me."

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The legendary Michael J. Fox took the stage to a standing ovation, and it’s overwhelming to see the man still smiling, still raising money for Parkinson’s, still bright-eyed. The best lines of the night belonged to the increasingly curmudgeonly Hugh Grant, who spoke like the rhyming Oompa Loompa in tribute to the undersized character he played in the disappointing Wonka: “Oompa Loompa doompety dee," he said, deadpanning the rhyme sardonically, “Now the Best Director cat-e-go-ree. Oompa Loompa doompety dong, Most of these films were frankly too long." Saving the most condescension for the end, he said “Oompa Loompa doompety dah, but for some reason the nominees are…"

Smashing.

Great award shows demand unpredictability. While Cillian Murphy winning Best Actor for Oppenheimer was not in the least bit surprising, none of us expected the gaunt actor to gigglingly address his crewmembers as his “Oppenhomies". That sense of casualness permeated the awards, making them feel reassuringly inviting. So inviting, in fact, that a YouTuber wearing a black suit sneaked his way on to the award stage alongside the Oppenheimer crew when they picked up their Best Picture prize. This was a bonkers Cosmo Kramer moment, sure, and an absolute security hazard, but it indicated that these awards literally made room for the viewer. And the awards go to… us.

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British comic Jack Whitehall’s new Netflix special Settle Down is a suitable accompaniment to the dry-witted celebrity teasing of the BAFTAs. “I can’t watch Titanic anymore," Whitehall says, explaining that his girlfriend used to date Leonardo DiCaprio. “It gets to the end and I’m cheering on the iceberg."

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