A night at the London Critics' Circle Awards

Posted by · 6:08 am · January 20th, 2012

Writing up an awards ceremony I actually voted in is new territory for me, and slightly awkward to boot. Praising the choices of the London Critics’ Circle amounts to patting myself on the back, criticizing them to shooting myself in the foot — choose your poison, really. Happily, for me at least, I can err on the back-patting side: after assembling a superb set of nominees last month, my Circle colleagues did a pretty bang-up job of choosing the winners, too.

Across 15 categories, eight of the winners were ones I’d voted for myself; of the remaining seven, the majority were for films and individuals I’m more than happy to cheer on anyway. Only one, I’ll admit, really left me scratching my head — though if nothing else, Kenneth Branagh’s Best Supporting Actor prize for “My Week With Marilyn” was an unexpected deviation from the Christopher Plummer/Albert Brooks pattern the season has doggedly followed thus far, and his acceptance speech was composed of equal parts genuine gratitude and surprise.  

Some will complain that “The Artist” was an unadventurous pick for the night’s top prizes, particularly with less widely-awarded critics’ favorites like “Drive” and “A Separation” in the race — though with three wins, the Iranian marital drama equalled the Oscar frontrunner’s tally, and was clearly nipping at its heels. I’m certainly not one of the complainers: its volume of precursor wins doesn’t make the French silent-cinema homage any less fresh or delightful a choice for mainstream awards glory in my eyes, however much detractors insist that this risky formal experiment represents some variety of Oscar bait.

In one of those years where critics and the industry seem to be unusually aligned on this issue, Michel Hazanavicius’s film is the one to which the most people have sincerely lost their hearts. You can hardly accuse the London critics of consciously trying to shadow the Oscar race when their list of winners also includes such excitingly left-field choices as Anna Paquin for “Margaret” and Sareh Bayat for “A Separation” — the first critics’ prize for either of these wonderful performances, as far as I’m aware.

“Tyrannosaur” star Olivia Colman, who beat the likes of Tilda Swinton to the British Actress of the Year award, raised the biggest laugh of the evening in her typically bashful acceptance speech: “This award means so much because you people really know your onions, as it were,” she stammered. It’d be smug to agree, but given that her critics’ win comes days after BAFTA failed even to nominate her tremendous work in Paddy Considine’s debut feature, I couldn’t help but feel a little proud to have voted for a performance that needs — and deserves — all the exposure it can get.

That was hardly the only moment of the evening where I felt such a twinge. I was thrilled to see Andrew Haigh take Breakthrough British Filmmaker honors for my favorite film of 2011, “Weekend” — another effort shamefully sidelined by BAFTA — ahead of a robust field that included “Tyrannosaur” and “Attack the Block.” Added to commendable wins for “We Need to Talk About Kevin” and “Shame,” the nervier end of British independent cinema was well served by its home critics.

The evening itself was a classier affair than we scruffy writers generally deserve. Where most critics’ groups toast their winners at upscale dinners or in unceremonious press releases, the London group, benefitting from a shortage of equivalent precursor events on this side of the pond, has recently opted for the full red-carpet, black-tie, theater-housed treatment.

The BFI Southbank, with its views onto the river, makes for a handsome venue. Star turnout was strong — of the winners, only Paquin, Meryl Streep and the team from “A Separation” couldn’t attend, and there was a collective gasp from the audience when surprise guest Donald Sutherland casually sauntered onto the stage to present his “Don’t Look Now” director, Nicolas Roeg, with the Dilys Powell Award for contribution to British cinema. The emotional high point of the evening, it was also enlivened by Sutherland’s smooth, witty tribute — which I’d probably be able to quote more specifically if the event hadn’t been so generously sponsored by Moët & Chandon. Oh well. 

I was glad of an opportunity to convert some phone encounters from the past few months into face-to-face chats. Colman, comfortably barefoot after having ditched her lethal Louboutins, was sanguine about her BAFTA miss, but touched by the Twitter outrage it prompted; we agreed the British Academy isn’t representing its own film industry as well as it could be. Dujardin, whom I encountered on the smoking terrace looking intimidatingly, Gallicly cool, still seems merrily bemused by his film’s good fortune. (Oh, and his English is fine — thanks for asking.)

I had a long exchange with “Weekend” producer Tristan Goligher — “You’re not just a Twitter handle!” was his reassuring greeting — who tipped me off about Haigh’s next project, which he describes as a thematic bookend to the gay romance. And I may or may not have drunkenly blathered to Lynne Ramsay — dressed, rather uncharacteristically, in an elaborate fuchsia ballgown — about how much her work means to me, though she was cheerful enough after winning British Film of the Year to smile and nod and pretend I was actually making sense. 

All in all, a good night for film, a great night for “The Artist” and a better morning than mine for any teetotallers among the guests. Check out the full list of winners here

For more views on movies, awards season and other pursuits, follow @GuyLodge on Twitter.

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