The British Independent Film Awards — effectively the UK industry’s answer to the Spirits — are an unpredictable institution. Some years they reward very much the films they’re expected to reward (“The King’s Speech” and “Slumdog Millionaire” both took a clutch of awards here), and some years they live up to the “independent” part of their name and go wildly off-script. (A memorable example: nominated for “The Queen,” Helen Mirren lost to Kate Dickie in “Red Road.”) It all depends on the whims of the jury, and this year’s group was clearly feeling rebellious.
Among the films nominated for Best British Independent Film was Stephen Frears’ “Philomena,” a hit on both sides of the Atlantic, and one sure to figure into the BAFTA, Oscar and Golden Globe nominations. The apparent frontrunner, however, was Clio Barnard’s critically beloved contemporary fable “The Selfish Giant,” while the most-nominated contender was David Mackenzie’s brutal prison drama “Starred Up.”
In a major upset, all three lost to “Metro Manila,” a Philippines-set heist thriller from director Sean Ellis that received little critical or commercial attention when it opened here back in September. For my part, I only caught up with it last week, and was rather impressed: it’s engrossing, geographically evocative stuff, blending social realism with taut genre filmmaking, and a worthy UK submission for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. Ellis, an Oscar nominee for his short film “Cashback” a few years ago, also took the Best Director prize.
“The Selfish Giant” and “Starred Up” had to be content with a single award each, as the former took the Technical Achievement Prize for its meticulous casting, while the latter scooped Best Supporting Actor for Australian actor Ben Mendelsohn’s reliable terrific performance as a hardened inmate coping with his son’s incarceration.
“Philomena,” meanwhile, left empty-handed, as even Judi Dench lost Best Actress to fellow veteran Lindsay Duncan for “Le Week-end.” It’ll have plenty of other chances in the next few months. In the Best International Film category, “Blue is the Warmest Color” notched up yet another win, beating two US nominees: “Blue Jasmine” and “Frances Ha.”
Most deserving of all, in my opinion, is their pick for Best Actor: James McAvoy’s sensational, type-subverting performance as a crooked, coke-addled Edinburgh cop in the wild-and-woolly Irvine Welsh adaptation “Filth.” It’s ferocious, possibly career-topping work from a star who seemed to be trailing off a bit in recent years; I reviewed it for Variety here. US audiences will see it next year, thanks to super-cool new distributor A24.
Full list of winners below:
Best British Independent Film: “Metro Manila”
Best Director: Sean Ellis, “Metro Manila”
Best Actor: James McAvoy, “Filth”
Best Actress: Lindsay Duncan, “Le Week-end”
Best Supporting Actor: Ben Mendelsohn, “Starred Up”
Best Supporting Actress: Imogen Poots, “The Look of Love”
Best Screenplay: Steven Knight, “Locke”
Best International Independent Film: “Blue is the Warmest Color”
Best Technical Achievement: Amy Hubbard (casting), “The Selfish Giant”
Best Documentary: “Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer”
Douglas Hickox Award for Best Debut Director: Paul Wright, “For Those in Peril”
Most Promising Newcomer: Chloe Pirrie, “Shell”
Best Achievement in Production: “Metro Manila”
Best British Short: “Z1”
Raindance Award: “The Machine”