It's fair to say that BAFTA took something of a kicking last year. Of its 20 acting nominees, it managed not to deliver a single non-white contender across the four categories. Since then, the organisation has made a public and considered move towards diversity — as shown by this year's nominations, which are the result of a reformed voting and longlisting system, as well as the use of more focused juries in the acting and directing categories.
Read more: Full list of nominations for the 2021 BAFTAs
Announced this afternoon by comedian Aisling Bea and Enola Holmes star Susan Wokoma, the nominations are idiosyncratic, unusual and completely different from what this bizarre awards season has delivered so far. Those who are tired of the BAFTAs feeling like just another precursor for the Oscars will be delighted by a set of shortlists which couldn't be further from the orthodox idea of who will be competing for awards this year.
So let's take a more detailed look at some of the most pleasant surprises and shocking snubs...
Rocks rides high with most nominations
London-set drama Rocks was one of the most exciting and brilliant movies of last year, with Suffragette director Sarah Gavron collaborating closely with writers Theresa Ikoko and Claire Wilson, as well as the young cast. It attracted rave reviews when it released last year for a short cinema run in the summer before arriving on Netflix.
Read more: How Rocks found its non-professional cast
Given its critical acclaim, many had Rocks pegged as a big contender in the Outstanding British Film category, which it will be after securing a nomination. Few, however, expected it to emerge as the film with the most nominations — joint with Chloe Zhao's Oscars frontrunner Nomadland on seven nods. It managed a Best Director nomination for Gavron, Best Actress for Bukky Bakray — who is also competing for the EE Rising Star Award — and Best Supporting Actress for Kosar Ali.
It's a terrific haul for Rocks and a real vote of confidence for a bona fide British movie, powered by homegrown talent and telling a uniquely British story.
Diversity reigns supreme
BAFTA clearly heard the criticism it faced last year. Of the 24 acting nominations for this year's ceremony — they added a sixth slot in each category — two-thirds of them are people of colour. That includes surprise nods for the likes of Alfre Woodard — more on her in a bit — for Death Row drama Clemency and eight-year-old actor Alan Kim for Minari.
That's not to say there weren't major acting snubs. Delroy Lindo's widely acclaimed performance in Da 5 Bloods missed out, and Steven Yeun also failed to earn a Best Actor slot for Minari. Best Actress, meanwhile, featured several high-profile snubs — see below — and the likes of Mads Mikkelsen (Best Actor) and Calm With Horses star Niamh Algar (Best Supporting Actress) were surprise inclusions.
Notably, podcaster and writer Cody Dericks pointed out that the only actors to have won nominations from every major awards body so far are: Vanessa Kirby (Actress), Frances McDormand (Actress), Riz Ahmed (Actor), Chadwick Boseman (Actor), Anthony Hopkins (Actor), Maria Bakalova (Supporting Actress), Daniel Kaluuya (Supporting Actor) and Leslie Odom Jr. (Supporting Actor). We can almost certainly consider that bunch to be the frontrunners for the Oscars in their respective categories.
Best Actress frontrunner Mulligan snubbed as Woodard gets nod
The biggest shock of the nominations by far was the omission of Carey Mulligan from the shortlist for Best Actress. Her performance in Emerald Fennell's pitch-black satire Promising Young Woman has been hoovering up awards this year and, just a few days ago, she scooped the Best Actress prize at the Critics Choice Awards. Notably, both Golden Globe winners for Best Actress — Andra Day and Rosamund Pike — were also absent from the BAFTA list. Mulligan's absence is even stranger given the movie earned a nomination for Best Casting.
Mulligan is still arguably the frontrunner for the Oscar in this category, but it's interesting that the race is currently so wide open given how early acting categories tend to crystallise. Certainly, by the time the BAFTAs came around last year, all four acting awards were blindingly obvious. This year, with the exception of perhaps the two male acting categories — Chadwick Boseman and Daniel Kaluuya seem nailed-on — that's not the case.
