The Baftas have delivered a very unusual outlier to what we all thought was the accepted general drift of this year’s award season. It’s certainly a departure from English-speaking Hollywood, though perhaps a tribute to a very shrewd marketing campaign from a certain streaming service. At all events, the Golden Globes may have saluted Steven Spielberg’s The Fabelmans, but not the voters of the British Academy who have largely overlooked that film in favour of a resoundingly announced love for the new version of the German anti-war classic All Quiet on the Western Front, based on the novel by Erich Maria Remarque, way ahead of all the other films with a whopping 14 nominations.
What a triumph for everyone, including it must be acknowledged its distributor Netflix which kept doggedly putting its prestige product under Bafta voters’ noses. They are proud of this film. Rightly so. It is the first German-language adaptation of the book and is very good: excellently acted and staged, with severity and moral seriousness, though without any great original interpretative slant. Some might be surprised at quite how this film seemed to have leapfrogged everyone else. It could well be because we are now all so grimly aware of the unquiet eastern front; the brutal and continuing war in Ukraine may have directed Bafta’s collective unconscious to this brutal subject.
Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin, the bizarre story of how a man rejects his best friend, continues its triumphal march through, with 10 nominations – although perhaps Brendan Gleeson might be pondering quite why he is nominated for best supporting actor and his equally billed co-star Colin Farrell gets to be nominated as best actor. Well, this way they each get a bite of the apple and they are wonderful performances. Good also to see Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan nominated for their supporting turns.
Everything Everywhere All at Once is a film whose supremely fashionable status (about which I am agnostic) has been underscored by awards-season success and the Baftas have rewarded it with a handsome 10 nominations, including best actress for Michelle Yeoh as a laundromat owner assailed by an infinity of alternative life-possibilities. And Ke Huy Quan may well repeat his Globes success as the film’s best supporting actor nominee.
Elsewhere, observers might worry about a tiny loss of momentum for Todd Field’s superb drama Tár, about the autocratic orchestra conductor incomparably played by Cate Blanchett, which lags with five nominations – but surely Blanchett is a shoo-in for best actress. Her fellow nominees might have to resign themselves to clapping good-naturedly as Blanchett beamingly weaves her way up to the stage.
I wanted to see more Bafta love for the wonderful film Living (for which Bill Nighy has a best actor nod), while Charlotte Wells’s demanding and brilliant Aftersun probably deserved to have a best film and director nomination and Paul Mescal up for best actor. Aftersun also gets a nomination in Bafta’s outstanding British debut list, which is really where the soul of the Bafta ceremony is to be found. The wonderful Irish film The Quiet Girl also might have achieved more recognition, though it might well win in the foreign language category and the adapted screenplay category.
So Bafta would seem to be all for All Quiet on the Western Front – that great European tragedy – but my guess is that on the night the actual awards will turn towards Tár, Banshees and Elvis.