Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Emerald v. British aisles

It can only be a matter of time until someone comes up with a way of telecasting or webcasting a meta-movie-awards show.

Maybe it’s already been done. It wouldn’t surprise me.

I mean, there are already lots of people who skip the movie reviews and just go to a review aggregator like Metacritic to get a more comprehensive view of what critics think of a flick. Why not a meta-awards show to find out broadly what movies and artists are the most honored? It seems like a lot of the same films and actors keep winning in the same categories from one ceremony to the next anyway. If I see Colin Firth (to pick one example) making one more acceptance speech, well, I might fast-forward to the next one. Couldn’t someone just pick out all the best bits from all his speeches and edit them into a single watchable video snippet?

Or I could just pick one awards show and watch that one and ignore the rest. And the one to watch, of course, would be the Academy Awards. But that would be too easy. And I would be missing out on some fun.

This past weekend I got a chance to see two awards shows over two consecutive nights, and I got a whole new insight. For years I have been saying that a movie review inevitably tells us more about the reviewer than it does about the movie. But it is only just now dawning on me that an awards show may tell us more about the organization or culture that produced the awards show than it does about the movies being honored. For example, on Saturday night the Irish Film & Television Academy presented its awards and on Sunday night the British Academy of Film and Television Arts presented its awards. Needless to say, each of those ceremonies focused on work produced in Ireland and Britain, respectively, but there was a certain amount of overlap not only between those two shows but with the various American awards shows, like the Golden Globes and the Oscars. In the end, I had the feeling that comparing the IFTAs and the BAFTAs was telling me more about the differences between the Irish and the British (always a source of amusement for me) than about anything to do with the various movies and TV shows.

The main difference that got driven home was that Britain is a much larger country than Ireland. All awards shows give the impression that the participants are all part of some exclusive chummy club, but people in the Irish industry seem particularly closely knit. Moreover, the production values of the event at the Convent Garden’s Royal Opera House were far and away much higher than the ceremony at Dublin’s Convention Centre. Watching anything on Irish television has always given me the feel of watching a local station in a major city rather than a national network. UK television, on the other hand, is like watching public television only better.

When I have watched the IFTAs in the past, the telecast has struck me as being modeled after the Golden Globes. It always seemed to be a party, with everyone sitting around tables and imbibing plenty of adult beverages. This time there seemed to be a conscious intention to ape the Oscars, with people sitting in a large auditorium. Even the onscreen graphics and music seemed lifted directly from the Academy Awards. Whereas the BAFTAs don’t seem to limit themselves to merely British productions (however that might be defined), the IFTAs seem confined to homegrown productions and/or talent except in categories specifically designated as international. Another major difference is that Sunday’s BAFTAs concentrated exclusively on film, while the IFTAs had a healthy emphasis on television. Indeed, the IFTAs feature a slew of strangely denominated categories that are even more confusing than the Golden Globes. For example, there are TV awards in categories with names like Current Affairs, Documentary Series, Documentary and Factual Programme. Parsing all those terms to find distinctions simply does my poor head in.

Another contrast: Pretty much all of the BAFTA nominations were from films I had heard of and, in more than a few cases, had actually seen. Quite a few of the IFTA nominees and winners, on the other hand, were films and TV shows I had not even heard of. And I am someone who follows TV and film pretty closely and even attend the odd Irish film festival. I had my favorites among the IFTA nominees, but most of the awards seemed to go to Juanita Wilson’s Bosnia-set drama As If I Am Not There. On the telly side, big winners seemed to be the series Single-Handed and the TV movie When Harvey Met Bob, in which Domhnall Gleeson played rocker/humanitarian Bob Geldof. My personal favorite movie of last year, Ian Power’s The Runway, was nominated five times but won only in two craft categories, Director of Photography and Production Design. Another favorite of mine, Robert Quinn’s Na Cloigne, was nominated six times but won only for Original Score.

Perhaps predictably, a major difference between the Irish and the British can be seen in their international selections. In London Tom Hooper’s The King’s Speech seemed to win everything in both general and British-specific categories, including Best Film, Outstanding British Film, Original Screenplay, Leading Actor, Supporting Actor and Supporting Actress. In Dublin The King’s Speech, which turned out to be quite popular among the Irish public despite its somewhat imperialistic theme, got precisely one nomination (for Helena Bonham Carter) and won nothing. Instead, David Fincher’s The Social Network picked up awards for International Film and International Actor (Jesse Eisenberg), while Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are All Right picked up International Actress for Annette Bening.

On the whole, the Brits put on a better show than the Irish. London had more celebrities, more glamour and more buzz. BAFTA host Jonathan Ross has performed that role so many times he could do it in his sleep, but he is always funny. His Irish counterpart, actor Simon Delaney, was a similarly humorous and comfortable presence who, while perhaps not as comfortable as Ross in the role, got things off to a good start with a Billy Crystal-style montage which inserted him in a number of movies. Both Ross and Delaney seemed determined to make jokes without the venomous Ricky Gervais bite.

In addition to a slew of A-list British and American stars in the audience and on stage, the BAFTAs had a couple of things that the IFTAs frankly couldn’t hope to compete with. For one thing, they had J.K. Rowling herself—along with a bunch of other people involved with the Harry Potter movies, including the directors Mike Newell, Alfonso Cuarón and David Yates and the actors Rupert Grint and Emma Watson—accepting a special award that seems to have been made up just to get a bunch of Harry Potter people on stage. For another, there was no moment to compete with the appearance of Sir Christopher Lee receiving an Academy Fellowship, presented by Tim Burton. The adulation showered on this veteran thespian was clearly heartfelt and appreciated by the honoree. Always a powerful and magnetic presence, going back to his days playing Dracula for Hammer through his more recent performances in the Lord of the Rings movies and the Star Wars prequels (with appearances still to come in Peter Jackson’s Hobbit movies and Martin Scorsese’s Hugo), it was surprising to see, at 88, how frail Lee has become. But he was nothing less than up to the job of accepting the honor with grace and class.

One thing that the IFTAs could boast, which the BAFTAs (or, for that matter, the Oscars), could not was the participation of a head of state. (The queen, who was actually a character in the most honored movie of the evening, must have been busy that night.) Ireland’s president, Mary McAleese, gave a dignified address commanding the rapt attention of the audience. It was particularly poignant due to the fact that a cousin of her husband had died just a few days earlier (with five others) in a plane crash in Cork. It is at such a time like that one realizes that Ireland is not only a small country but something like an extended family.

-S.L., 17 February 2011

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