The other top favourite, 12 Years a Slave, won only two awards, although arguably the two most prestigious, out of a possible ten, taking away Best Film and Leading Actor for Chiwetel Ejiofor. Some of the smaller winners were Philomena, which won Best Adapted Screenplay, and Captain Phillips who’s Barkhad Abdi won Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of a Somali pirate leader.


A surprise winner of the night was American Hustle, which won three awards, for Make-up and Hair Design, as well as Original Screenplay. The film also caused a bit of an upset with Jennifer Lawrence winning for Supporting Actress, over Lupita Nyong’o in 12 Years a Slave, which some critics saw as a more powerful and “culturally-important” performance.[1] This point of view, albeit subjective, brings up an important question about award ceremonies – why do the winners win?


The insinuation of many critics with regards to Jennifer Lawrence’s success is that she has burst on to the scene as a hugely likeable celebrity. While Lawrence is undoubtedly a talented actress, many have seen her success during this and previous awards seasons as more of a reflection of her celebrity popularity, rather than an objective appraisal of her acting talents.


Considering the members of BAFTA comprise the great and the good of the British film industry – i.e. industry professionals who have made a significant contribution to British cinema[2] - it seems natural to assume that voters don’t take into consideration the celebrity personality of nominees, or indeed anything but the artistic merit of the film or actor in question.


However, film journalist and writer Anthony Breznican has revealed that in cases such as this year, where there is no one obvious frontrunner in the race, less challenging films with a broader appeal will often come out on top.[3] In his survey of various Oscar voters, Breznican found that while the industry greatly respects the unbendingly honest of 12 Years a Slave, it loves the visually mesmerising Gravity. With 12 Years a Slave having won Best Film at the BAFTAs, and Gravity winning Outstanding British Film, it seems that the British film industry has decided not to choose between these two heavyweights.


Nevertheless, certain critics have even accused BAFTA of “getting it wrong”[4], if that is even possible when a tally of individual votes chooses the winners, rather than a wider considered discussion. There is a sense in this accusation of the on-going tension between the importance of film as a craft and film as story-telling.


12 Years a Slave is a brutally honest portrayal of a period in history that still haunts the western world today. The shadow of slavery and racial tensions has yet to pass over the United States, but I think McQueen’s unrelenting attention to the truth has broken the Hollywood taboo of a shameful period in America’s history, just as Schindler’s List did for European history. In this way, 12 Years a Slave must be honoured for its cultural significance – putting such an important historical message in such a publically accessible form.


On the other hand, Gravity is hugely innovative in its technical creation and meticulous cinematic detail. As Alfonso Cuarón said in his BAFTA acceptance speech, the film owes a lot to the ‘people downstairs’ – the cinematic technicians whose award categories are separated from the artistic, but whose work is often the most artistic of all.[5] Both are more than worthy films, but for completely different reasons.


What then are award ceremonies for? Must they recognise a film that shows cinematic innovation and craftsmanship, or instead one that challenges the audience with its subject matter? Arguably, within the industry Gravity has shown more skill and creative merit, but for wider society 12 Years a Slave is clearly the more important film.  What I think we can take from the outcome of the BAFTA awards is that the technical artistry of Gravity has earned it great credibility within the industry, and it was awarded accordingly. However as an entire project, I think 12 Years a Slave will have a more significant influence on the cinematic landscape as a whole, and therefore while it’s individual parts may have seemingly lost out, the film as a whole has, and most likely will at the Oscars, come out on top.

Verity Green is a student of French and Italian at the University of Bristol, with a passion for culture from all around the world. Outside of academics, she is heavily involved in Burst Radio - the Bristol University student radio station - as Head of News, and as a presenter of The Culture Club - a culture based show with interviews, reviews and recommendations for Bristol students. Verity has previously written for Palmarium Magazine and her own blog - veritygreen.wordpress.com.


As awards season draws to its pinnacle, with the Oscars just around the corner (at the time of writing), much of the entertainment news is given over to a will-they-won’t-they style debate about who will win the most coveted prizes in the film industry.


If we take the British Academy of Film and Television Arts Awards (BAFTAs) as a case in point – just eight feature films shared out the 17 possible awards. Here is a quick run down: Gravity came out on top on the night, with six awards out of a possible eleven, including Best Director for Alfonso Cuarón, and Outstanding British Film.

The BAFTA bronze mask trophy (joffley on Flickr)



by V. Green