40TH LONDON CRITICS’ CIRCLE FILM AWARDS AT THE MAY FAIR HOTEL
Mesmerizing images of Apocalypse Now and other famous films of the last 40 years filled the screen as this ceremony opened. Critics’ Circle choices over the past four decades were also highlighted with stills throughout the evening. This made it an anniversary in which we all could share memories. It also built up the tension as the announcement of Best Film drew inexorably closer. The host for the evening was the deliciously witty actress and writer Sally Phillips. The Chair of the Circle, Rich Cline, should be congratulated on a highly successful evening.
Parasite, a chilling indictment of inequality from South Korea, won both the prestigious Film of the Year Award and the coveted Director of the Year for Bong Joon-ho.
As expected, Joaquin Phoenix won Actor of the Year for his unforgettable tour de force in the ultra-violent, subversive Joker. Renée Zellweger won Actress of the Year for her superlative portrayal of Judy Garland in Judy. It was anticipated that Laura Dern would carry off the Supporting Actress Award for playing a monstrous lawyer in the Marriage Story whose director, Noah Baumbach, was deservedly named Screenwriter of the Year. A surprise win was Joe Pesci’s Supporting Actor Award as the ageing Mafia boss in the Irishman, an excellent choice.
Joanna Hogg’s enthralling The Souvenir, which had the most nominations, won the Attenborough Award for British/Irish Film of the Year. Another woman director, Céline Sciamma, was the winner of Best Foreign Language Film for Portrait of a Lady on Fire, a fascinating film. This is highly significant when female directors are still being passed over in major awards ceremonies. There were several persons of colour as nominees in the acting categories, Cynthia Erivo, Lupita Nyong’o and Jennifer Lopez. They were all shamefully absent from the BAFTAS nominees this year.
Winners in the British/Irish categories included Honor Swinton Byrne, Florence Pugh, Robert Pattinson and director Mark Jenkin who made Bait. Out of the ten contenders in the category of Technical Achievement, Barbara Ling won for Quentin Tarantino’s superb Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood. One of the most visceral documentaries I have ever seen, For Sama, about the siege of Aleppo, won for Documentary of the Year.
This year two awards for excellence in film, honouring the famous film critic Dilys Powell, were given out. One recipient was the British film director Sally Potter, enthusiastically introduced by the actress Elle Fanning, who has made classics such as Orlando. She stressed how independent films benefited from the support of critics. The other was given to Sandy Powell, who has been nominated for an Oscar fifteen times and has had three wins. She is the first costumier to receive this award and made an excellent speech.
The Critics’ Circle’s 40th Anniversary Award was given to Aardman, the inventive team who have built up a huge following for their animated creations, including Wallace and Gromit.
This was the Circle’s eighth year at the May Fair Hotel. The evening was presented by Pearl Pictures Productions and a highly appealing mix of drinks and many succulent canapes were available before and after the ceremony.
Film awards ceremonies seem inevitably to be overshadowed by controversy, although often the issue, such as the lack of diversity or absence of female directors among the nominees, needs highlighting. However, a casualty of this is that the films themselves frequently get overlooked. Most of the major winners here were unable to be present and accepted by video, however longish clips from their performances highlighted their achievement. This was a cerebral evening and the focus was on what it should have been on, rewarding the finest current examples of the most influential art form of our time.