It was during an Academy Awards ceremony presided over by Johnny Carson in 1982 that Colin Welland famously declared, “The British are coming!”
Eeyores back home would have it that Welland’s battle-cry has turned out to be a bit of a damp squib, but the facts tell a different story. There’s actually been an awful lot to celebrate over the last 30 years.
Of the Major Oscars since (you can quibble but for the sake of brevity that covers the acting, directing and writing categories, and of course Best Picture), 43 have gone to Britain and Ireland, just over one in six. That includes a hat-trick of Best Actors (Daniel Day-Lewis in 1989, Jeremy Irons in ’90, Anthony Hopkins in ’91) and two each for Michael Caine, Daniel Day-Lewis and Emma Thompson (who, with Oscars for Best Actress in Howards End and Best Adapted Screenplay for Sense and Sensibility, is the only person ever to win for both acting and writing).
Honourable mention should be made of animator Nick Park, who has won four Academy Awards, including three for the adventures of Wallace and Gromit. There was also grand-prize success for Gandhi, The Last Emperor, The English Patient, Shakespeare in Love, Gladiator, Slumdog Millionaire, and, most recently, The King’s Speech.
But hang on one tuxedo-smoothing second, I hear you cry, Gladiator? The Last Emperor? It’s true that the increasingly global nature of film-making makes it rather difficult to pin down some of these multinational productions, but hey, if it means more people can take a slice of the credit-pie, who’s complaining?
Besides, international products like the polyglot, polyphonic Slumdog Millionaire speak to the Way We Live Now; they keep cinema ever-fresh, contemporary and innovative.
But what of this year? Will Joaquin rise like a Phoenix in the Best Actor category, or will it be Denzel taking Flight? Will Emmanuelle cry us a Riva collecting her first Best Actress Oscar, or will it be Naomi Watts achieving the seemingly Impossible?
There’s bound to be some feeling a little Misérables come next Monday, but every cloud has a Silver Lining: there’s always next year. After all, tomorrow is another Day-Lewis, etc. Groan-worthy puns aside, looking back over the last three decades, what do the analytics foretell for British hopes this year?
Given that around two-thirds of our big wins since 1982 have been for period pieces, it seems fair to suggest that DD-L start clearing a space on the old mp for his third Best Actor Oscar, for Lincoln. (It helps that he’s already looted the Golden Globes, the BAFTAs, and the Screen Actors Guild Awards.)
Brit Tom Hooper’s Les Misérables is also in pole after recent wins for Anne Hathaway, Hugh Jackman and the costume, make-up and production design teams. Adele stands an excellent chance of winning for her Bond theme “Skyfall”, having already picked up a BRIT Award (just last night), a Golden Globe and the Critics’ Choice Award.
Skyfall and other great British hopes like Anna Karenina were perhaps a little snubbed by Oscar, though it tends to be the case that the BAFTAs and the Academy Awards balance each other out in terms of honouring the cinematic special relationship.
In any case, I doubt very much that Sony Pictures have particularly sour grapes given that Skyfall is their biggest-ever commercial success (and seventh on the list of all-time box office successes).
All will be revealed on Sunday night, of course. But where will you watch? In New York, our friends at both The Cock & Bull (23 West 45th Street) and The Churchill (45 East 28th Street) will be showing it and cheering on our British nominees, who this year straddle categories including Best Animated Short and Best Cinematography as well as the aforementioned.
See you on the red carpet!