Colossally overrated Joker beneficiary of Bafta awards groupthink | Peter Bradshaw

Supervillain origin story crowding out better films, while the lack of diversity in the acting categories is infuriating

The Bafta nominations have been announced and the list contains an innovation for which insiders have been calling for years: a new category for casting directors, whose work and years of amassed contacts and expertise is so important and yet often overlooked. Maybe the most notable nominee here is Sarah Crowe, for her contribution to Armando Iannucci’s sparkling new version of Dickens’ David Copperfield, with its terrific, diverse ensemble cast.

A nice pick, though it’s very disappointing that Copperfield didn’t rate a mention anywhere else; this is just the kind of smart take on the classics that Bafta should be recognising. There is also a lack of diversity on the acting lists, which has infuriated many. It isn’t quite true to say that Bafta has not recognised Awkwafina, the star of The Farewell; she is in fact in the rising star category. But it is very depressing that, for example, Bafta voters did not recognise the superlative Cynthia Erivo for her tremendous performance as the anti-slavery campaigner Harriet Tubman in Harriet.

Generally, it seems that Bafta’s awards-think consensus, as well as giving us the now traditional all-male director list (Mendes, Scorsese, Phillips, Tarantino and Bong – but no Gerwig or Heller) has coalesced around the flashy forgettability of Joker, the supervillain origin story showing the beginnings of Batman’s archenemy, played by Joaquin Phoenix. It has a whopping 11 nominations, including best director, best film and a nod for Phoenix himself.

I am in the sceptical minority about this colossally overrated film and all its imperial couture. It deserves the nominations for cinematography and production design, but it runs out of narrative interest after its first act and features cod Scorsese allusions and a hectoring lead performance that are on a lower IQ rating than Lynne Ramsay’s film You Were Never Really Here, also starring Phoenix. At any rate, Joker’s success is a riposte to online conspiracy theorists who claim that reviewers are in the pay of Marvel. Here is a DC figure who is ruling awards season.

Double nominee … Margot Robbie in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
Double nominee … Margot Robbie in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Photograph: Andrew Cooper/Allstar/Columbia Pictures Corporation

The late Christopher Hitchens mischievously used to ask critics if they could have a nourishing conversation about the previous year’s Oscar results. I wonder if Joker is going to command that same saucer-eyed respect 12 months from now.

Martin Scorsese’s own superlative The Irishman comes in with 10 nominations, though no leading actor nomination for Robert De Niro (despite supporting nods for his megastar colleagues, Joe Pesci and Al Pacino). I wonder if the digital youthification technology, which seemed to work better for Pesci and Pacino than it did for De Niro, might have counted against him. If so, that’s a great shame; it’s a great performance and a great movie.

Quentin Tarantino’s dazzling and delirious 60s LA head trip Once Upon a Time in Hollywood comes in with 10 nominations also, with leading and supporting actor nominations for Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt respectively for their delicious performances. I’m very surprised, though, to see no cinematography nomination for that film’s director of photography, Robert Richardson.

Interestingly, Margot Robbie has a best supporting actress nomination for her role as Sharon Tate, thus supporting Tarantino’s somewhat testy contention, offered during Cannes, that the importance of her role does not depend on the number of lines (which are indeed few). Robbie also has a supporting actress nomination for her fierce and vivid performance as a (fictional composite) accuser in Bombshell, the interesting, if flawed #MeToo drama about the late Roger Ailes, the sex-abuser who ran Fox News.

A gem … Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, nominated for best film and best film not in the English language.
A gem … Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, nominated for best film and best film not in the English language. Photograph: Curzon Artificial Eye/Allstar

Elsewhere, there are certainly things to feel good about on this year’s Bafta nomination list. Bong Joon-ho’s Korean gem Parasite, already a Cannes Palme d’Or winner, makes it on to the best film list, as well as the best foreign film list (and stops the first category from looking parochial), although I was sorry and surprised Wang Xiaoshuai’s So Long My Son did not get a nomination for best film not in the English language.

The wonderful 1917, from director Sam Mendes, comes in with nominations for best film, best British film and best director. It’s great, too, to see Mark Jenkin’s Cornish film Bait get into the best British and outstanding British debut lists; this is a genuinely challenging, experimental film from a new British talent that Bafta is recognising. And it’s also great to see Harry Wootliff’s Only You make it into the outstanding British debut category.

But I can’t help feeling that, for all that Joker’s success is startling, it is an overblown, over-promoted choice sucking the oxygen away from far better movies.


Peter Bradshaw

The GuardianTramp

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