Critical Mass

Thursday, February 6 2014
Critical Mass

One of our correspondents and old pals, here remaining anonymous, gives us an exclusive report from the 34th London Critics’ Circle Film Awards, paying closer attention than most others to home entertainment releases…

The 34th London Critics’ Circle Film Awards, held at London’s May Fair Hotel last Sunday, opened on a sombre note, with the tragic news of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death breaking just moments before the black-tie ceremony began. The Circle’s film section chair, Jason Solomons, gave a warm tribute to the actor and director, who won the Best Supporting Actor prize last year for The Master, with guests John Hurt and Gary Oldman first on their feet to lead the audience of film critics and award nominees in a standing ovation.

Solomons went on to greet nominees such as 12 Years a Slave director Steve McQueen, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom actress Naomie Harris, Captain Phillips director Paul Greengrass and Philomena actor-producer-screenwriter Steve Coogan, who gamely shouted “A-ha!” when Solomons congratulated him for resisting the temptation to “do Alan Partridge” on the awards circuit.

The first award to be announced in the Circle’s centenary year saw Michael Fassbender, Tom Hanks, Jared Leto and the late James Gandolfini lose out to first-timer Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips), who accepted the Best Supporting Actor a

ward as proud director Paul Greengrass looked on. Abdi was the first of two non-actors to win an acting prize on the night, with The Selfish Giant’s talented newcomer Conner Chapman taking the award for Young British Performer of the Year. “I can’t believe I’m up here,” he said as he took the stage, gallantly inviting co-star Shaun Thomas up with him. “I only auditioned to get out of lessons.” The two boys were up again to join director Clio Barnard as The Selfish Giant took the prize for British Film of the Year.

Lionsgate’s Filth received a timely boost to its home entertainment fortunes as Jon S Baird’s frenetic adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s novel won two awards, for Breakthrough British Filmmaker and Best British Actor for James McAvoy, who sent in a taped message from the set of Frankenstein. Also sending pre-recorded messages were Best British Actress winner Judi Dench (from the set of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel 2) and Alfonso Cuarón, who won Director of the Year for Gravity, which also received a special Technical Achievement award for its visual effects, accepted by team leader Tim Webber.

Actor Gary Oldman, who was presented with the Dilys Powell Award for Excellence in Film by legendary British actor John Hurt, was clearly humbled by the critics’ acknowledgement of his body of work, from his breakthrough roles in Mean Time, Prick Up Your Ears and Sid and Nancy, to larger-than-life performances in Léon and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and blockbusters like The Dark Knight trilogy. “I’ve had my fair share of luck,” he modestly admitted. “I’m sure there’s a bus driver or a shop assistant who’s the greatest actor in the world.”

The night’s other winners included The Act of Killing (Documentary), Cate Blanchett (Best Actress for Blue Jasmine), Blue is the Warmest Colour (Foreign Language Film) and the Coen brothers, joint winners of the Screenwriter of the Year prize for Inside Llewyn Davis, but it was 12 Years a Slave that scooped the most awards, including Lupita Nyong’o for Best Supporting Actress, Chiwetel Ejiofor for Best Actor, and the biggest prize of all, Film of the Year.

Accepting the award in person, director Steve McQueen feeling “humbled and heart-warmed” by the film’s positive reception in his native Britain. “I have people in the street – builders, bus drivers – being so supportive to the movie,” he said, “and I’m so humbled and heart-warmed that it’s from my own country.”

Whether the bus driver in question is the same one referenced by Gary Oldman remained a mystery as attendees left the May Fair Hotel for the equally luxurious, but less formal surroundings of Navokov, where Beluga Vodka cocktails and canapés were enjoyed by everyone. Well, almost everyone. Nominated in two categories (Screenwriter of the Year and British Actor of the Year) but beaten in both, Steve Coogan went home empty-handed – except for his complimentary gift bag, complete with a copy of Alpha Papa. “A-ha!” indeed.

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