‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ Leads BAFTA Contest But Rivals Are Everywhere

Three years into BAFTA’s radical overhaul of its voting system at the nomination stage, this year’s slate of nominees isn’t quite as rogue as it has been in the past two years, which saw many a heavily hyped front-runner booted in favor of homegrown underdogs and arthouse outsiders. But if things hew closer to the general shape of the awards race as shaped by American precursors, there’s still room for quirks and surprises — not least a foreign-language, field-leading juggernaut that few would have seen coming a couple of weeks ago. Here’s how the top categories have shaken out before the Feb. 19 ceremony.


BAFTA voters largely rejected Hollywood goliaths, including blockbuster “Top Gun: Maverick” and Steven Spielberg’s Golden Globe champ “The Fabelmans,” as Germany instead led the way.

Edward Berger’s muscular, technically astonishing World War I epic “All Quiet on the Western Front” led all contenders with 14 nominations — the most for any film since “The King’s Speech” in 2011. It’s a rich payoff for Netflix’s slow-but-steady campaign for the film, but competition for the win is fierce. As the only British film in the field, Martin McDonagh’s Irish-set folk parable “The Banshees of Inisherin” is fancied to take the prize, as McDonagh’s “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” did in 2018; “Banshees” has 10 noms, as does A24’s hyperquirky indie smash “Everything Everywhere All at Once.” BAFTA’s artsier contingent may gravitate toward Todd Field’s darkly ambiguous moral drama “Tár,” with five noms; that leaves Baz Luhrmann’s fluorescent biopic “Elvis,” with nine, an outsider as the only oldschool Hollywood studio movie in the group.


In the past two years, BAFTA’s revised, jury-assisted voting system in this category yielded nominee fields that were at least 50% female; this year, eyebrows were raised when, despite a gender-equal longlist, only one woman made the final six. Given that her rousing historical actioner “The Woman King” has only two nominations, Gina Prince-Bythewood can be regarded a long shot; ditto Korean auteur Park Chan-wook, a discerning selection for his elegant romantic noir “Decision to Leave.” Expect a tight race between the four nominees with corresponding best film bids: Berger and “Everything Everywhere” duo Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert offer the most directorial flash and dazzle, but McDonagh and Field’s precise control of tone and performance will also earn them many votes.


As at the Oscars, this appears to be primarily a race between eighttime nominee Cate Blanchett, eyeing her third BAFTA for her monumental turn as a disgraced maestro in “Tár,” and veteran genre icon Michelle Yeoh, a previous nominee for “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” for emotionally anchoring the swirling chaos of “Everything Everywhere.” The nomination is likely the only reward for Viola Davis’ formidable “Woman King,” Danielle Deadwyler ’s grief-stricken mother and activist in “Till,” and Ana de Armas’ tormented Marilyn Monroe in “Blonde”; a home-turf advantage likely secured Emma Thompson the nom for her funny, touching turn as a sexually frustrated schoolteacher in “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande,” which has been under-recognized across the pond.


Whether or not “The Banshees of Inisherin” prevails in the top race, it’s hard not to see Colin Farrell as the front-runner here for his deft tragicomic turn as a forlorn, defriended farmer. He’s one of three Irishmen in the field, joined by red-hot Paul Mescal — securing the most prominent general-field nom for critics’ darling “Aftersun,” a title many hoped to see in the best film race — and surprise nominee Daryl McCormack, Thompson’s seductive foil in “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande.” The remaining three names all have a better shot at upsetting Farrell, however: comeback star Brendan Fraser, the sentimental choice for his depressive English professor in “The Whale”; rising star Austin Butler, a transformative wow as “Elvis”; and lone Brit nominee Bill Nighy, a former winner for “Love Actually,” now playing against comic type to quietly wrenching effect in “Living.”


Angela Bassett is the Oscar favorite, having taken the Globe for her imperious Queen Ramonda in Marvel sequel “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” though it’s hard to say whether BAFTA voters, who largely passed over the film’s predecessor in 2019, will be as keen.

If not, look for Kerry Condon, the affecting voice of reason amid the patriarchal warfare of “Banshees,” to benefit. Few might remember that Jamie Lee Curtis won a BAFTA nearly 40 years ago for a sly comic turn in “Trading Places,” though unless “Everything Everywhere” pulls off a major sweep, she probably won’t get a bookending trophy.

Filipino theater vet Dolly de Leon, who emerges late in the third act of wicked class satire “Triangle of Sadness” to steal the entire film, is the wild card; Hong Chau’s worldweary carer in “The Whale” and Carey Mulligan’s flinty journo Megan Twohey in “She Said” (a leading performance smuggled into the supporting race) round out the field.


However “Everything Everywhere” performs with the Brits, it has at least one win secured: on the strength of his sympathetic performance and irresistible comeback narrative, former child star Ke Huy Quan has swept all before him in the States, and will pick up another prize here.

The “Banshees” vote is likely to be split between Barry Keoghan’s heart-rending village idiot and Brendan Gleeson’s melancholic antagonist. Gleeson is arguably a co-lead in his film, which also goes for Eddie Redmayne as serial killer Charlie Cullen in “The Good Nurse”; former BAFTA Rising Star winner Micheal Ward is definitely one in Sam Mendes’ underperforming “Empire of Light,” but even with generous screen time, he remains a long shot. German star Albrecht Schuch is the ensemble standout of “All Quiet on the Western Front,” and if not for the indomitable Quan, might have stood a chance.


As a rule of thumb, any nominee with an additional best film nomination at least cruises to victory in this category; that trend, plus that whopping 14-nomination haul, ought to make this a cinch for “All Quiet on the Western Front.” Still, the rule isn’t without exception — “Amores Perros” upset “Amélie” in 2002, for example. If there’s a David to Berger’s Goliath this year, it might be Colm Bairéad’s unassuming but ultimately devastating Irish-language tearjerker “The Quiet Girl,” which proved its popularity in BAFTA circles with a surprise adapted screenplay nomination. You could stretch to making a case for director nominee “Decision to Leave,” Globe-winning crowd-pleaser “Argentina, 1985” and even chic Vicky Krieps starrer “Corsage,” but in all likelihood, this will go the way everyone expects it to.


Back in the days when the winner of this award was juried, a vastly acclaimed indie such as “Aftersun” — which swept the British Independent Film Awards in December — might have stood a chance against “The Banshees of Inisherin,” the only best film nominee in the category. Now, with the wider membership voting, an upset is significantly less likely. Even with 10 nominees contending — including the aforementioned “Living,” “Good Luck to You, Leo Grande” and “Empire of Light,” populist contender “Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical” and the otherwise unnominated “The Wonder,” “See How They Run,” “Brian and Charles” and “The Swimmers” — this isn’t much of a race.

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