Three Billboards is the big winner at a disappointingly safe BAFTAs
Last night (18th February), Hollywood and the British Film Industry’s finest gathered to celebrate the best films of the last year. That’s right, the 2018 BAFTAs have concluded, and honestly? It was a rather tame night. No huge upsets, no underdogs, no ground-breaking achievements. There were a couple of pleasant surprises in the smaller categories (the thrilling The Handmaiden defeating heavyweights Elle and The Salesman in the Best Foreign Language Film category, I Am Not a Witch triumphing over Lady Macbeth in the Outstanding British Debut award), but otherwise, this was about as predictable an awards show as we’ve seen in years.
To nobody’s surprise, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was the night’s big winner. Despite the negative attention in the last few months, it’s still a brilliantly written and performed film that’s struck a nerve (both good and bad) with audiences and critics. That’s mostly down to Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell, two tremendous actors who deservedly took home Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor. Without McDormand’s brittle determination and Rockwell’s swaggering hatred, the film wouldn’t work half as effectively.
However, their characters would be nothing without the razor sharp screenplay from writer-director Martin McDonagh, who followed up his Best Original Screenplay award for In Bruges nearly a decade ago with another win in the category. Even more impressively, Three Billboards went on to win Best Film at the end of the night; given its domination over this category here and at the Golden Globes, it’s got a strong chance of taking home the big award come Oscar night.
Disappointingly, Three Billboards also won Best British Film, a win that felt a bit cheeky given its American theme, location, and cast (not to mention its success in plenty of other categories). Best British Film is the category to showcase homegrown talent, and there were plenty of deserving, extremely-British nominees who BAFTA should have rewarded. Francis Lee’s moving God’s Own Country went home empty-handed despite being the most successful British independent film of last year, as did the joyous Paddington 2. While Three Billboards is a great film, BAFTA made the wrong choice here.
Looking at the acting categories, there were no surprises to be found. Alongside McDormand and Rockwell’s victories, Allison Janney took home another award for her supporting turn in I, Tonya, while Gary Oldman continues to work towards his long-awaited Oscar for slathering on makeup as Churchill in Darkest Hour. It’s grimly predictable that in a career filled with unique, interesting performances, Oldman is finally hailed by awards voters for a standard biopic performance. Another unsurprising-but-deserved victory came in the Best Director category, where Guillermo del Toro’s phenomenal career has finally seen him recognised for his work on The Shape of Water. All five of these winners are likely bets come Oscar night, and while none are bad choices, it would be nice to imagine some surprises thrown in there.
Perhaps the highlight of the night for me was seeing Daniel Kaluuya take home the EE Rising Star Award. Kaluuya has been a highlight of British film and television for years; I first saw him as Tealeaf in the incomparable Psychoville, while others know him for his work in Skins and Black Mirror. His rise to prominence has been a slow one but with Get Out, he finally wowed audiences, critics, and awards voters alike – seeing him as a Best Actor nominee is a joy. Similarly, it was great to see Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver take home the award for Best Editing. I wasn’t a big fan of Baby Driver, but I can’t deny how sensational Paul Machliss and Jonathan Amos’ editing was; Wright had a unique vision for a music-driven film, and he pulled it off with style.
Still, I can’t help but hope for a livelier, more challenging Oscar night. Some of the year’s boldest, best films barely got recognised by BAFTA – Call Me By Your Name picked up a token win for Best Adapted Screenplay, as did Phantom Thread for Best Costume Design – while even better films got nothing at all. Where were the awards for Lady Bird and Get Out? Greta Gerwig made a warm, funny coming-of-age drama with a terrific ensemble cast, while Jordan Peele’s satirical horror was a huge hit with audiences and critics everywhere. It’s unsurprising to learn awards voters seem to be leaning towards the safer options (if you can call films as provocative as Three Billboards and The Shape of Water safe), but fingers crossed the Academy see some fresh, innovative blood rewarded on March 4th.
By Harry J. Ford
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