French Prison Drama Beats Oscar Favorites: London Film Critics Awards' Winners

Tahar Rahim in A Prophet

Avatar may be the world's box office ruler, but it surely wasn't ruler of anything at the London Film Critics' Circle Awards held this evening in, where else, London.

The London Critics' best film of 2009? Jacques Audiard's prison drama A Prophet, the first French-made production to win the Circle's top award in its 30-year history. Starring 2009 European Film Award winner Tahar Rahim, A Prophet is set in a tough French prison where a newcomer must fend off the advances of the local Corsican mafia. A Prophet has received 13 nominations for the 2010 French Academy's Césars and is expected to win the Best Film award.

London Critics' Chairman and Observer writer Jason Solomons called the vote “a victory for world cinema and shows a refreshing open-mindedness to judge all film [sic] on an equal footing, from giant Hollywood blockbusters to classy European prison movies,” adding that critics were fed up with “the ghettoisation of films at awards ceremonies.”

Solomons concluded by saying that “the overwhelming feeling was that this year, the energy, daring, skill and drama of the best European film-makers should be recognised at the highest level possible. For those who love film, the only real language is that of cinema itself and, in A Prophet, director Jacques Audiard articulates it beautifully.”

Avatar, nominated for Film of the Year and Director of the Year (James Cameron), didn't win anything.

Accepting his Film of the Year award in French, a teary Audiard told the audience: “I'm going to call up James Cameron at 4 o' clock in the morning and when he picks up the phone he's going to hear my devilish voice saying 'Loser! Loser!'"

“The win,” wrote Mark Brown in The Guardian, “will be welcomed by those who argue that it has been a far from vintage year for English language films, while the three head-and-shoulders best films of the past year have arguably been A Prophet, Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon and Tomas Alfredson's Let the Right One In.”

One consolation for James Cameron: Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon, which topped the European Film Awards last year and was up for four London Critics' awards, also went home empty-handed. Now, it's unclear if Jacques Audiard will also call Haneke to yell “Loser! Loser!” at 4 am tomorrow.

Katie Jarvis, Michael Fassbender in Fish Tank
Katie Jarvis, Michael Fassbender in Fish Tank

Curiously, even though A Prophet was also in the running in the London Film Critics' Foreign Language Film of the Year category, it lost to Tomas Alfredson's vampire drama Let the One Right In, which received a whole array of US critics' awards early last year. (The film opened in the US in 2008.)

The top winner of the evening, however, was Andrea Arnold's family drama Fish Tank, which earned awards for British Film of the Year, British Director, British Newcomer (Katie Jarvis), and British Supporting Actor (Michael Fassbender). The Hurt Locker's Kathryn Bigelow – another woman – was Director of the Year. Bigelow, in fact, was the first female to win the London Critics' Director of the Year award. She joins the likes of Andrzej Wajda, Akira Kurosawa, Woody Allen, Stanley Kubrick, Terence Davies, John Huston, Martin Scorsese, Ang Lee, and Robert Altman.

Needless to say, the Arnold-Bigelow double whammy was also a London Critics' first, though two other women had previously won the British Director of the Year award, Gurinder Chadha for What's Cooking in 2001 and Lynne Ramsay for Ratcatcher in 1999. (Andrea Arnold is currently working on a new adaptation of Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights. That should be interesting.)

The two performers expected to win this year's Oscar in the supporting categories, Christoph Waltz and Mo'Nique, were voted Actor and Actress of the Year for, respectively, Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds and Lee Daniels' Precious.

Relative newcomer Carey Mulligan (above) and veteran Colin Firth were the British Actor and Actress of the Year for, respectively, Lone Scherfig's An Education and Tom Ford's A Single Man. Both have been nominated for Oscars, though neither is expected to win. Anne Marie Duff, playing John Lennon's mother in Nowhere Boy, was the British Supporting Actress of the Year.

Quentin Tarantino was present to receive a special career achievement award. “Hands down – this is the middle of my career,” Tarantino told the crowd. “I like the idea of giving the award to someone where you think their best work might still be in front of them as an encouragement.”

