The Baftas can seem like another stepping stone on the long road to the Oscars, but the UK industry’s highest honour can assert its own identity when it wants. Last year the British Academy of Film and Television Arts gave its best actress award to Joanna Scanlan for After Love, a film scarcely seen across the Atlantic, and for the seventh time in the past eight years chose differently from the US Academy in the best film race. (Bafta went for Jane Campion’s The Power of the Dog while the Oscar went to the wispy Coda: a point to the Brits there.)
Tomorrow night we can hope for more bold choices. Netflix, hot off its victory last year, once more boasts the top nominee. Not many expected Edward Berger’s German-language All Quiet on the Western Front to lead the field with a whopping 14 nods – the most for any film at the Baftas since The King’s Speech 12 years ago. Rather quietly released to the streaming service last November, this robustly stirring, immaculately crafted adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s classic first world war novel is well worth catching up with – even if its harrowing battle scenes really demand a large screen.
Netflix subscribers can also watch the frontrunner for best animated film, Guillermo del Toro’s thoughtfully reinterpreted, pleasingly macabre stop-motion spin on Pinocchio, as well as Ana de Armas’s fearsomely committed Marilyn Monroe in Blonde and Eddie Redmayne’s icily unhinged serial killer in The Good Nurse. Netflix also has two films in the best British film category: Sally El Hosaini’s crowd-pleasing true-life sports drama The Swimmers and Sebastián Lelio’s playfully Brechtian Irish faith parable The Wonder, which really should be up for more prizes.
Another dark Irish folk piece, Martin McDonagh’s magnificent The Banshees of Inisherin, is All Quiet’s chief challenge for the top prize. You can catch it on Disney+, among other places, though it’s not to be mistaken for kids’ fare. On the same platform is one of the nominated documentaries, Sara Dosa’s whimsical volcano-chaser romance Fire of Love, plus the retro farce See How They Run and two more obviously Disney-branded titles: the rather turgid Black Panther: Wakanda Forever – nominated for Angela Bassett’s fire-breathing performance – and the winsome animated nominee Turning Red, which went straight to streaming last year despite being Pixar’s best in years.
Amazon Prime Video subscribers can stream another best film contender, the hyper-kooky fantasy Everything Everywhere All at Once. Mixing poignant immigrant family conflicts with juvenile buttplug jokes and hotdog-finger reveries, it’s polarising, but if you haven’t seen it yet you should see where you stand. Also on Prime: the rousing political courtroom drama Argentina, 1985 and Good Luck to You, Leo Grande, an intimate study of middle-aged sexuality sensitively carried by Emma Thompson and Daryl McCormack’s nominated performances.
Mubi has Charlotte Wells’s aching childhood memory piece Aftersun, deservedly nominated for best British film and Paul Mescal’s lovely lead performance, and best director nominee Park Chan-wook’s slinky romantic noir Decision to Leave. BFI Player is offering The Quiet Girl, Colm Bairéad’s exquisite drama of mutual child-guardian healing, with a Mark Kermode introduction. Subscribers to Now can catch the thought-provoking, environmentally minded doc All That Breathes.
Other nominees widely available to rent include the glitzy heartbreak of Elvis, the muscular warrior spectacle of The Woman King, the gleefully blunt satire of Triangle of Sadness and the romping family fan of Matilda the Musical. (My own best film choice, Todd Field’s Tár, can be rented at a premium price on Prime and Curzon Home Cinema, but you may as well catch it in cinemas still.)
If you’re all caught up, perhaps Bafta weekend is a good occasion to seek out its greatest best film winners of the past, which run the gamut from Max Ophüls’s swirling Viennese ensemble romance La ronde (Prime) to Jack Clayton’s still-fiery angry young man drama Room at the Top; Stanley Kubrick’s wicked cold war comedy Dr Strangelove to Martin Scorsese’s blazing gangster saga GoodFellas and Ang Lee’s landmark gay love story Brokeback Mountain. The other thing they have in common? They didn’t win the Oscar. Bafta often does well to go its own way.
Many of the above films are also available to rent on multiple VOD platforms; see JustWatch for details
Also new on streaming and DVD
James Gray’s sharp, self-effacing memoir about growing up in a working-class Jewish New Jersey family hasn’t received its due this awards season – perhaps because its thorny social perspective, shaped by living with both white privilege and antisemitic prejudice, isn’t comfortable or easily parsed.
In collaboration with Rwandan artist Anisia Uzeyman, avant-garde rapper and poet Saul Williams turns to film-making with this vigorously imaginative Afrofuturist sci-fi vision. Its freeform narrative pivots on the romance between an intersex hacker and a coltan miner, and the technological and environmental consequences of their union.
Salvatore: Shoemaker of Dreams
Italian sensualist Luca Guadagnino makes some of the best-dressed movies around these days, so it’s not that surprising to see him behind this adoring documentary on the Italian shoe designer and eventual luxury goods magnate Salvatore Ferragamo. It’s certainly a special-interest item, but rewarding in its detail and devotion.
What Do We See When We Look at the Sky?
One of my favourite films of last year got a low-profile cinema release, but is now on Mubi’s menu for a few weeks. Georgian director Alexandre Koberidze’s shape-shifting romantic fantasy blends low-key magical realism with hypnotic city-as-character travelogue. The results are never precious, but genuinely transporting.