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BAFTA Awards lean toward 'Grand Budapest,' 'Birdman'

The finest film of Wes Anderson’s unique career

The finest film of Wes Anderson’s unique career is filled with the melancholic sense of loss; it’s an elegy to a European continent forever transformed by the Second World War and a man, brilliantly played by Ralph Fiennes, who represents a time gone by. Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Nominees for Britain's BAFTA awards were announced Friday, but they don't much resemble America's current awards-season contenders.

For starters, leading the pack at the British Academy Film Awards is Wes Anderson's wistful comedy “The Grand Budapest Hotel” with 11 nominations, including best picture, best director and best actor for Ralph Fiennes. That's a surprise, considering the movie has earned just four Golden Globe nominations, and two of those are in the smaller-profile category of comedy-musical.

Following is “Birdman” with 10 nominations, less of a surprise considering its widespread critical acclaim and word-of-mouth buzz for Michael Keaton, who plays a washed-up Hollywood actor. “Birdman” is also the Golden Globes frontrunner with seven nods.

Also with 10 BAFTA nods is “The Theory of Everything,” starring Eddie Redmayne as the theoretical physicist Steven Hawking, which unexpectedly edged out “The Imitation Game,” starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the mathematical genius Alan Turing. That film has nine nominations. Here in America, the battle between the British scientist biographies is tilting the other way: The Turing film has five Globe nominations and has earned $33 million at the box-office, while the Hawking film has four Globe nods and has earned $25 million.

Perhaps least expected is the underwhelming performance of “Boyhood,” Richard Linklater's critically-acclaimed drama that used the same cast of actors for more than a decade. Conventional wisdom, at least, would predict “Boyhood” to win best dramatic picture at the Globes this Sunday (it's the second-most nominated film there, with five in all). "Boyhood" also seems a front-runner for the best picture Oscar. At the BAFTA awards, however, it earned only five nominations.

That puts the movie on the level of “Whiplash,” an indie hit about a young jazz drummer (Miles Teller) and his abusive music teacher (J.K. Simmons), also with five nominations. It's a strong showing for the second-ever film by director Damien Chazelle, 29, who drew on his own experience to write the story. Simmons is nominated for supporting actor, just as he is at the Globes, where he seems a shoo-in for the win.

And here's an interesting “Whiplash” wrinkle: The Oscars have earned some scorn for classifying “Whiplash” in the adapted screenplay category. (Chazelle released part of the movie as a short, hoping to raise completion funds; the Oscars consider that to be source material, so to speak.) The Writers Guild of America, in a rare disagreement with the Oscars, considers “Whiplash” an original screenplay. Apparently, so does BAFTA, which is beginning to make the Oscar decision look increasingly misguided.

Steve Carell, much praised for his unrecognizable turn as a creepy millionaire in “Foxcatcher,” earned a BAFTA nod for supporting actor. That may seem odd considering Carell's central role in the film and the media attention for his performance – shouldn't he be in the lead actor category? A supporting actor nod makes sense, however, from a narrative standpoint – the film's protagonist is played by Channing Tatum -- and it may also be a smart strategic move that we could see again at Thursday's Oscar nominations. In effect, it takes Carell out of competition against leading-actor heavyweights and puts him in a more winnable category. (Though again, Simmons seems the one to beat there.)

Earning four BAFTA nominations each are “Mr. Turner,” starring Timothy Spall as the painter J.M.W. Turner; “Nightcrawler,” with Jake Gyllenhall as an amoral journalist; and, in another surprise, Christopher Nolan's “Interstellar,” a space-epic that earned only one Globe nod, for original score.

Completely snubbed were two movies about American history that perhaps failed to resonate with the British : "Selma," a story of the American Civil Rights movement, and "Unbroken," Angelina Jolie's bio-pic about the World War II hero Louis Zamperini.

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