Read more: Mulligan slams Hollywood beauty pressure
BAFTA's list was deeply unusual, also snubbing Viola Davis for Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. Instead, there was love for Bukky Bakray in Rocks, Radha Blank for The Forty-Year-Old Version, Alfre Woodard for Clemency and Wunmi Mosaku for His House alongside the expected nods for Frances McDormand (Nomadland) and Vanessa Kirby (Pieces of a Woman). Woodard's nod is particularly interesting given that Clemency was actually eligible for last year's Oscars ceremony, but has been allowed in to the BAFTAs 12 months later.
Of all of the major categories at the BAFTAs, this is the one which is really anybody's guess.
Director shortlist goes its own way
The Best Director shortlist at the BAFTAs came as a surprise to absolutely everyone. Other than clear frontrunner Chloe Zhao, the half-dozen nominees are picked from way out of left-field. There's a chance Lee Isaac Chung also earns Oscar recognition for Minari, but certainly the Academy won't be recognising Sarah Gavron for Rocks or Shannon Murphy for Babyteeth. That's even before you get to the decisions to nominate Thomas Vinterberg for Another Round and Jasmila Žbanić for Quo Vadis, Aida? It's totally unprecedented to have three competitors for the Foreign Language prize in the race for Best Director.
Of the six nominees, four are women — and that's without including snubs Emerald Fennell (Promising Young Woman) and Regina King (One Night in Miami), who competed at the Globes last month. These contenders ensured the likes of Aaron Sorkin (The Trial of the Chicago 7) and David Fincher (Mank) were left off the list.
If that doesn't show how great a year 2020 was for women behind the camera, then nothing will.
Another Round breaks free of Foreign Language category
As we've alluded to previously, Another Round achieved great success at the BAFTA nominations. It seems the success of Parasite during last year's awards season has really helped awards voters to get past the "one-inch barrier" of subtitles. Thomas Vinterberg's excellent Danish comedy-drama is up for four awards, including Best Director for Vinterberg and Best Actor for Mads Mikkelsen.
Another Round is exactly the sort of thematically intelligent and crowd-pleasing movie that deserves more recognition at awards ceremonies. This year, the BAFTAs have given it that spotlight — and rightly so. Mikkelsen's central performance, in particular, is dynamite.
One Night in Miami and Da 5 Bloods contenders miss out
Two of the most notable movies to be largely ignored by the British Academy were Spike Lee's Vietnam-set drama Da 5 Bloods and Regina King's excellent One Night in Miami, which imagines a meeting between four African-American icons. Both films were only recognised in the Best Supporting Actor category, with Clarke Peters earning a nod for Da 5 Bloods and Leslie Odom Jr. representing One Night in Miami for his performance as soul music pioneer Sam Cooke.
It's a disappointing outcome for two movies which have been considered as potential awards season favourites. In particular, Delroy Lindo's absence from the Best Actor shortlist is a huge snub, as is One Night in Miami's absence from the Best Adapted Screenplay field. Fans of these movies will be hoping that the Oscar nominations yield better news.
The Dig and The White Tiger sneak in to multiple categories
Few considered the rather quaint Netflix drama The Dig to be a major awards contender, but the BAFTA voters evidently adored it. The movie was nominated five times, including for Outstanding British Film and Best Adapted Screenplay. Also competing in those two categories — as well as Best Actor — is The White Tiger. Ramin Bahrani's Netflix drama has been entirely absent from awards conversation so far, but it appeared with a vengeance at the BAFTAs.
These two movies are a clear mission statement for this year's BAFTAs — a ceremony that has decided to cultivate its own identity, rather than sit in the shadow of its glossier American cousins. For awards watchers and fans of great movies, that has to be exciting.
The BAFTA Film Awards are due to be handed out on 10 and 11 April at the Royal Albert Hall.
Watch: BAFTA Film Awards nominations announced in London