Other London Critics' winners were Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci and Tony Roche for the political satire In the Loop and Duncan Jones as Breakthrough British Filmmaker for the sci-fi thriller Moon.

Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now, the first London Critics Award Film of the Year winner, was named the best film of the last 30 years.

Quentin Tarantino quote: BBC

Photo: Fish Tank (Holly Horner / IFC Films); An Education (Kerry Brown / Sony Pictures Classics)

Jason Solomons quote: The Guardian; Jacques Audiard quote: BBC

Photo: A Prophet (Roger Arpajou / Sony Pictures Classics)

2010 London Film Critics' nominations: Dec. 21, 2009

2010 London Film Critics' winners: Feb. 18, '10

("*" denotes the winner in each category)

FILM OF THE YEAR
Avatar
The Hurt Locker
* A Prophet
The White Ribbon
Up in the Air

THE ATTENBOROUGH AWARD: BRITISH FILM OF THE YEAR
Bright Star
An Education
* Fish Tank
In the Loop
Moon

FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM OF THE YEAR
The Class
Katyn
* Let the Right One In
A Prophet
The White Ribbon

DIRECTOR OF THE YEAR
Jacques Audiard – A Prophet
* Kathryn Bigelow – The Hurt Locker
James Cameron – Avatar
Michael Haneke – The White Ribbon
Jason Reitman – Up in the Air

BRITISH DIRECTOR OF THE YEAR
* Andrea Arnold – Fish Tank
Armando Iannucci – In the Loop
Duncan Jones – Moon
Kevin Macdonald – State of Play
Sam Taylor-WoodNowhere Boy

ACTOR OF THE YEAR
Jeff BridgesCrazy Heart
George ClooneyUp in the Air
Tahar Rahim – A Prophet
Michael Stuhlbarg – A Serious Man
* Christoph Waltz – Inglourious Basterds

ACTRESS OF THE YEAR
Abbie Cornish – Bright Star
Vera FarmigaUp in the Air
* Mo'Nique – Precious
Carey Mulligan – An Education
Meryl StreepJulie & Julia

BRITISH ACTOR OF THE YEAR
Peter Capaldi – In the Loop
* Colin Firth – A Single Man
Tom Hardy – Bronson
Christian MacKay – Me and Orson Welles
Andy SerkisSex & Drugs & Rock & Roll

BRITISH ACTRESS OF THE YEAR
Emily Blunt – The Young Victoria
Helen MirrenThe Last Station
* Carey Mulligan – An Education
Katie Jarvis – Fish Tank
Kristin Scott ThomasNowhere Boy

BRITISH ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
* Michael Fassbender * – Fish Tank
John Hurt – 44 Inch Chest
Jason Isaacs – Good
Alfred MolinaAn Education
Timothy Spall – The Damned United

BRITISH ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
Emily Blunt – Sunshine Cleaning
* Anne-Marie DuffNowhere Boy
Rosamund Pike – An Education
Kierston Wareing – Fish Tank
Olivia Williams – An Education

SCREENWRITER OF THE YEAR
* Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci & Tony Roche – In the Loop
Thomas Bidegain & Jacques Audiard – A Prophet
Joel and Ethan CoenA Serious Man
Michael Haneke – The White Ribbon
Nick HornbyAn Education

THE NSPCC AWARD: YOUNG BRITISH PERFORMER OF THE YEAR
* Katie Jarvis – Fish Tank
Aaron JohnsonNowhere Boy and Dummy
George MacKay – The Boys Are Back
Bill Milner – Is Anybody There? and Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll
Saoirse Ronan * – The Lovely Bones

BREAKTHROUGH BRITISH FILM-MAKER
Daniel Barber – Harry Brown
Armando Ianucci – In the Loop
* Duncan Jones – Moon
Peter Strickland – Katalin Varga
Sam Taylor-Wood – Nowhere Boy

DILYS POWELL AWARD FOR EXCELLENCE IN CINEMA
Quentin Tarantino

* Irish actors / filmmakers are eligible in all British categories (Michael Fassbender was born in Germany to a Northern Irish mother)

French Prison Drama Beats Oscar Favorites: London Film Critics Awards' Winners © 2004–2018 Alt Film Guide and/or author(s).
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