Determined as they are by a small jury of London print critics, the Evening Standard British Film Awards — which are limited to British cinema, as well as British artists in international films — tend to occupy the independent end of the spectrum. Recent winners of their Best Film award include such small-scale critical favorites as “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” “Neds,” “Fish Tank,” “Hunger” and “Control.”
So it represents a significant deviation from the norm that the winner of the top prize last night was a blockbuster franchise entry that has become the highest-grossing film in UK box office history. But “Skyfall” has itself been something of an anomaly in the way it has curried critical and audience favor to an extent that the James Bond series has never previously managed in 50 years of trying. I had thought that BAFTA would be keen to recognize the achievement of Sam Mendes’s slick, savvy spy game, but they somehow resisted nominating it for Best Film; instead, it fell to a generally highbrow critics’ award to give 007 the first Best Film win of his long career.
That said, the wording of the award on this occasion as “Film of the Year” is significant. Jury members backing the artier films in contention — “Skyfall” was nominated alongside comparatively minuscule British indies “Sightseers” and “Berberian Sound Studio” for the honor — could concede the Bond juggernaut’s claim to being one of the year’s most defining films, even if they didn’t think it was the very best.
There was consolation for both the also-rans, and several smaller British titles besides, as the jury gave no film more than one award. (“Skyfall” did, however, somewhat inevitably win the public-voted category for Blockbuster of the Year — an award perhaps initially devised to balance out the jury’s less populist choices, here serving as a neatly symmetrical indication of public and critical consensus.)
“Berberian Sound Studio,” Peter Strickland’s witty, unsettling ode to Italian giallo horror that made my personal Top 10 of 2012, was rewarded with the Best Actor award for Toby Jones’s perfectly underplayed performance as an out-of-his-element sound designer. It marks the second time, following the London Critics’ Circle Awards two weeks ago, that the diminutive Jones has beaten Oscar frontrunner Daniel Day-Lewis to an award, though that didn’t stop him looking sincerely gobsmacked at the podium. He stated in his speech that simply being nominated alongside Day-Lewis is reward enough — and it didn’t sound like a line.
Andrea Riseborough, who has also won at the British Independent Film Awards and the London Critics’ Circle Awards for her quietly measured turn as an IRA turncoat in James Marsh’s thriller “Shadow Dancer,” was the group’s Best Actress winner. The acclaim is deserved, and it bears mentioning that Riseborough has taken the some trio of British precursors that Olivia Colman did last year for “Tyrannosaur” — and, like Colman, has been unceremoniously ignored by BAFTA.
The British Academy needn’t be as home-focused as these smaller awards, but they do seem increasingly out of touch with what is going on in its own industry. Did Riseborough really have to be blanked so Helen Mirren could get another filler nomination? Could they not stand to be a little prouder of “Skyfall,” at the risk of deviating slightly from the Oscar template? It’s a discussion worth having.
Full list of winners below, as well as at The Circuit:
Film of the Year: “Skyfall”
Best Actor: Toby Jones, “Berberian Sound Studio”
Best Actress: Andrea Riseborough, “Shadow Dancer”
Best Screenplay: Malcolm Campbell, “What Richard Did”
London Film Museum Award for Technical Achievement: Seamus McGarvey (cinematographer), Sarah Greenwood (production designer) and Jacqueline Durran (costume designer), “Anna Karenina”
Peter Sellers Award for Comedy: Ben Wheatley, “Sightseers”
Most Promising Newcomer: Sally El Hosaini, “My Brother the Devil”
Best Documentary: “The Imposter”
Blockbuster of the Year (public vote): “Skyfall”