How Joaquin Phoenix and Rebel Wilson Blew Up the BAFTAs, and What It Means for the Oscars

Heading toward the Oscars next Sunday, the BAFTAs mark the last of the Oscar precursor award shows, timed right when Oscar voters are filling out their ballots (due February 4). Behind the scenes, Oscar campaigners took full advantage by having their winners send messages to the Academy, both overt and subliminal. But it’s not all in their control.

While Netflix’s awards wranglers made sure that “The Irishman” producer Robert De Niro presented an award to Renée Zellweger, they could not control several jokes made at the lengthy movie’s expense by host Graham Norton, who suggested “there’s more than one ‘Irishman’ here tonight who seems to go on and on.”

The BAFTAs often presage Oscar winners, but not always. Last year, the BAFTAs favored “Roma” and “The Favourite” over “Green Book.” The complete BAFTA winners list from this year is here.

Quentin Tarantino, who looked sour all evening, apart from no-show Brad Pitt’s inevitable Supporting Actor win, couldn’t miss the sticky white-male “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” narrative as Norton reminded that “2019 was the year white men finally broke through.” And while Joaquin Phoenix accepted one of three BAFTA Awards for “Joker” — which Norton described as “essentially the story of white man who makes himself even whiter” — the actor who has been praising plant-based dining all awards season and got arrested at Jane Fonda’s climate-change protest, both criticized himself and the #BAFTASoWhite British film industry for not being inclusive enough. “We have to do the hard work to truly understand systemic racism,” he said. “It is the obligation of the people who have created and perpetuated a system of oppression to dismantle it, so that’s on us.” 

New Zealander Taika Waititi, who flew to London with Bong Joon Ho after the WGA Awards in LA on Saturday night, accepted his second award in two days for Adapted Screenplay, beating Greta Gerwig and British writer Anthony McCarten (“The Two Popes”). “I come from the colonies,” he said. “I know it’s been a tough week for you guys. It’s very nice to take a little bit of your gold back home…where it belongs.”

The main message for the actors taking home BAFTAs: “This really gifted and nice actor is a winner, and deserves to be.” All four have swept the BAFTA, SAG, Globe, and Critics’ Choice Awards, including Renée Zellweger, accepting her latest from the Brits who made “Judy.” She always spreads the love around to her fellow nominees, in this case especially warmly praising her British costar Jessie Buckley (“Wild Rose”), who also performed at the BAFTA ceremony. She also addressed Judy Garland, saying, “London Town, which you have always loved so much, still loves you back.”

Even though he did not make the long schlep to London, Pitt sent yet another charming acceptance speech, read by Margot Robbie, prompting more questions about the identity of his speechwriter. (The late Carrie Fisher used to ghostwrite movie star acceptance speeches every year.) “Hey, Britain, I heard you recently became single,” he wrote. “Welcome to the club. Wishing you the best with the divorce settlement.”

“Marriage Story” Globe, Critics’ Choice, and SAG Supporting Actress winner Laura Dern continued to remind that she’s a child of Hollywood, telling a story about her mom Diane Ladd winning a BAFTA back in 1974 for a movie she made with “Mr. Scorsese” (“Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore”). This strategy has been working so far. Despite an emerging counter-narrative that Scarlett Johansson could steal Dern’s Oscar for “Jojo Rabbit,” it looks like all four acting races are locked up.

The BAFTAs do have some overlap with the Oscars, in terms of voting members, but also tend to reward their own. So seven wins for “1917,” including Best Film, was predictable — and builds more winning momentum as Oscar ballots are filed. In this case, the awards campaigners (Sam Mendes, who also won Director, thanked Oscar whisperer Terry Press) sent “1917” rising star George MacKay out to the Albert Hall microphone to specifically reinforce the message that not only were actors an integral part of this superb technical achievement, but an unusually collegial group effort was required to pull off every shot.

Production designer Dennis Gassner, who lost the period prize to “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” at the Art Directors Guild Awards, said, “This is a lot better than standing in mud in a trench. This film was about camaraderie. I want to thank everybody who worked on this film.”

“Parasite” did not go home empty-handed, winning two BAFTAs, for Film Not in the English Language and Original Screenplay, beating out Tarantino.

IDA Award winner “For Sama,” chronicling one family’s five years of horror during the uprising in Aleppo, Syria, won Best Documentary.

“Ford v Ferrari” took the BAFTA for Editing, while Netflix’s Christmas origin myth “Klaus” followed its surprise Annie win with the award for Animated Film, and BAFTA British Short Film winner “Learning to Skateboard in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)” continues as the frontrunner for the Oscar. The win for Kazu Hiro’s makeup work on “Bombshell” at the BAFTAs will likely repeat on Oscar night, along with the consolation award for non-director nominee Greta Gerwig’s  “Little Women,” Costume Design.

Some Oscar watchers have predicted a sympathy vote for writer/director Gerwig along the lines of snubbed Ben Affleck for “Argo.” One of the funniest BAFTA bits came from director/presenter Rebel Wilson, who brought down the house with her riff on “Cats,” her vagina, and how no felines were nominated in the Best Director “cat”egory. After listing the five male nominees, Wilson added, “I don’t think I could do what they do. I just don’t have the balls.”

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