In all the fuss over the BAFTAs, Golden Globes and whatevers, there is one film award ceremony that seems to be closest to the heart of what film should be, that is, the London Critic’s Circle film awards. Because they seem to be rewarding genuine excellence in film making rather than celebrity hype. I have nothing against popular film, any more than I am against pop music, but they are rewarded with money; there needs to be as place for recognising small scale excellence. And I also like that they have separate categories for American and British, as this allows a far wider spread of prizes.
Richard Linklater’s brilliant film, Boyhood got best film, best director and best supporting actress; all well and good. I am so pleased to see a director with such humanity and originality finally being recognised by so many for his long career. He worked on oil rigs to fund his first film, and seems unique in being so original, but still with his feet firmly on the ground and a wonderful understanding of ordinary people.
But here’s one you didn’t see coming: Under the Skin starring Scarlet Johansson was named Best British Film! I sat in an audience of about a dozen to see it, and most people seemed to come out feeling revolted, nauseated, horrified by it. Does that make it a good film? Well, yes, if you consider success in art as causing a response. Hollywood movies seem to think the only response is to leave the cinema feeling great about the world, humming the tunes, or hyped up that the guys in the white hats beat the baddies again. But Under the Skin really is an incredible piece of work, a horror story about a genuinely alien alien, and a lot of what happened in it I still don’t understand. I just know there is nothing like it.
By comparison, like many people I don’t understand how Grand Budapest got so many nominations, especially when the acting of Fiennes – the best thing in it – has been ignored. It is very clever, but after a while the cleverness just got too much. Like a meal made up of sugary cake, I kept craving something more substantial I it.
Timothy Spall, who spent years learning how to paint in order to play the role of the eponymous Mr Turner got best actor, to cuddle up to the Cannes award on his mantlepiece. I missed seeing this, as it is by Mike Leigh, one of our finest directors and like Linklater a big fan of improvising. But I deliberately missed the Redmayne & Cumberbatch vehicles as they seem to be too much of what is wrong with British cinema – the BBC house style, if you will, with worthy storylines, nice middle class actors, but lacking in any real … I don’t know what. They just seem to be made for pensioners. Maybe being a historian makes me too fussy for these. Julianne Moore got best American actress for Still Alice, and Michael Keaton being named best actor for Birdman. How could he possibly not win?
Other nominations for top films were Boyhood, Birdman, Whiplash, Mr Turner, Leviathan, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Ida, Nightcrawler and the Theory of Everything. All of which have been doing the rounds of arthouse cinemas, a few, like the Russian Leviathan and the superb Ida, definitely not mainstream.