While the US precursor circuit is getting into the swing of things, tomorrow marks the first major date of the British awards calendar: the British Independent Film Awards. Ostensibly the UK’s answer to the Independent Spirit Awards (though they don’t define “independence” by quite the same criteria), it’s a ceremony that has grown in prominence in recent years, representing a larger sample of the local film industry than the slavishly Oscar-minded BAFTA Awards. That said, the BIFAs have given nascent awards juggernauts like “The King’s Speech” and “Slumdog Millionaire” their first big trophy hauls of the season.
Nobody will be looking the BIFAs for any Oscar cues this year. After last year’s awards reflected a banner year for British film — “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” “Shame,” “Tyrannosaur,” “Weekend” and “Senna” — were among the big winners, this year’s lineup of nominees, while studded with high-level work, doesn’t boast quite the same lustre.
British film in 2012, by contrast, hasn’t boasted an equivalent spread of critical and commercial breakouts. That’s evident in the rum bunch of nominees for the Best British Independent Film Award, which range from Peter Strickland’s superb but defiantly esoteric meta-horror film “Berberian Sound Studio” to John Madden’s slick seniors-abroad smash “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” which maybe independent by name, but hardly by nature.
If critics largely cheered the former’s nomination and sighed over the latter’s, they didn’t react much at all to the field-leading nominee “Broken” — not least because, with the film only set for release in spring 2013, not many of them have seen it. (The BIFAs’ unusual eligibility-date rulings, which place much stock in festival premieres, are also evident in “The Iron Lady” popping up for Best Actress and — gah — Best Screenplay. Oscar win or not, I expect Meryl Streep to lose to a far lower-profile name tomorrow.)
The field is so unorthodox, and so light on films with a significant stake in the rest of the season, that tomorrow’s ceremony stands to be rather suspenseful. “Best Exotic” may be the film here with the best chance of showing up in top BAFTA (or, at a stretch, Oscar) categories, but oddly enough, I think it stands the least chance of winning big here; BIFA jury voters aren’t especially elitist, but they do they like to show some edge. With that in mind, I think Bart Layton’s Oscar-shortlisted documentary “The Imposter” — a hugely entertaining conversation piece that did strong business in the UK — is a plausible compromise winner.
With that, here are my picks for what will, and what should, take the gold tomorrow. (The full list of nominees is here.) Bear in mind, though, that these are among the most foolhardy awards to predict: in 2006, Helen Mirren lost Best Actress for “The Queen” to Kate Dickie in “Red Road.” And I love them for it.
Best British Independent Film
Will win: “The Imposter”
Should win: “Berberian Sound Studio”
Will and should win: Peter Strickland, “Berberian Sound Studio”
Will and should win: Toby Jones, “Berberian Sound Studio”
Will win: Alice Lowe, “Sightseers”
Should win: Elle Fanning, “Ginger and Rosa”
Best Supporting Actor
Will and should win: Domnhall Gleeson, “Shadow Dancer”
Best Supporting Actress
Will win: Maggie Smith, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”
Should win: Eileen Davies, “Sightseers”
Will win and should win: Alice Lowe, Steve Oram and Amy Jump, “Sightseers”
Best International Independent Film
Will win: “Amour”
Should win: “Rust and Bone”
Will and should win: “The Imposter”
Best Technical Achievement
Will win: Joakim Sundstrom and Stevie Haywood (sound design), “Berberian Sound Studio”
Should win: Robbie Ryan (Cinematography), “Ginger and Rosa”
Best Debut Director
Will win: Rufus Norris, “Broken”
Should win: Sally El Hosaini, “My Brother the Devil”
Most Promising Newcomer
Will and should win: James Floyd, “My Brother the Devil”
Best Achievement in Production
Will win: “Ill Manors”
Will win: “Jason Becker: Not Dead Yet”