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On Friday, Feb. 14, the Academy sent out its ballots for Oscar voting. And while they're not due until the 25, it looks like the race was all but decided by Sunday the 16th. That was the day of the British Academy Awards, known as the BAFTAs, which all but confirmed the frontrunner status of the leading contenders -- that is, when they had any relevance at all to the race on this side of the pond.

Like so many other awards-giving organizations and seasonal pundits, the BAFTAs split the difference between "12 Years a Slave" and "Gravity." "12 Years" won Best Picture, while "Gravity" (made with British money) was named Best British Film. (This, even though it features a Mexican director and American stars, while "12 Years" has a British director and actors.) Also, "Gravity" director Alfonso Cuaron won Best Director over "12 Years" filmmaker Steve McQueen, a result likely to be repeated March 2 at the Oscars.

Mind you, despite the overlap of perhaps a few hundred voters among the 6,000 or so eligible Academy members, the BAFTAs don't have much relevance to the U.S. race. For one thing, there was a lot of variance among the acting nominees, so "Dallas Buyers Club" stars Matthew McConaughey and Jared Leto, both considered virtual locks for Best Actor and Supporting Actor, weren't even nominated in England. (The prizes went to "12 Years" star Chiwetel Ejiofor and "Captain Phillips" newcomer Barkhad Abdi.) The BAFTAs picked "Blue Jasmine" star Cate Blanchett to win Best Actress (the consensus shoo-in over here), but they picked Jennifer Lawrence ("American Hustle") to win Supporting Actress over Lupita Nyong'o ("12 Years,") which is something very few analysts over here are predicting for the Oscars.

Still, when it comes to predicting the Oscar for Best Picture, the BAFTAs, which have preceded the Oscars for only about 15 years, have been exactly right with their Best Picture choices for the past five years. So, go ahead, "12 Years" filmmakers, pop the champagne. It's not too early to celebrate your Best Picture win, even if you don't pick up any other awards except Supporting Actress and Adapted Screenplay.

Given the choice between the historically important film and the technologically innovative one, the Academy has tended to favor the former over the latter. (Think "The Hurt Locker" over "Avatar," or "The King's Speech" over "The Social Network.") By "historically important," I mean both "doing justice to an important moment in history" and "making history with the choice of winner." This year, the Best Director will either be the first black person to win the award or the first Latino, so it'll be historically important either way. This gives Oscar voters an out, a way to honor "Gravity" and its forward-looking achievements (despite its slight plotting) while also paying homage to "12 Years" and its bringing to light an underexposed story from American history (despite it being a grueling film to watch).

The other award ceremony this weekend, the Golden Reels, gave the top Sound Editing prize to "Captain Phillips" and the top Sound Effects Editing prize to "Gravity." That seems to confirm the sense that "Gravity" will win loads of technical awards.

And with that, most every category seems locked in. There's been a lot of talk about a possible late surge for "The Wolf of Wall Street," with director Martin Scorsese and star Leonardo DiCaprio campaigning heavily (via appearances at screenings and talk-show visits), but minds are made up. Movies that blazed brightly earlier in the season are going to have to settle now for crumbs (like "American Hustle," which will probably win only Best Original Screenplay). Also, the unstoppable "Frozen" will win Best Animated Feature and Best Song for "Let It Go."

Academy telecast producers announced this week that Bette Midler will be performing at the Oscars for the first time. Since she's not singing one of the nominated songs, she's just there to add extra razzle-dazzle to the show. Which is good because the suspense part of the race is pretty much over.
CATEGORIES Oscars, Awards