I feel a bit awkward commenting on a set of critics' award nominations that I had a hand in voting for -- any credit or blame for the choices can only bounce back to me and my colleagues in the London Film Critics' Circle. Happily, in this case, it's mostly credit: I realize how absurdly self-congratulatory this sounds, but for my money, this is the strongest of the countless such nominee lists that have been released in the past few weeks.

What can I say? I'm proud that the LFCC is the first group to promote Asghar Farhadi's Iranian Oscar entry "A Separation" from the foreign-language ghetto to the Best Film category. (It scored five nods overall, including a pleasantly surprising Supporting Actress bid for Sareh Bayat.) I'm proud that Kenneth Lonergan was recognized for the screenplay of late-breaking critics' cause "Margaret," while Anna Paquin made it into the Best Actress field. I'm pleased that Kirsten Dunst (look out for my interview with her later this week) cracked the same category for "Melancholia," while more obvious candidates, including Viola Davis, were left out. Critics should be there to mix up the awards race, not handicap it.

I'm particularly pleased that one of my favorite films of the year, "Drive," leads the field with six nominations, including acting bids for Ryan Gosling, Albert Brooks and (jointly with her work in "Shame") Carey Mulligan. Technically, it's tied for the lead with "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy," but since the latter has more categories to compete in (the LFCC have additional British-only awards), "Drive" and "A Separation" are the real winners here.

Still, it's nice to see the London crowd rallying around Tomas Alfredson's elegant espionage thriller after it's been largely frozen out of the US awards derby -- it was the only British film to crack the top race, though given that "We Need to Talk About Kevin" helmer Lynne Ramsay replaces Alfredson in the director field, it must have been close. "Tinker, Tailor"'s haul here furthers my conviction that it remains the top British contender in the race; expect a strong BAFTA showing too.

Still on the British side of things, I'm thrilled that rising star Tom Cullen received a Best British Actor nod for "Weekend" (which also nabbed a British Breakthrough mention for writer-director Andrew Haigh), though disappointed his equally strong co-star, Chris New, was left out. And it warms my heart to finally see some love for Rachel Weisz's astonishing work in "The Deep Blue Sea" -- thus far the great lost performance of the season.  

Of course, there are some more predictable nominees, too: "The Artist" continues its brisk jog through the precursors with four nods, while supposed frontrunners like George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Michelle Williams and "The Help"'s supporting duo of Octavia Spencer and Jessica Chastain are also invited to the party, despite minimal enthusiasm for their vehicles. ("The Descendants" may have come on strong in the US critics' awards, but across the pond, Best Actor and Screenplay mentions are all she wrote for the film.)

Those who have followed these awards in previous years will notice a few changes: the British Director category has been scrapped, while the supporting races are no longer British-only. Happily, two categories have been added: a documentary award and a multi-discipline Technical Achievement Award, the shortlist for which has been compiled by a smaller committee of Circle members, including yours truly. (I'm as surprised as you that "The Tree of Life" didn't crack the list, but I'm no position to talk: my votes went elsewhere too.)

The winners will be announced at a swanky ceremony at London's BFI Southbank on January 19; check out the full list of nominees below. 

Film of the Year
"The Artist"
"Drive"
"A Separation"
"Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy"
"The Tree of Life"

British Film of the Year
"The Guard"
"Kill List"
"Shame"
"Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy"
"We Need to Talk About Kevin"

Director of the Year
Michel Hazanavicius, "The Artist"
Nicolas Winding Refn, "Drive"
Asghar Farhadi, "A Separation"
Terrence Malick, "The Tree of Life"
Lynne Ramsay, "We Need to Talk About Kevin"

Actor of the Year
George Clooney, "The Descendants"
Jean Dujardin, "The Artist"
Michael Fassbender, "Shame"
Ryan Gosling, "Drive"
Gary Oldman, "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy"

Actress of the Year
Kirsten Dunst, "Melancholia"
Anna Paquin, "Margaret"
Meryl Streep, "The Iron Lady"
Tilda Swinton, "We Need to Talk About Kevin"
Michelle Williams, "My Week With Marilyn"

British Actor of the Year
Tom Cullen, "Weekend"
Michael Fassbender, "Shame" and "A Dangerous Method"
Brendan Gleeson, "The Guard"
Peter Mullan, "Tyrannosaur" and "War Horse"
Gary Oldman, "Tinker, Tailor Soldier, Spy"

British Actress of the Year
Olivia Colman, "Tyrannosaur"
Carey Mulligan, "Shame" and "Drive"
Vanessa Redgrave, "Coriolanus" and "Anonymous"
Tilda Swinton, "We Need to Talk About Kevin"
Rachel Weisz, "The Deep Blue Sea"

Supporting Actor of the Year
Simon Russell Beale, "The Deep Blue Sea"
Kenneth Branagh, "My Week With Marilyn"
Albert Brooks, "Drive"
Christopher Plummer, "Beginners"
Michael Smiley, "Kill List"

Supporting Actress of the Year
Sareh Bayat, "A Separation"
Jessica Chastain, "The Help"
Vanessa Redgrave, "Coriolanus"
Octavia Spencer, "The Help"
Jacki Weaver, "Animal Kingdom"

Screenwriter of the Year
Michel Hazanavicius, "The Artist"
Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, "The Descendants"
Kenneth Lonergan, "Margaret"
Asghar Farhadi, "A Separation"
Peter Straughan and Bridget O'Connor, "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy"

Foreign Language Film of the Year
"Mysteries of Lisbon"
"Poetry"
"Le Quattro Volte"
"A Separation"
"The Skin I Live In"

Documentary of the Year
"Cave of Forgotten Dreams"
"Dreams of a Life"
"Pina"
"Project Nim"
"Senna"

Breakthrough British Filmmaker of the Year
Joe Cornish, "Attack the Block"
John Michael McDonagh, "The Guard"
Richard Ayoade, "Submarine"
Paddy Considine, "Tyrannosaur"
Andrew Haigh, "Weekend"

Young British Performer of the Year
John Boyega, "Attack the Block"
Jeremy Irvine, "War Horse" 
Yasmin Paige, "Submarine"
Craig Roberts, "Submarine"
Saoirse Ronan, "Hanna"

Techncial Achievement of the Year
Cliff Martinez (original score), "Drive"
Dante Ferretti (production design), "Hugo"
Robert Richardson (cinematography), "Hugo"
Manuel Alberto Claro (cinematography), "Melancholia"
Joe Letteri (visual effects), "Rise of the Planet of the Apes"
Chris King and Gregers Sall (film editing), "Senna"
Alberto Iglesias (original score), "The Skin I Live In"
Maria Djurkovic (production design), "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy"
Paul Davies (sound design), "We Need to Talk About Kevin"
Robbie Ryan (Cinematography), "Wuthering Heights"

Be sure to keep track of the ups and downs of the 2011-2012 film awards season via The Circuit.

For more views on movies, awards season and other pursuits, follow @GuyLodge on Twitter.

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