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Baftas to show off the best of British

Out of interest, is there a plumber of the year award?

Do binmen vote on the country's best refuse collectors? Or archivists decide on who is the nation's best reader of ancient Saxon documents?

Or could it be that award ceremonies are really only for - how can I put it? - the slightly needier professions. You know, writers, artists, comedians, musicians and, yes, journalists (only a few months to go now before this year's Scottish Press Awards).

Oh and TV and film people too of course. Maybe them more than most. Wednesday sees the announcement of this year's nominations for the Bafta Film Awards and on Sunday week the Golden Globe winners are announced in the US with American Hustle, Gravity and 12 Years A Slave will battle it out with Captain Phillips, Philomena and Rush for picture of the year.

Many of those films will be in the Bafta list too, particularly since you can find a British angle to most of them. 12 Years A Slave may be a powerful, even brutal, vision of American slavery in the 19th century but its director, Steve McQueen, and its star, Chiwetel Ejiofor are British. Philomena is a British film in which Judi Dench plays an Irish woman. Captain Phillips is directed by a Brit, Paul Greengrass, while Rush has British money behind it and a British supporting cast and crew (and scriptwriter, Peter Morgan).

The Baftas, then, should be a perfect opportunity to fly the flag. And in a sense that's the key thing about awards. They are to a lesser or greater degree a marketing opportunity. "Look what we did," they say. "Aren't we great?"

And sometimes they are. 12 Years A Slave is, I'd say (for what that's worth) a truly great film. Judi Dench's performance in Philomena is a very fine thing (as is Steve Coogan's, though the film itself is a rather modest affair).

But perhaps the best defence you can give of the whole awards system is that, however cockeyed, however influenced by industry politics and institutional conservatism, there is, at their heart, a notion of meritocracy.

A sense that it's possible to praise something not because of the amount of money it earns (although that can definitely be a factor), but for the craft and care with which it has been carried out. At a stretch - a very long stretch - you could even then argue that the Baftas and other such awards are anti-neoliberal in effect.

So, what are the chances Judi Dench attacks Iain Duncan Smith's welfare changes in her victory speech?

This year's Bafta nominations are announced on Wednesday.

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