The Bafta nominations seem this year to have answered two perennial objections: that they are not diverse enough and – perhaps paradoxically – not British enough. Four out of the six best director nominees are women: Chloé Zhao for the docufictional road movie Nomadland, Sarah Gavron for the explosively energetic social-realist Rocks, Jasmila Žbanić for Quo Vadis, Aida?, a gruelling reconstruction of the Srebrenica massacre during the Bosnian war, and Shannon Murphy for her family dysfunction drama Babyteeth.
Bafta has also expanded the outstanding British film category to 10 entries, apparently in honour of the entrants’ strength (although this is arguably an artificial bit of goalpost moving). The star of this category is Rocks, which jointly leads the pack with a handsome seven nods, level with Nomadland; Florian Zeller’s harrowing dementia drama The Father gets six, along with Emerald Fennell’s brilliant rape-revenge satire Promising Young Woman. The outstanding British debut section – long considered the beating heart of the Baftas, and the category where a nomination can launch a career – has a lot of duplications with outstanding British film, and it’s great to see double-nods for Ben Sharrock’s wonderful refugee movie Limbo and Rose Glass’s outstanding horror Saint Maud.
As for snubs, I’m sorry to see Bafta pretty much turn its nose up at Christopher Nolan’s colossal metaphysical thriller Tenet (a single nomination). The foreign-language category is a terrific list with Andrei Konchalovsky’s Dear Comrades!, Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari, Žbanić for Quo Vadis, Aida? and Ladj Ly’s Les Misérables – but I’m a bit mystified at the reverential adulation for Thomas Vinterberg’s amusing but facetious and directionless booze comedy Another Round, when there were better films like Alejandra Márquez Abella’s The Good Girls, Shahrbanoo Sadat’s The Orphanage and Roy Andersson’s About Endlessness.
But Rocks really has scored a resounding success with its seven nominations: the Brit social-realist adventure written by Theresa Ikoko and Claire Wilson, directed by Sarah Gavron, and starring newcomer Bukky Bakray as “Rocks” – a Nigerian-British girl in east London who has to look after her brother Emmanuel when her mum vanishes. It’s a film fizzing with energy, creativity, love and fun and it would be great to see this film triumph on the night. As for Nomadland, Chloé Zhao’s inspired generic hybrid film stars Frances McDormand playing a fictional “nomad”, one of the formerly prosperous US retirees financially stricken by the 2008 crash and forced to sell up and go on the road in their vans and RVs – McDormand plays opposite real nomads and Zhao’s mix of real and imagined is masterly.
The massive reputation of Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman has clearly spread the word about The Father to Bafta voters well in advance of its planned June release date – its six nominations include best actor for Hopkins in the unforgettably harrowing role of “Anthony”, an ageing man succumbing to dementia and finding that his whole world is beginning to unravel into meaninglessness, to the horror of his daughter, played by Colman.
David Fincher’s gorgeous monochrome Mank, an alt-reality guide to the making of Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane and the role played by its co-writer Herman Mankiewicz, played by Gary Oldman, also has six nominations, though I wonder if the tally for this exquisitely made but non-crowdpleasing film will melt away on the night. Promising Young Woman is a fiercely confrontational and inspired satire though it is strange that Carey Mulligan, its star, has no nomination for best actress.
The Dig, starring Ralph Fiennes and Mulligan, about the archaeological find of the 20th century, has been a word-of-mouth grower for Netflix, building a strong fanbase and it has five nominations – I wouldn’t bet against Moira Buffini getting a Bafta for her adapted screenplay. Elsewhere, the Guantánamo drama The Mauritanian also has five nominations, including one for best film, but I think this rather fence-sitting liberal patriot drama is overblown.
One best actress nomination is really heartening: Alfre Woodard was overlooked in last year’s Academy awards for her magnificent performance as the troubled prison governor who has to preside over a controversial death penalty in Clemency. Its delayed UK release means that she is in line for a Bafta, and it would be wonderful to see her rewarded.