Dev Patel has received his first Oscar nominations for his performance in “Lion” as Saroo Brierley, who was adopted by an Australian couple after getting separated from his family in India when he was five. But 25 years later Saroo decides to seek out the family he lost. Patel lost the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor to Aaron-Taylor Johnson (“Nocturnal Animals”). And he lost the Critics’ Choice Award and SAG Award to Mahershala Ali (“Moonlight”). But last Sunday went Patel’s way as he won the BAFTA Award to audible gasps from the audience on his home turf. Was it just a moment of patriotism to reward the young British actor, or will he follow other performers that have turned their BAFTA victory into Oscar gold?
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The BAFTAs, which are the British Academy Awards, moved their ceremony from April to February in 2001 to have an impact on the Oscars. They often go their own way, but while sometimes they can be written off as being skewed towards hometown favorites, other times they’ve tipped us off to several upsets we otherwise wouldn’t have seen coming. Why? The BAFTAs have some overlap with the American academy’s membership.
According to Gold Derby’s exclusive odds, after Patel’s BAFTA victory his chances skyrocketed, and he sits in second place with odds of 11/1. Meanwhile Ali’s odds have gone down, though he remains in first place with odds of 2/9. Keep in mind that before BAFTA Patel was behind Michael Shannon (“Nocturnal Animals”), who now sits in third place with odds of 22/1.
Few of us can forget what happened last year, when the Critics’ Choice Award and Golden Globe for Supporting Actor went to the comeback-story of the year, Sylvester Stallone (“Creed”). Stallone was snubbed at both the SAG Awards and at BAFTA. The SAG Award went to the Oscar snubbed Idris Elba (“Beasts of No Nation”), who is otherwise best known for his work on the British TV Series “Luther” (for which he won an additional SAG Award that night). Mark Rylance (“Bridge of Spies”) took home the BAFTA Award. Few were expecting him to win heading into the Academy Awards ceremony but Rylance parlayed his BAFTA win into an Oscar.
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Seven years earlier, in 2008, Penelope Cruz (“Vicky Christina Barcelona”) was in a similar situation because of the back-and-forth category placements of the Oscar Best Actress winner Kate Winslet (“The Reader”). Winslet bested Cruz for Best Supporting Actress at the Critics’ Choice Awards, Golden Globes and SAG Awards. But the BAFTAs and the Oscars nominated Winslet in the lead category (Winslet would win both the BAFTA and Oscar), so without Winslet looming at either event Cruz followed up winning the BAFTA Award with the Oscar.
The year prior, in 2007, the Best Supporting Actress race was completely in flux. The Critics’ Choice Award went to Amy Ryan (“Gone Baby Gone”). At the Golden Globes, they added to the confusion awarding Cate Blanchett (“I’m Not There”). The SAG Awards did little to clarify the race awarding Ruby Dee (“American Gangster”). Heading across the pond, the BAFTA Award, the final precursor, was once again the most reliable predictor, awarding Tilda Swinton (“Michael Clayton”), who also took home the Oscar, proving to be the last woman standing.
It’s not just Brits and Europeans that have followed this path to victory. In 2006, it seemed that Eddie Murphy (“Dreamgirls”) had Best Supporting Actor locked up, winning at the Critics’ Choice Awards, Golden Globes and SAG Awards. His chief competition was Alan Arkin (“Little Miss Sunshine”), who lost to Murphy at the Critics’ Choice and SAG Awards and was snubbed at the Golden Globes. But the BAFTAs had other ideas and chose Arkin, and he also took home the Oscar.
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Since the Golden Globes envelope was opened Ali’s status as frontrunner has been in question. He recovered at the SAG Awards with a win and a superb speech. But for an actor whom many expected would run the board at the precursors, is he really still a lock? Ali is a television star (“House of Cards,” “Luke Cage”), and at the SAG Awards that could’ve been what helped him pull out a win as their membership covers both film and television actors. While most pundits agree he gives a great performance, Ali is only in the first third of the film. Patel on the other hand is the emotional center of his movie, owning the last hour, and he gives a guilt-ridden, heart-wrenching performance as his character searches for his birth mother.
This may be Patel’s first Oscar nomination but he starred in 2008’s Oscar winner for Best Picture, “Slumdog Millionaire.” It was an underdog story of a young man (Patel) trying to win the popular game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” That makes him similar to Swinton, who was also a first-time nominee and had been on the Oscars’ radar, previously appearing in a film they’d recognized (“Adaptation”). He could also be viewed as overdue as he was snubbed for “Slumdog Millionaire.” Like both Cruz and Arkin, who had previously been nominated, the academy might see this as their way of finally awarding him.
Also top of mind this year is diversity after two years of #OscarSoWhite backlash and all the academy has since done to improve their diversity. But it’s been 34 years since a performer of Asian lineage has won an Oscar after the academy previously awarded Miyoshi Umeki (“Sayonara,” 1957); Ben Kingsley (“Gandhi,” 1982), whose father is of Indian descent; and Haing S. Ngor (“The Killing Fields,” 1984). If the academy is really out to prove their commitment to diversity this could tip the scales in Patel’s favor as he is of Indian descent. Should Patel win he would be only the fourth performer of Asian ancestry to win an Oscar.
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